Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Geier, Scott & Babits, eds.: "FROM THESE HONORED DEAD: Historical Archaeology of the American Civil War"

[From These Honored Dead: Historical Archaeology of the American Civil War edited by Clarence R. Geier, Douglas D. Scott & Lawrence E. Babits (University Press of Florida, 2014). Hardcover, maps, photos, drawings, tables, appendix, reference list, index. Pp. 332. ISBN:978-0-8130-4944-1 $39.95]

Civil War battlefield archaeology can tell us a great deal. On the fields of battle, it can be used to determine where specific units fought, their positions, movements, tactics, and weapons used. The discipline has also contributed greatly to our knowledge of how fortifications of all types were designed, constructed, and used. The same is true for Civil War camps and bivouacs. The interpretation of the wealth of material culture objects found at these sites has significantly enhanced what we currently know about how soldiers lived and fought, and how the armies of which they were a part were supplied and maintained. Chapters covering all of these investigative themes and more are contained in From These Honored Dead: Historical Archaeology of the American Civil War, the latest collection of essays published by University of Florida Press. The content ranges widely in scope, from regional literature summaries all the way down to detailed technical analysis of findings at specific sites.

Beginning with a recap of recent archaeological investigations of Civil War era battlefields and conflict sites within Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and New Mexico, the initial chapters have a strong Trans-Mississippi flavor. The three following essays take a closer look at the battles of Boonville, Palmito Ranch, and Centralia. Like the other sections in the book covering specific engagements, these chapters all provide historical context, raise specific questions that archaeological inquiry hopes to help answer, and briefly discuss findings and methodology. Most of the chapters are not too technical, easily followed by readers with little or no background in the discipline. The Boonville piece, a summary of a larger published report, demonstrates how important archaeology can be in discovering the locations of lines of battle, the sequence of fighting and where the most intense combat occurred, and the weaponry used. The team arrives at a controversial position questioning the long accepted wisdom that pro-Confederate units fought largely with civilian firearms in the early period of the war. The work at the 1864 battle site near Centralia offers insight into the anatomy of a perfectly constructed ambush of regular forces by experienced guerrillas, where once again artifact discovery and interpretation using metal detecting methods pioneered during the famous Little Big Horn survey from the 1980s were used to reconstruct events.  To the east, an exploration of two Shenandoah Valley battlefields demonstrates the value of archaeology as an important tool in reconciling conflicting eyewitness accounts of events or even guiding research in a direction not previously mentioned in any documented source.  Many authors in this compilation offer persuasive arguments for using U.S. Army field manual tools (ex. METT-T and KOCOA) for identifying key terrain, the attendant focus on which increases the likelihood of useful artifact discovery within the time and funding constraints inherent to most endeavors.

Another major section of the book concerns itself with the multi-disciplinary approach to the archaeological and historical interpretation of military bivouacs and camps, noting the differences in site layout, material culture, environmental impact, and level of local disruption involved when troops were present in an area briefly versus long term. One chapter involves the successful location of Wesley Merritt's Cedar Creek cavalry camp, its artifact collection offering insights into the material culture of Union cavalrymen and their horses, as well as tracing the actual plan of the camp with a view toward comparing regulations with actual practice. A more permanent and great deal larger Army of Northern Virginia encampment is the subject of another article, the emphasis being on the impact of the camp on civilian (free and enslaved) life, livelihood and property. The final essay in this section is a case study of a Civil War bivouac (in this case, one made by the 14th Connecticut during the Mine Run Campaign), its abundant artifact yield vastly different in nature from those discovered at long term camp sites. These findings allow useful comparisons to be made between material cultures of soldiers in camp and on campaign.  They also provide a model to be applied to future site studies where the history of events is less well known.

Another trio of chapters (on Camp Nelson's Fort Putnam, Confederate Battery 1 at Quantico, Virginia and a CSA battery position along the Apalachicola River in NW Florida) focuses on earthwork defenses, clearly demonstrating the usefulness of archaeological methods in mapping the precise location and extent of fortifications, as well as in offering important clues in how they were constructed. The final essay follows the "myth busting" impacts of two studies (at Resaca, Georgia and Blountsville, Tennessee), their archaeological findings contrasting sharply with local historical lore. While the piece demonstrates well the challenges of pitting new discoveries against entrenched individual and institutional beliefs, it ends with a wise note of caution to investigating teams of the need to be wary of creating their own myths from limited physical evidence.

An important theme throughout the book is the critical importance of metal detecting equipment and expertise to modern military archaeology. Frowned upon by previous generations, it is now regarded as an essential part of any project. Professional archaeologists have also come to value the collaboration of avocational metal detectionists, many of whom possess extensive site knowledge and technical expertise. After finding high artifact yields in ground widely thought to have been completely picked over by relic hunters, many contributors to the volume also caution colleagues against buying into the widespread belief of "hunted-out" sites.

This book and others like it together comprise a deeply persuasive argument for increased partnership in Civil War studies between archaeologists and practitioners of traditional documentary history.  With archaeological work absent from most Civil War bibliographies, such inter-disciplinary collaboration continues to be undervalued. There exists a long list of good reasons, many of which can be found in the pages of this book, why this should change.

More CWBA reviews of UPF titles:
* James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War
* A Civil War Gunboat in Pacific Waters: Life on Board USS Saginaw
* Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida
* The Southern Mind Under Union Rule: The Diary of James Rumley, Beaufort, North Carolina, 1862-1865
* A Brief Guide to Florida's Monuments and Memorials
* Huts and History: The Historical Archaeology of Military Encampment During the American Civil War
* Archaeological Perspectives on the American Civil War

Monday, April 14, 2014

"The Siege of Lexington, Missouri"

The 1861 Lexington Campaign was one of the largest scale military operations in the state of Missouri yet it has heretofore lacked a full treatment. Articles have been written, as well as a pair of spiral bound booklets by Michael Gillespie (apparently a 2nd edition was put out in 2007) and Kevin Tilly, but Larry Wood's The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: The Battle of the Hemp Bales will be the first book to appear. A late spring release, it will be a part of The History Press's Civil War Sesquicentennial series, to which Wood has contributed books about the two Newtonia battles and Civil War Springfield.

I heard from Gillespie many years ago that he was working on converting his own Lexington work into a full blown book study but haven't had an update for that project in a long time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

New edition of "Thunder in Arcadia Valley"

Southeast Missouri State University Press is publishing (this year?) a revised and expanded edition of Bryce Suderow's fine history of the early stages of the 1864 Price Raid and the Battle of Pilot Knob -- Thunder in Arcadia Valley, with new research and material contributed by co-author Scott House. This project has been in the works for a long time and it's great to finally get some solid public indication that it will see the light of day.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ramold: "ACROSS THE DIVIDE: Union Soldiers View the Northern Home Front"

[Across the Divide: Union Soldiers View the Northern Home Front by Steven J. Ramold (New York University Press, 2013). Hardcover, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN:978-0-8147-2919-9. Pp. 230. $49]

During the early months of the Civil War, citizen-soldier attitudes toward the war and how it should be fought closely matched those of their civilian counterparts. However, as the war dragged on with no end in sight, significant cracks in the fa├žade of military-home front solidarity appeared. It is this oft contentious relationship between two fronts of a common war that is the subject of Steven Ramold’s Across the Divide.

Perhaps the most immediate issue that arose was a new gender dynamic. Male heads of household, used to the roles of provider and decision-maker, now found themselves physically and authoritatively separated from home. With spotty communications and army pay often 6-9 months in arrears, feelings of powerlessness and failure were common. Fulfilling the traditional male position in society did not work long distance and wives were forced to pick up the slack. The book offers numerous examples of how this abrupt hierarchical shift in homes across the North led to frustration on both sides of the “divide”.

Another source of friction between soldiers and the home front was emancipation. Insulated civilians often kept their antebellum views of slavery, but many soldiers at the front, exposed directly to the institution’s horrors and having personal contact with helpful slaves, quickly moved to support emancipation as war aim and/or moral necessity. Obviously, soldier attitudes ran the entire gamut between abolitionist and anti-abolitionist, but according to Ramold there existed a vast middle ground of opinion (which he terms the emancipationist view) that came to recognize the need to end slavery but at the same time was unwilling to grant ex-slaves the rights of full citizenship. The book suggests, with good evidence within its pages and elsewhere, that most soldiers came to believe from mid-war onward that civilians who did not at least support the emancipationist viewpoint to be de facto Confederate sympathizers.

Conscription was another key source of conflict. The vast majority of soldiers supported the draft, but the home front was deeply, and often violently, divided on the subject. Many groups, chief among them anti-war Democrats, opposed the draft on legal and moral grounds. Soldiers, on the other hand, had no sympathy for those back home unwilling to join the fight. Ramold documents several draft riots, finding that soldiers restoring order in the rear expressed little reluctance toward firing live rounds into demonstrators. The author is persuasive in arguing that conscription as implemented by the North could be thought of as a policy blunder. In return for only a small manpower increase, the relationship and trust between the populace and the federal government was gravely harmed at a vital time in the prosecution of the war. On the other side of the coin, the fact that large numbers of men enlisted under the threat of conscription is undervalued in this argument.

The anti-war movement in the North rivaled conscription in terms of creating soldier-civilian animosity. The evidence does seem to suggest that relatively few soldiers bothered differentiating between War Democrats, Peace Democrats, and the most extreme form of the latter – the “Copperheads," instead viewing all Democrats as enemies. Many on the home front felt the same way, and Republicans exploited this distorted perception of reality by exaggerating for their own partisan gain the influences of Copperheads and secret societies like the Knights of the Golden Circle. Though the belief that Copperheads comprised a serious threat to the Union war effort has received something of an upsurge in scholarly support recently (most popularly expressed in the work of Jennifer Weber), Ramold holds to the more traditional view of the anti-war movement as a “decentralized and ineffective political force” (pg. 142).

The final major source of division examined in the book is the 1864 election, with the soldiers as a whole determined to believe it the duty of everyone to support Lincoln’s reelection. To them, anything else would render the sacrifice of the preceding four years meaningless.

The most transparent flaw in the book is the high number of typos, but the methodology of the project is also not really designed to collect the depth and kind of evidence that might impart inescapable answers to big questions. While readers familiar with the publications referenced in the notes will agree with many aspects of Ramold's synthesis, it is difficult to dismiss the essentially anecdotal nature of the first-hand evidence presented in the form of individual quotations, with most undoubtedly chosen for their pithiness. Readers should be reminded that this is not a representative sample of northern opinion organized on the scale or statistical significance of, for example, the database created by Joseph Glatthaar for his celebrated social history of the Army of Northern Virginia. Nevertheless, Across the Divide is a useful book that powerfully outlines the multitude of societal issues behind northern military-civilian disharmony during the Civil War, with conclusions that may not convince all readers but at least are reasonable interpretations of the existing literature.

[orig. version appeared in On Point magazine]

Monday, April 07, 2014

Booknotes III (April '14)

New Arrivals:

1. The Civil War: The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean (The Library of America, 2014).

Its material selected and annotated by Sheehan-Dean, this is the last of a four-volume set of Library of America sponsored collections of edited firsthand accounts from the Civil War. In late summer, the books will be re-released as a boxed set with color McElfresh map posters.

2. Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North by Steve Longenecker (Fordham UP, 2014).

Religious practices in Gettysburg are studied, using the three themes of the subtitle: refinement (in both the spiritual and physical senses), diversity of religious expression, and race. The author argues that Border North towns like Gettysburg were at the forefront of emerging national trends.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

"Soldiers in the Army of Freedom"

Given the current level of interest, especially among professional historians, it is surprising how few regimental histories of black units are being published. Part of the same Campaigns and Commanders series as the book mentioned in the previous post, Ian Spurgeon's Soldiers in the Army of Freedom: The 1st Kansas Colored, the Civil War's First African American Combat Unit takes on a group of soldiers who were pioneers in the Union army's testing of black troops in fighting roles.

Spurgeon is also the author of a good treatment of the political career of Jim Lane [my review], who was an early supporter of raising black troops for the Union war effort.

Friday, April 04, 2014

"The Early Morning of War"

I was wondering if the Sesquicentennial would produce another First Bull Run history.  Well, it's better late than never with Edward Longacre's The Early Morning of War: Bull Run, 1861. I can't say any of the author's books are among my favorites, but Oklahoma's Campaigns and Commanders series, of which this will be a part, is a good one. With this and the Rafuse guide the year is getting better for you, Harry.  Maybe.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Booknotes II (April '14)

New Arrivals:

1. The Petersburg Campaign: The Western Front Battles, September 1864 - April 1865, Volume 2 by Edwin C. Bearss with Bryce Suderow (Savas Beatie, 2014).

The first volume (my review here) of classic Bearss articles took the reader from the initial assaults through Ream's Station, while the second book moves to the later western flank operations [Peebles' Farm, Burgess Mill, Hatcher's Run, Fort Stedman, Five Forks, and the decisive VI Corps breakthrough].  There are 25 original George Skoch maps to go with the text.

2. William S. Rosecrans and the Union Victory: A Civil War Biography by David G. Moore (McFarland, 2014).

It's been a long time since Lamers's The Edge of Glory first appeared in print, so Old Rosey is due for another biography. With only the briefest of chapters covering his life before and after the Civil War, this would classify as a military biography more than a "full" treatment.

3. "Death does seem to have all he can attend to": The Civil War Diary of an Andersonville Survivor edited by Ronald G. Watson (McFarland, 2014).

Hitchcock fought in both the western and eastern theaters with the 21st Massachusetts. Though the Andersonville portion of his diary (Hitchcock was captured at Cold Harbor) will undoubtedly interest many readers, with not much published about Burnside's invasion of East Tennessee, I would be more interested in the larger portion of the book devoted to 1863 activities in East Kentucky and the Knoxville Expedition.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

New Perspectives on the Civil War series (Georgia)

University of Georgia Press just announced a new book series New Perspectives on the Civil War with historian Judkin Browning as general editor. Differentiating itself a bit from the UT Press's venerable and military focused Voices of the Civil War, it's "dedicated to the publication of primary sources of the Civil War era from a wide diversity of perspectives—respecting the soldier’s voice, but not privileging it over every other voice". Uniquely, all the titles will also have a digital component of some kind designed for classroom use.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Booknotes (April '14)

New Arrivals:

1. The River Was Dyed with Blood: Nathan Bedford Forrest & Fort Pillow by Brian Steel Wills (Univ of Okla Pr, 2014).

For one reason or another, none of the published Fort Pillow histories have proven entirely satisfactory (to me, anyway). Maybe Wills's study, which examines the subject from a multitude of angles in a compact 200 page narrative, will be the best yet.

2. Manassas: A Battlefield Guide by Ethan Rafuse (Univ of Neb Pr, 2014).

Both major battles are the focus of this guide, with numerous additional side trips to sites associated with the campaigns but located outside park limits, including a Chantilly "excursion."

3. Battles and Massacres on the Southwestern Frontier: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives edited by Ronald K. Wetherington and Frances Levine (Univ of Okla Pr, 2014).

This is a collection of essays comparing the historical narratives of four mid-nineteenth century killing grounds in the Southwest -- Cieneguilla, Adobe Walls, Sand Creek, and Mountain Meadows -- with the physical findings of modern archaeology.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Booknotes IV (March '14)

New Arrivals:

1. From These Honored Dead: Historical Archaeology of the American Civil War
edited by Clarence R. Geier, Douglas D. Scott & Lawrence E. Babits (UP of Florida, 2014).

I'm always excited when UPF publishes another set of archaeological studies of battlefields, bivouacs, camps, logistical features, and forts. These material investigations frequently come up with interesting conclusions at variance with the document-based historical record. This particular volume examines sites across all three major theaters.

2. Civil War: The Untold Story (Athena DVD set - 5 eps, 276 min., 2014).

"Using dramatic battle recreations, compelling archival imagery, 3-D maps, and insightful interviews with top Civil War scholars, this five-part series shows why the West played such a vital part in the outcome of the war."

3. Suffer and Grow Strong: The Life of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1834-1907 by Carolyn Newton Curry (Mercer UP, 2014).

Both born into and married to wealth, Thomas was a native Georgian ruined by the Civil War. After the war, like many of her class, she ran a school and boardinghouse out of her mansion to make ends meet, but her standout career was as a leader in the temperance and women's rights movements. Her diaries totaling 450k words and numerous publications provide her biographer with an abundance of public and private material.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Christ, ed.: "'THIS DAY WE MARCHED AGAIN': A Union Soldier's Account of War in Arkansas and the Trans-Mississippi"

["This Day We Marched Again": A Union Soldier's Account of War in Arkansas and the Trans-Mississippi edited by Mark K. Christ (Butler Center Books, 2014). Softcover, 2 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 157 Pp. ISBN:978-1-935106-67-8 $19.95]

German immigrant Jacob Haas enlisted in the 9th Wisconsin in September 1861 and served in the Trans-Mississippi for the entirety of the war, marching and fighting across Kansas, Indian Territory, Arkansas and Missouri. In his native language, he documented his observations and experiences from beginning to end, combining his diaries into a single manuscript after the war. In the early twentieth century, his son-in-law translated the work into English, and it remained in the possession of the family until published this month by the book arm of the Butler Center of Arkansas Studies under the title "This Day We Marched Again": A Union Soldier's Account of War in Arkansas and the Trans-Mississippi.

Civil War Arkansas related participant accounts seeking editors can do no better than getting Mark Christ on board. Christ, the longtime Arkansas Historic Presentation Program outreach director, has contributed to and edited a number of important publications, and this previously unpublished material is certainly worthy of his talents. During the postwar combining of his diaries, it's clear that Haas inserted facts he could not have known at the time of first writing so some degree of self editing was performed. The diary manuscript that emerged from three levels of handling over many decades -- original writing, combining/editing, and translation -- is not a paragon of American English syntax and spelling, even with Christ's corrections. Haas managed to misspell the name of nearly every military officer he encountered, but Christ's decision to retain Haas's ubiquitous proper noun errors as useful cultural artifact, reserving the corrective for the footnotes, seems the right one. As all good editors do, Christ in his notes substantially expands the reader's knowledge and understanding of persons, places and events mentioned in the diary text, but he also goes the extra mile in using other unpublished writings from the regiment (the most useful of these being the diaries of Hermann Schlueter and Michael Zimmer) to validate Haas's claims and interpretations.

The value of particular Civil War letter and diary collections to researchers is often exaggerated but this is not the case with Haas's historical contribution. What his writing lacks in polish and style it more than makes up for in content, though rather narrowly focused on military affairs.  The attitude that emerges from his diary seems generally indifferent to the widespread abuse of civilians and their property, and he doesn't reflect much upon national political issues or the social upheavals that the war induced (such as the ending of slavery and fighting alongside black soldiers).  On a somewhat lighter note, his record of the violent dislike that boiled up between the officers and men of the 9th Wisconsin and the 1st Nebraska may be one of the earliest indications of what would in the future become a great Midwestern rivalry.

As mentioned above, in contrast with the scant attention paid to issues of politics and society, Haas's writings on the military actions and duties of his regiment are highly observant, their level of detail far exceeding the typical Civil War enlisted man, or even officer, diary. Vivid descriptions of the character and layout of occupied towns like Rolla, Missouri and Camden, Arkansas are presented, and rural points of interest located along routes of march dutifully noted. Even when major battles were missed (ex. the regiment spent Prairie Grove guarding Rhea's Mill), Haas's faithful recounting of his regiment's supporting activities augment our knowledge of these campaigns. His Newtonia material is not historical gold, but the series of diary entries covering the long march of the Arkansas wing of the 1864 Red River Campaign and frequent small scale fighting that occurred along the road to Camden comprise a rare gem for researchers seeking primary source information for that period. Fortunately for Haas, he and his unit missed the Marks' Mills and Poison Spring debacles, but his diary's in-depth observations of the occupation of Camden and the later battle of Jenkins' Ferry admirably pick up the slack. Upon returning to Little Rock, severe illness required sick leave for Haas, followed by discharge from the army in December 1864.

With almost every aspect of the book being worthy of high praise, the only real source of complaint is with the maps. Evidently present to pinpoint for the reader key locations from Haas's diary, they are shrunken to the extent of near total illegibility; but that negative vibe is only transitory. Publication of Trans-Mississippi soldier diaries are rare events and "This Day We Marched Again" is one of the best to emerge in recent years. All students of the Civil War west of the Mississippi should obtain a copy for their home library. Those with a special interest in the immigrant soldier experience will also find Haas's diary to be a great source of first-hand information and perspective.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pair of early releases

When I started doing this back in 2005 it wasn't uncommon to receive a finished copy of a book from a major press up to two months before general release and have my review done long before the manuscript hit the bookstores. Those days are long gone and it's more of a rare pleasure to find a book I've been looking forward to actually get released pretty far in advance of the initial street date. This is the case for a pair of anticipated titles:

Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era by Eugene Schmiel and Ethan Rafuse's Manassas: A Battlefield Guide.

Nebraska's This Hallowed Ground is my preferred guide series and FBR is my favorite eastern theater battle to study so that combo makes it a must-read for me. I'm sure Harry is excited, too. For the SBR people, that's in there as well. If I had to choose a favorite Union "political general" it would be Jacob Cox, who could use a good military biography, and I have high hopes for Schmiel's book. Apparently, both will soon be on their way to me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Whitman's Grant elegy

A few days ago, Dimitri (it's good to have him back) posted and praised the Ambrose Bierce poem "The Death of Grant."  That's a Bierce piece I hadn't encountered before, an impressive read in many ways, although I do not like how it overflows with the notion of Grant the unreflective man.

Here's what Walt Whitman had to say about the big man's passing.


As one by one withdraw the lofty actors,
From that great play on history's stage eterne,
That lurid, partial act of war and peace—of old and new con-
Fought out through wrath, fears, dark dismays, and many a long
All past—and since, in countless graves receding, mellowing,
Victor's and vanquish'd—Lincoln's and Lee's—now thou with
Man of the mighty days—and equal to the days!
Thou from the prairies!—tangled and many-vein'd and hard has
         been thy part,
To admiration has it been enacted! 
Meh.  Not Walt's best work.