Thursday, August 21, 2014

About that Patrick Cleburne diary

Does anyone know the story behind its discovery?  A cursory online search for news stories turned up nothing. I can see why it might remain under wraps until publication but I would have thought at least some kind of headline would have appeared between 2009 and now [the diary was one of the items reported missing from Cleburne's body when it arrived at Carnton].  Given Cleburne's popularity and with 1864 being the most controversial year of his celebrated Confederate service (with his proposal to arm slaves and high profile involvement and death during Hood's Tennessee campaign), it should be a pretty big deal.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Booknotes II (Aug '14)

New Arrivals:

1. From Vicksburg to Cedar Creek: The 22nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War
by Thomas P. McKenna (Camp Pope Publishing, 2014).

This is the first modern regimental history of the 22nd, an Iowa regiment that served in both western and eastern theaters.  It is unusual for this publisher to release both cloth and paperback editions at the same time.

2. That Furious Struggle: Chancellorsville and the High Tide of the Confederacy, May 1-4, 1863 by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White (Savas Beatie, 2014).

The ECW crew takes their proven formula to the Chancellorsville battlefield. I hope they emerge farther west someday. On a related front, the co-authors wrote a great book about 2nd Fredericksburg and Salem Church which was published a short time ago.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jones & Sword, eds.: "GATEWAY TO THE CONFEDERACY: New Perspectives on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1862-1863"

[Gateway to the Confederacy: New Perspectives on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1862-1863 edited by Evan C. Jones and Wiley Sword (Louisiana State University Press, 2014). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, essay appendices, index. 333 pp. ISBN:978-0-8071-5509-7 $39.95]

Edited by Evan C. Jones and Wiley Sword, the original essays collected in Gateway to the Confederacy: New Perspectives on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1862-1863 all connect in some fashion with the long and sanguinary Civil War struggle to control the strategic rail junction of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a town that could without exaggeration be crowned the "gateway" to the heart of the Confederacy.  Publisher LSU Press does not typically publish Civil War military-themed article compilations [this reviewer cannot recall another], but, judging from the quality exhibited by this one, readers should earnestly hope for more to come.

Given the military value of Chattanooga and sheer scale of effort devoted to its possession by both sides, it's a bit surprising that the recent trend producing scholarly city studies has not yet reached this particular East Tennessee town. Gateway to the Confederacy's first chapter does the subject ample justice in short form. Russell Bonds's thoughtful and elegantly written essay traces Chattanooga's regional development, from early Indian trading post to emerging transportation corridor to vital wartime strategic and political nexus. Bonds effectively drives home the location's indispensability to both local Tennessee River Valley industrial interests (primarily mines and nitre caves) and the most vital Deep South mines, mills, arsenals, foundries, etc. [a great pair of maps clearly illustrate this network]. Chattanooga possessed direct rail connections with the latter and also shielded them from enemy contact.

The next contribution is Gerald Prokopowicz's account of the two Union attempts (one small and one large) to seize Chattanooga in 1862. While his description of events and assessments of the personalities involved are largely conventional in the broad sense, the author is more sympathetic than most to Don Carlos Buell's logistical difficulties as a reasonable limiting factor to his command's pace of advance. The game changing possibilities of an early 1862 capture of Chattanooga are also emphasized in a reasonable manner, although the confident assertion that it would have shaved a full year off the war's duration is unknowable given the infinite number of variables introduced by such drastic alternative history.

Two essays in the book are written by Chickamauga expert David Powell. The first summarizes several themes (primarily involving the shortcomings of Nathan Bedford Forrest as close subordinate and corps commander) from his excellent 2010 study Failure in the Saddle, a pointed critique of Confederate cavalry generalship during the Chickamauga Campaign. The second is a fascinating treatise on the spirit of military invention and innovation in the Army of the Cumberland, a legacy of creativity that Powell credits William Rosecrans a great deal for fostering. In it, Powell examines evidence of an attempt by Rosecrans, ultimately thwarted by army regulations, to create a flying corps of elite, repeating rifle-armed battalions designed to counteract the huge numerical edge the Confederates maintained in cavalry in the department. Tactical innovations are also discussed, from the "advance, firing" technique first suggested by August Willich at the regimental level to the Cumberland army's more rapid and systematic adoption of the new 'Casey Method' of deploying brigades with shorter frontage and greater depth (a combination allowing more flexible use of reserves). Not joining the chorus of historians who dismiss Rosecrans as a leader stubbornly requiring gross levels of overpreparation before initiating movement, Powell is instead impressed by the general's unusually high level of campaign foresight, examples of this trait being Rosecrans's creation of topographical and pioneer/engineering assets of unmatched quality and his training of staff to expertly manage advanced depot systems for sustaining long campaigns.

William Glenn Robertson's chapter invites readers to cast aside what they think they already know about two of the most controversial aspects of the Chickamauga battle (both occurring on September 20), Union general Thomas Wood's creation of the fatal gap through which Longstreet's assault column surged and Confederate general Leonidas Polk's delay in initiating Bragg's planned dawn attack. Widely regarded as the leading authority on the battle, Robertson persuasively argues that many of the details and assumptions surrounding these events that have repeated by historians are wrong. As a whole, the essay is yet another attention grabbing critique of historical writers that unquestioningly repeat established "facts", all too often selecting among competing sources those that tell the better story rather than those providing the most compelling evidence.

The longest essay, and one of the best, is volume co-editor Evan Jones's comprehensive history of the decades long Rosecrans-Grant connection, from West Point origins to postwar political and military legacy rivalry. Meticulously documenting the relationship's transformation from one of apparent cordiality to implacable bitterness, Jones's treatment is both more fair and more measured in interpretation and tone than two recent book length studies covering the same subject.

A departure from the historian's perspective is literature and poetry professor Stephen Cushman's reassessment of Ambrose Bierce through the latter's public and private writings. While elements of the type of tortuous literary deconstruction often painful to the memories of legions of undergraduates is present, the piece is accessible and quite engrossing. Cushman's study of the correspondence regarding Chickamauga between Bierce and budding historian Archibald Gracie leads him to cast doubt on Bierce's famed reliability. He also interprets Bierce's appreciation of D.H. Hill's writing style and the content of one of his lectures to a military audience to mean that the famously bitter Bierce was perhaps less disillusioned with his army experiences than previously believed. It is arguable whether similar degrees of historical scrutiny should be applied to both fiction and non-fiction writing in our assessment of Bierce's skills as a historian, but in Cushman's hands it is a fascinating exercise.

Craig Symonds's chapter retells the story of President Davis's visit to the Army of Tennessee after Chickamauga and his failure to adequately resolve the latest eruption from the army's poisonous command culture. Wiley Sword's recounting of the long term consequences to Confederate fortunes of the crushing defeat at Chattanooga is remarkable primarily for insights related to Patrick Cleburne's much scrutinized proposal to arm slaves for Confederate army service that were found inside the general's recently uncovered diary [to be published in the future by Lee White]. Caroline Janney's final essay reminds us that, while the institutional face of commemoration at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga battlefields was one of reconciliation, partisan veterans of both sides remained defiant in maintaining the righteousness of their own cause and the wickedness of the other.

Civil War essay collections dealing with key campaigns* already well covered in the literature invariably extol the presence of fresh ideas and new perspectives in their pages but Gateway to the Confederacy, with its greater than typical preponderance of truly original content, really does live up to the promise. It is highly recommended.

* - As one can see from above, Gateway topics are weighted toward Chickamauga and the events leading up to it. Those interested in essays more specifically related to the winter 1863 Chattanooga campaign and battle should consult The Chattanooga Campaign edited by Steven Woodworth and Charles Grear (SIU Press, 2012).

More CWBA reviews of LSUP titles:
* Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln
* Greyhound Commander: Confederate General John G. Walker's History of the Civil War West of the Mississippi
* Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War
* Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory
* Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland
* Granbury's Texas Brigade: Diehard Western Confederates
* The Last Battle of the Civil War: United States Versus Lee, 1861-1883
* Confederate Guerrilla: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia
* Lincoln and Citizens' Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Freedom and Security
* War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature, 1861-1914
* Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United States Senator
* Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community 1861-1865
* Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War
* Homegrown Yankees: Tennessee's Union Cavalry in the Civil War
* John Bankhead Magruder: A Military Reappraisal
* A Wisconsin Yankee in the Confederate Bayou Country: The Civil War Reminiscences of a Union General
* Bleeding Borders: Race, Gender, and Violence in Pre-Civil War Kansas
* Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era
* Where Men Only Dare to Go Or the Story of a Boy Company, C.S.A.
* Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks
* Walker’s Texas Division, C.S.A.: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi
* The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles
* A Crisis In Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor, And The Army Of The Trans-Mississippi
* The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Curtis's other march

The Union Army of the Southwest's lengthy march across the Ozark plateau from the Missouri interior to its victory at Pea Ridge has been well documented.  Less well covered is the long range operational redeployment that shifted the base of General Curtis's advance into the Arkansas interior from the NW to NE corner of the state.  Camp Pope Publishing recently announced a new book project (by frequent Civil War in SE Missouri author Robert Schultz) on this very subject.  It might nicely serve to bridge the gap between a pair of exceptional works, Shea & Hess's Pea Ridge campaign study and Akridge & Powers's A Severe and Bloody Fight: The Battle of Whitney’s Lane & Military Occupation of White County, Arkansas, May & June, 1862.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Civil War Wests

More books dealing with the Civil War in the Far West are cropping up and I found three that sound like they might be worth a look. Not much to go on beyond title and author at this point.

University of California Press does not typically publish books in our favorite field, but early 2015 they will release Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States edited by Adam Arenson and Andrew Graybill. The table of contents can be found here.

In the fall of this year, we can expect Monika Trobits's Antebellum and Civil War San Francisco: A Western Theater for Northern and Southern Politics . The classic, albeit a bit dated, account of Civil War Los Angeles was recently reprinted and a trip to the northern part of the state is most welcome.

Finally, around the same time and from the same publisher will be Confederates in Montana Territory: In the Shadow of Price's Army by Ken Robison (The History Press). I wasn't terribly enamored with the author's previous book on Civil War Montana but would like to give the second effort a chance.

Monday, August 11, 2014


[The U.S.-Mexican War: A Complete Chronology by Bud Hannings (McFarland, 2014). Softcover, illustrations, bibliography, index. Pp. 208. ISBN:9780786476480 $55]

Bud Hannings, the author of numerous chronological event registers of American wars (including a massive Civil War tome), sets his sights on another 18th Century conflict with The U.S. – Mexican War: A Complete Chronology. He begins the book long before 1846, with yearly sections stretching all the way back to 1816. Much of this material is not directly related to U.S. – Mexican relations and the subsequent war fought between the two countries, but it does highlight other American foreign military adventures in other parts of the world and contemporaneous Indian fighting on the continent. While the utility of some of this toward understanding the subject at hand is debatable, Hannings’s coverage of the 1830s Texas troubles clearly provides essential background context to the 1846-48 war.

Entries for the war years average one every few days and can be quite extensive in nature, addressing various military, political, and diplomatic matters. Most consist of brief, paragraph length summaries (every once in a while, historical documents are reproduced in their entirety) but the most important battles are accorded special attention. Their headings are in all-caps for ease of discovery while browsing and their descriptions are often chapter length narrative affairs. Numbers data, as well as order of battle information, is recorded. Those U.S. officers that would play prominent roles in the Civil War are singled out for special recognition for their services on particular Mexican battlefields.

All of the major war fronts are covered, including California, New Mexico, Texas, and the vast areas of northern and central Mexico directly affected by the conflict. Hannings focuses a great deal upon the lesser appreciated naval aspects of war, which stretched up and down the Pacific and Gulf coastlines. The reading experience will be an eye opening one for those believing the war, outside of the Vera Cruz landing, to have been conducted almost entirely on land. The famous campaigns – Zachary Taylor in northern Mexico, John C. Fremont and Commodore Stockton in California, Doniphan’s March, and the saga of the Mormon Battalion – are well documented, but so are countless other less well known skirmishes battles and guerrilla actions.

The book is abundantly illustrated with reproductions of period lithography, such as one would find in the newspapers of the day. What’s missing are maps. Not only are none of the battles accompanied by tactical scale drawings, no campaign or even general area maps are included. 

Readers perusing the bibliography will find a collection of secondary sources published almost entirely during the 19th and early 20th centuries. None of the many excellent modern military studies were consulted, nor were any Mexican sources utilized. Given the latter, it is no surprise that the entries are very U.S.-centric in content and perspective.  With those limitations in mind, The U.S. – Mexican War: A Complete Chronology does have real (though high priced) value as an unusually comprehensive register of land and sea engagements.

(edited version of review first published in On Point magazine)

Friday, August 08, 2014

Booknotes (Aug '14)

New Arrivals:

1. A Corporal's Story: Civil War Recollections of the Twelfth Massachusetts by George Kimball, edited by Alan D. Gaff and Donald H. Gaff (Univ of Okla Pr, 2014).

Wounded twice, Kimball fought in many of the great eastern theater battles before leaving the army after serving three years. He resumed his newspaper career with the Boston Journal, writing often about his Civil War experiences. The Gaffs have reassembled these memoir pieces for A Corporal's Story, also contributing an introduction and notes to the project.

2. Chained to the Land: Voices from Cotton & Cane Plantations edited by Lynette Ater Tanner (John F. Blair, 2014).

Tanner collects Louisiana slave narratives in this volume, with some emphasis on the state's apparently distinctive stamp on the institution, a Le Code Noir that set standards for slave care, religious instruction, and limited protections on the sale of children. The volume is part of the publisher's Real Voices, Real History series devoted to preserving this historical material.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Purcell, ed.: "THIS JOLLY LITTLE GUNBOAT: The USS Winona On the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River 1861 - 1863"

[This Jolly Little Gunboat: The USS Winona On the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River 1861 - 1863 edited by Patrick L. Purcell (Camp Pope Publishing, 2014) Softcover, map, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. 190 pp. ISBN 978-1-929919-54-3 $13.95]

This Jolly Little Gunboat
Click image for link to publisher
Entering service in December 1861, the Unadilla-class 90-day gunboat USS Winona was immediately sent to the Gulf of Mexico. Joining the West Gulf Blockading Squadron off New Orleans in the early weeks of 1862, the Winona ranged up and down the Mississippi River between Vicksburg and Head of Passes (with a brief excursion to Mobile) until August 1863 when the vessel returned north for refitting and redeployment. The Winona spent the rest of the war off the South Carolina coast.

For a long period of time, the authorship of a December 1861 - August 1863 journal written by a Winona sailor was unknown (with several candidates under consideration). None of these satisfied Patrick Purcell. After some persuasive detective work, Purcell came up with an entirely new name (engine room coal heaver Montgomery P. Griffis) and took the next step of shepherding the Griffis material to publication under the title This Jolly Little Gunboat: The USS Winona On the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River 1861 - 1863.

With entries every few days, Griffis's writing constitutes a consistent record of the movements and whereabouts of the Winona during the aforementioned period. Numerous ship-to-shore skirmishes and river encounters are mentioned, with the ship's role during the New Orleans campaign and defense of Fort Butler in Louisiana described in some detail. Pointed commentary about some of the ship's officers is also present.  If one wonders how someone stuck in the bowels of the gunboat could offer such richly detailed observations, the author/editor found clear evidence of postwar revision plus Griffis also mentions that he would sometimes rush up to the main deck to view the action when not urgently needed at his post. The Griffis manuscript is really more of a diary-memoir than a true journal.  Griffis faithfully records every time a coaling occurs, and the tonnage transferred, but only rarely provides insights into his own specific duties and shipboard conditions. Unlike many other Civil War diarists, he rarely if ever complains about anything. If any sailor had a right to grumble, it would have been one stationed in a steamship engine room during scorching Mississippi and Louisiana summers.

Purcell performs the tasks of modern book editor fully and well. His footnotes offer additional information about persons, places, and events from the text and his parallel narrative provides excellent context both for the Winona and associated fleet operations in general. The body of the volume is divided roughly 50/50 between Purcell's writing and the Griffis diary-memoir. The original manuscript included a series of copied poems and songs [a line from one providing the title of the book] and these are collected in an appendix. Another supplement is comprised of a descriptive register of vessels encountered by Winona during its Gulf service.

As Ed Bearss notes in his foreword, journals written by enlisted rank sailors serving on blockade are scarce, making this detailed one all the more valuable. This Jolly Little Gunboat is highly recommended. While perhaps not offering the expected in the way of picturing the day to day shipboard life of the common Civil War sailor (it reads more like an officer's journal), Griffis's manuscript obviously is an essential tool for anyone researching the Winona. It's also a substantial resource for those studying the Union blockade and lower Mississippi River Valley naval operations.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Gettysburg, July 2: The Ebb and Flow of Battle

Gettysburg attracts a level of detail fanaticism that inspires mockery and envy in equal measure. In Gettysburg, July 2: The Ebb and Flow of Battle author James Woods (probably not the actor) attempts a herculean task, that of tracking in apparently extremely minute time increments the movements of every regiment and artillery battery over an entire 24 hour period of the battle. I don't have a copy of the book so I have no idea how successful Woods's effort turned out to be, but if the author's reach truly doesn't exceed his grasp that would be quite a unique achievement.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Booknotes IV (July '14)

New Arrivals:

1. On a Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933 - 2012 by Jennifer M. Murray (Univ of Tenn Pr, 2014).

From the publisher: "Jennifer M. Murray provides a critical perspective to Gettysburg historiography by offering an in-depth exploration of the national military park and how the Gettysburg battlefield has evolved since the National Park Service acquired the site in August 1933. As Murray reveals, the history of the Gettysburg battlefield underscores the complexity of preserving and interpreting a historic landscape. After a short overview of early efforts to preserve the battlefield by the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (1864-1895) and the United States War Department (1895-1933), Murray chronicles the administration of the National Park Service and the multitude of external factors--including the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, the Civil War Centennial, and recent sesquicentennial celebrations--that influenced operations and molded Americans' understanding of the battle and its history."

2. Rebels in the Rockies: Confederate Irregulars in the Western Territories by Walter Earl Pittman (McFarland, 2014).

It was clear in his earlier overview history of the Sibley Campaign that Pittman was interested in the role played by pro-Confederate scouts and irregulars in the Far West. This new book places the focus squarely on those forces, as well as the unsuccessful subversion campaigns employed by sympathizers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and New Mexico. Special attention appears to be paid to the scout company of "Brigands."

3. The Battle of Allatoona Pass: Civil War Skirmish in Bartow County, Georgia by Brad Butkovich (The Hist Pr, 2014).

This is a detailed microhistory of the battle. If the maps are the main reason you're holding on to your copy of Scaife's book on the same subject, you'll like these, too.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Soike: "BUSY IN THE CAUSE: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War"

[Busy in the Cause: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War by Lowell J. Soike (University of Nebraska Press, 2014). Softcover, photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:231/304 ISBN:978-0-8032-7189-0 $30]

Author Lowell Soike is probably correct in his assertion that the involvement of other states in the Kansas Troubles of the 1850s has been neglected in the literature of the Civil War era. His new book Busy in the Cause: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War seeks to redress this deficiency by examining the contributions of the Hawkeye State to the bitter conflict more famously prosecuted by those from Missouri and Kansas Territory.

While the book's characterization of the free soil conflict in Kansas and western Missouri is not entirely one of heroes versus villains, better rounded background accounts of the Bleeding Kansas era exist, among the best Nicole Etcheson's Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era (2004). That said, Busy in the Cause is full of fascinating insights and specifics. As an example, commercial interests in St. Louis and other points along the Missouri River profited greatly from the transit of settlers, and when proslavery forces blockaded and harassed Free-Staters to the point of their seeking new routes outside the state the lost business turned many Missourians against the more radical slavery proponents. With much of the literature focusing on aid societies fostering the creation of a free state Kansas, Soike also points out that greater numbers of northern emigrants relocated to Iowa and even western Missouri than settled in Kansas during the 1850s period under consideration, the territory's violence and lawlessness undoubtedly making the new lands less appealing to many citizens. Figures like that serve as useful reminders that Kansas, though seizing all the headlines at the time, was just part of a broader struggle for the future of the West.

In addition to profiling many Iowans who supported the antislavery movement in Kansas, men like John A. Wakefield, Dr. Ira Blanchard and Rev. Pardee Butler, the book does a fine job of tracing the development of emigrant trails through the state, the northern alternative route that grew out of the increasing danger and uncertainty surrounding Missouri's faster and cheaper water based transportation network. Soike's narrative relates the experiences of several groups using the Iowa trail and explains how communities and evangelical religious groups assisted them along the way. The town of Tabor became an important antislavery outpost. Iowa's newly realigned political machinery also proved helpful, the fallout from the Kansas-Nebraska Act having broken the stranglehold over state government that Conservative Democrats previously enjoyed. According to the author, the governor even transferred two thousand muskets from the state arsenal into the hands of free state emigrants, a shockingly illegal action that was never fully investigated.

Soike also discusses at some length the assistance Iowans rendered to runaway Kansas and Missouri slaves, the newly developed emigrant trail in some ways converted to a series of Underground Railroad stations. Several episodes are detailed, including revelations about how well armed many escaping slaves were, with the author crediting their success as having at least some effect toward weakening the institution of slavery in Missouri [Soike cites the 1859 Jackson County assessors' figure of a 17% drop in slave numbers during that year alone, mostly due to fearful owners selling their human property "down south"].

A large proportion of the study is devoted to the activities of John Brown and his followers. While Soike does place a certain amount of appropriate focus on Brown's Iowa connections (ex. recruiting Iowans to his guerrilla band, using Tabor as a secure base, and building local alliances in sympathetic communities like Grinnell), he perhaps strays a bit too much from the Iowa-centric theme by exploring Brown's Kansas and Missouri operations in such detail. While the work is fine and documenting these events is important, page space could perhaps have been more profitably reserved for topics more specific to Iowa. For instance, while Soike does mention in passing the opposition opinions of several Democratic newspapers and the lukewarm attitudes some communities held toward the most radical antislavery forces, the full spectrum of Iowa political views and party politics in relationship to the most critical years of the free state struggle is distinctly lacking.

Relatively minor complaints aside, Busy in the Cause is a unique and important contribution to Iowa history and to the literature of the 1850s Free Soil movement in the unsettled West. If someone would create a similarly themed volume for Nebraska Territory (perhaps a companion piece to James Potter's fine Civil War history), the northern border context of the Kansas-Missouri conflict would finally have the kind of coverage it deserves.

More CWBA reviews of UNL Press titles:
* Manassas: A Battlefield Guide
* Standing Firmly by the Flag: Nebraska Territory and the Civil War, 1861-1867 (Bison)
* The Enemy Never Came: The Civil War in the Pacific Northwest (For Caxton Press)
* The Settlers' War: The Struggle for the Texas Frontier in the 1860s (for Caxton Press)
* Of Duty Well and Faithfully Done: A History of the Regular Army in the Civil War
* Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide
* Counter-Thrust: From the Peninsula to the Antietam
* Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign
* The Peninsula & Seven Days: A Battlefield Guide
* Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Booknotes III (July '14)

New Arrivals:

1. The Bluffton Expedition: The Burning of Bluffton, South Carolina, During the Civil War by Jeff Fulgham (Lulu, 2013).

You know it's a slow release season when I can finish a book before it even gets listed in the latest Booknotes. Books about Civil War South Carolina seacoast operations remain startlingly rare, so books like this tempt me to take a chance with a self-published manuscript by an unknown author. It's a better than average effort in that regard, but with extra large print and lots of background material it feels more like a long article padded out. If you're interested in the constant amphibious raiding that occurred in and around the sea islands and inland waterways between Savannah and Charleston [Civil War Bluffton sat atop a piece of high ground overlooking the May River a short distance west of Hilton Head Island], it might be worth it to you to check it out.

2. A Lincoln Dialogue by James A. Rawley, edited by William G. Thomas (Univ of Neb Pr, 2014).

"The final project of James A. Rawley, a preeminent historian of the Civil War era, A Lincoln Dialogue cross-examines Lincoln’s major statements, papers, and initiatives in light of the comments and criticism of his supporters and detractors. Drawn from letters and newspapers, pamphlets and reports, these statements and responses constitute a unique documentary examination of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


[The Homefront in Civil War Missouri by James W. Erwin (The History Press, 2014). Softcover, illustrations, bibliography, index. 124 pp. ISBN:978-1-62619-433-5 $19.99]

Meritable Missouri Civil War titles operating outside the dominant guerrilla conflict theme are always welcome. Of course, James Erwin's The Homefront in Civil War Missouri touches freely upon the subject, given the inextricable links, but the main thrust is directed elsewhere, at how civilians both impacted and were impacted by the war.

Why Missouri was such a prize coveted by both sides is clear from the first chapter, which discusses the state's rapid population, infrastructure, and economic expansion during the decades preceding the war. Other early chapters summarize how politicians and military commanders handled (and mishandled) issues surrounding the upholding of cherished civil freedoms and the management of the institution of slavery during mass insurrection without alienating the large pro-Union segment of the population. The importance of St. Louis as military base and center of gunboat construction is also discussed.

Succeeding sections relate the personal experiences of citizens during the pivotal year of 1862 (when guerrillas and their counterguerrilla opponents first began to range far and wide, with often tragic consequences for local civilians), attempts by Union military authorities to curtail religious expression, how women and children both participated in and were victimized by the war, and the growth of the refugee crisis during the middle years. Erwin also traces the formation and expansion of the Western Sanitary Commission from its Missouri origins, as the well funded organization assumed a great deal of responsibility for serving wounded and sick soldiers as well as supporting freedmen, orphans, and other refugee concerns. Emancipation, the raising of black troops in the state, and the new state constitution are covered in the final chapter.

The author is certainly correct that entire volumes could easily be devoted to the substance of each chapter. While the range of topics addressed in Homefront is not exhaustive, Erwin has the most important bases covered. Hints of the type of graphic home violence so frighteningly displayed within works like Michael Fellman's classic Inside War are present, but the book, perhaps in polite consideration of a more general target audience, might be a bit too understated in conveying the sheer terror of what it was like to be a civilian man, woman, or child residing in those counties (and there were many) most directly affected by the guerrilla conflict.

The Homefront in Civil War Missouri possesses most of the characteristics of popular narrative history, including an emphasis on personalized storytelling. There's no body of original archival research, the bibliography instead populated with well known published sources. Source notes are absent but those familiar with the literature will recognize an able synthesis. In terms of the readership that will benefit the most from Erwin's study, those deeply engaged with the relevant scholarship will find no surprises but the uninitiated will be treated to a well crafted and sufficiently comprehensive introduction to Missouri's bewilderingly complicated Civil War homefront.