Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Booknotes: The Old North State at War

New Arrival:
The Old North State at War: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas by Mark Anderson Moore, with Jessica A. Bandel and Michael Hill (Office of Archives and History - NC Dept of Natural and Cultural Resources, 2015).

A deeply ambitious and exceptionally beautiful atlas of Civil War North Carolina, The Old North State at War is the kind of thing I was hoping would come out of the Sesquicentennial. Mark Moore is one of the leading lights of Civil War cartography and the 99 maps he contributed to the volume are works of art, both incredibly detailed and aesthetically appealing. North Carolina campaigns and battles big and small, cavalry raids, sieges, naval clashes, amphibious landings and guerrilla operations ... they're all in there [see here for map list and table of contents]. Home front issues also closely inhabit the book's pages, with page length sidebars describing elections, politics, slavery, black soldier recruitment, home grown Unionism, profiles of prominent North Carolinians, the war's legacy, and more. In addition to the maps, numerous photographs, charts and tables are inserted with regularity. At 200 11x17 landscape format pages, it's a very large and heavy book (the shipping box said 6 lbs) with a price commensurate with the first rate production values. An interview with Moore will be posted soon.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Cathey & Waddey: "'FORWARD MY BRAVE BOYS!': A History of the 11th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry CSA, 1861-1865"

["Forward My Brave Boys!": A History of the 11th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry CSA, 1861-1865 by M. Todd Cathey and Gary W. Waddey (Mercer University Press, 2015). Cloth, 9 maps, photos, roster, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:337/583. ISBN:978-0-88146-544-0. $35]

"Forward My Brave Boys!": A History of the 11th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry CSA, 1861-1865 is a richly informative regimental history and roster study of a unit formed in early 1861. Its ranks filled with recruits from five Middle Tennessee counties (Humphreys, Dickson, Davidson, Robertson and Hickman), the regiment was initially led by Colonel James Edwards Rains (see cover at left), who was popular with the men and would put them in proper fighting shape even though their arms and equipment were badly deficient.

After drilling at Camp Cheatham, the 11th was ordered to rugged and hostile East Tennessee with General Felix Zollicoffer, where the regiment was initially scattered along the railroad to guard against sabotage, Union raids and local uprisings. The book's coverage of this period is quite thorough, as are those sections documenting the occupation of strategic Cumberland Gap and the series of tentative Confederate advances into SE Kentucky that followed it.

In Kentucky, the regiment dispersed enemy Home Guard camps (including the one at Barboursville) and fought at Wildcat Mountain near Rockcastle. The 11th was not with Zollicoffer at Mill Springs but did fight at the Battle of Tazewell in Tennessee after being forced to abandon the Gap in the face of a coordinated Union offensive operation. Later, as part of Carter Stevenson's division besieging the Union garrison of Cumberland Gap, the regiment was left behind during the initial stages of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign. Though they missed the Battle of Perryville they wore themselves out marching over 400 rugged miles.

The 11th experienced its first major combat at Stones River in Middle Tennessee, where it advanced with the Confederate left on December 31 and suffered heavy casualties. It was there that the beloved Rains (now their brigade commander) was killed. Nine months later at Chickamauga, the regiment charged over Brock Field and it was deployed near the Carroll House atop Missionary Ridge during that disastrous defeat.  Being within the "Dead Angle," the 11th was highly visible at Kennesaw Mountain. The Tennesseans also attacked the Army of the Cumberland at Peachtree Creek and suffered heavy casualties at Bald Hill during the Battle of Atlanta.

After the Jonesboro battle and the abandonment of Atlanta, the 11th was consolidated with the 29th Tennessee. Things would only get worse for the unit's rapidly dwindling numbers during the 1864 Tennessee Campaign as they would lose half their remaining strength in the carnage along the Columbia Pike at Franklin. After the crushing defeat at Nashville, the survivors of the regiment traveled by a circuitous route to North Carolina, where they were reunited with Joe Johnston and saw some final action at the tail end of the Bentonville battle.

In their research, authors Cathey and Waddey uncovered a fairly prodigious amount of primary source material (both published and unpublished) and their history of the 11th regiment's Civil War service is often a detailed one, especially in its coverage of the battlegrounds of Stones River, Kennesaw Mountain and Franklin where the regiment's heaviest fighting occurred along with their highest casualties. Throughout the book, firsthand accounts are effectively incorporated into the master narrative. The text does have the occasional editing problem and orientation can be a bit unforgiving for the novice reader but the more experienced western theater student will follow events with few problems. The book's early chapters dealing with the regiment's activities in the Kentucky-Tennessee borderland are especially enlightening given the literature's comparative neglect of the Civil War in the logistically challenging region immediately surrounding Cumberland Gap.

The volume's 160+ page roster is impressive. Not only is the amount of service record and biographical information extensive but the material is also annotated (a rarity among regimental studies). The book also contains two hefty photo galleries presenting many rarely seen images. Maps are high quality but modest in number and bunched together in the front rather than appropriately dispersed. A pair of appendices address the organizational history of the regiment and another documents casualties by battle. A POW list and a register of names present on the rolls at the final surrender are also included.

"Forward My Brave Boys!" is both a fine regimental history and an equally valuable collection of reference tools for those that might wish to conduct further research on the 11th Tennessee's officers and men.


More CWBA reviews of MUP titles:
* To the Gates of Atlanta: From Kennesaw Mountain to Peach Tree Creek, 1-19 July 1864
* Last to Join the Fight: The 66th Georgia Infantry
* The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Sortie, July 20, 1864
* Going Back the Way They Came: The Phillips Georgia Legion Cavalry Battalion
* I Will Give Them One More Shot: Ramsey's First Regiment Georgia Volunteers
* The Battle of Resaca: Atlanta Campaign, 1864
* Volunteers' Camp and Field Book
* Griswoldville
* Civil War Macon: The History of a Confederate City

Friday, February 05, 2016

Booknotes: Ghosts - Images of War

New Arrival:
Ghosts - Images of War by Carrie Zeidman (Swiss Creek Publications, 2015).

The idea of invoking the tragic past by "superimposing and digitally manipulating historical images of the past with photos of the present" came to author and photographer Carrie Zeidman during a visit to the Nazi concentration camps in Poland. Her book Ghosts draws its inspiration from four conflicts -- the Revolutionary War, the Civil War (Gettysburg, Antietam, and Appomattox), World War One and World War Two. The text that accompanies the full-page photographs is part history, part travelogue.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Booknotes: Observing Hancock at Gettysburg

New Arrival:
Observing Hancock at Gettysburg: The General's Leadership Through Eyewitness Accounts by Paul E. Bretzger (McFarland, 2016).

Union general Winfield Scott Hancock earned his "Hancock the Superb" sobriquet very early in the war at the Battle of Williamsburg but he didn't really become a legendary figure until the Battle of Gettysburg, where he figured prominently in all three days of that colossal clash. Bretzger's study posits that "(u)nderstanding Hancock's pivotal actions at Gettysburg is essential to understanding the battle itself. This book covers his life and military career and considers the personal qualities that made him a preeminent figure in the greatest battle of the Civil War". Bretzger begins with a brief account of Hancock's pre-Gettysburg life and military career before launching into his arrival on the battlefield during the chaotic afternoon of July 1, 1863. The author discusses the general's initial disposition of the battered Army of the Potomac, his direction of II Corps on July 2 (the action around the Bliss Farm, the reaction to the collapse of III Corps, and the defenses of Cemetery Ridge and East Cemetery Hill) and his command of the Union center on July 3. As the title indicates, the author's analysis is heavily informed by a wide range of firsthand views of Hancock's personal behavior and generalship.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Pollard: "FORTS AND POSTS IN KANSAS DURING THE CIVIL WAR: 1861-1865"

[Forts and Posts in Kansas During the Civil War: 1861-1865 by William C. Pollard, Jr. (Author, 2015). 8.5 x 11 oversize softcover, maps, notes, appendices, index. 336 pp. ISBN:9781511874243. $12.20]

During the nineteenth century, fortifications sprouted up all over Kansas. During the territorial period, most were located in the western two-thirds of Kansas and were primarily aimed at Indian threats to homesteaders and the overland trails. During the "Bleeding Kansas" and Civil War years, however, the eastern third of the state was a beehive of military activity, with nearly every community erecting some kind of defensive measures against fellow settlers, guerrillas or enemy soldiers. 58 of these sites are compiled and discussed in William Pollard's Forts and Posts in Kansas During the Civil War: 1861-1865.

In his study, Pollard examines the entire spectrum of defensive installations in Kansas, from the sprawling military complexes of forts Riley, Leavenworth, Scott and Larned all the way down to the most modest of community and home protective measures like fortified log cabins. In between are a host of army camps, blockhouses, town posts, stockades, and variously fortified buildings. As one might guess, these are Union outposts but there is one enemy stronghold in Pollard's register, a well hidden guerrilla base used by the Livingston band.

Pollard's text commentaries range from just a few sentences to a half dozen pages or more for the larger fort communities. The author provides a physical description of each site (the level of detail available from the sources varies widely) and summarizes the Civil War role of each fort and post. Military actions that occurred in and around each location are recounted, and students of both the guerrilla conflict along the Kansas-Missouri border and the retreat through eastern Kansas of Sterling Price's army after the failed Missouri Expedition of 1864 will find much in the way of interesting material related to those particular events. There's social and political context in some chapters, as well. Several sites served as havens (albeit tragically inadequate ones) for pro-Union refugees from Indian Territory and others bases for some of the war's earliest black combat units. Pollard's notes certainly suggest that a serious research effort went into the project and many firsthand accounts are well integrated into the text.

The appendix set contains useful information but unfortunately much of it remains frustratingly unrealized as the generally poor quality of the map and diagram reproductions often results in vain reader attempts to decipher blurred lines and labels. The first appendix lists GPS coordinates for each of the forts and posts covered in the book and succeeding appendices document post establishment/deactivation dates and point out their location on modern maps. A number of fort diagrams are also included in this section.

Humble production values aside, this more than reasonably priced guidebook is a very useful reference tool for those studying the Civil War along the Kansas-Missouri border.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Booknotes: Kill Jeff Davis

New Arrival:

Kill Jeff Davis: The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864 by Bruce M. Venter (Univ of Okla Pr, 2016).

Controversy has long stalked the failed 1864 Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid on Richmond. Young Ulric Dahlgren himself was killed during the operation but the most shocking development was the discovery of documents in his possession directing his command to kill President Davis and his cabinet and also burn the city of Richmond. Both the authenticity of the orders [I believe the current consensus is that they were indeed genuine] and their exact origin have been debated ever since. Bruce Venter has been studying the affair for a decade and in that time he's discovered important new sources that alter previously published interpretations (including his own). His book Kill Jeff Davis promises the fullest account of the raid itself to date as well as the best answers to the remaining questions.

From the publisher description: "In this detailed and deeply researched account of the most famous cavalry raid of the Civil War, author Bruce M. Venter describes an expedition that was carefully planned but poorly executed. A host of factors foiled the raid: bad weather, poor logistics, inadequate command and control, ignorance of the terrain, the failures of supporting forces, and the leaders’ personal and professional shortcomings. Venter delves into the background and consequences of the debacle, beginning with the political maneuvering orchestrated by commanding brigadier general Judson Kilpatrick to persuade President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to approve the raid. Venter’s examination of the relationship between Kilpatrick and Brigadier General George A. Custer illuminates the reasons why the flamboyant Custer was excluded from the Richmond raid.

In a lively narrative describing the multiple problems that beset the raiders, Kill Jeff Davis uncovers new details about the African American guide whom Dahlgren ordered hanged; the defenders of the Confederate capital, who were not just the “old men and young boys” of popular lore; and General Benjamin F. Butler’s expedition to capture Davis, as well as Custer’s diversionary raid on Charlottesville
."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Alexander & Utley: "ECHOES OF GLORY: Historic Military Sites across Texas"

[Echoes of Glory: Historic Military Sites across Texas by Thomas E. Alexander & Dan K. Utley (Texas A&M University Press, 2015). Flexbound, 2 maps, photos, index. 256 pp. ISBN:978-1-62349-337-0 $29.95]

According to authors Thomas Alexander and Dan Utley, the response to their 2012 book Faded Glory: A Century of Forgotten Texas Military Sites, Then and Now was so positive and additional reader suggestions so numerous that the authors got right to work on another volume. Their new book Echoes of Glory: Historic Military Sites across Texas looks at 24 more places of military significance from the distant past through the near present. Beginning with a Spanish colonial fortress and concluding with a U.S. naval station shuttered in 2010, the volume spans three centuries of Texas military history.

The two dozen chapters are written in a conversational style designed to appeal to a wide range of readers. Each self contained narrative describes the physical site, as it appeared in its heyday as well as what survives today, but the emphasis is on historical context. In military, social, and economic terms, the impact and importance of many places encompassed local, national and international concerns. Today, many of the locations are in ruins or are simply scars on the natural landscape and the current state of archaeological study of the remains is also briefly assessed. Possible areas for improvement of future volumes might include more photographs and maps (including site layouts). Directions are rudimentary but the book is really more oriented toward history than touring. Many places are also on private land or inaccessible in other ways.

Content is highly diverse in terms of time period as well as the various national and political entities involved (ex. tribal, Spanish colonial, Mexican, Texas, United States and Confederate authorities). The military facilities of the Presidio De San Saba, Fort Teran, and Fort Anahuac helped the Spanish and later Mexican governments protect and administer territory threatened by Indian and American encroachments. U.S. forts (ex. Ewell, Mason and Phantom Hill) built after the war with Mexico are explored in the context of policing the new border and regulating traffic (including the treaty obligation of intercepting Indian raids) across it.

While many sites described in the book have at least some Civil War context (ex. the San Antonio arsenal and G.A. Custer's HQ and march route through Reconstruction Texas), three chapters are specifically devoted to Civil War places and events. The bloodless "Battle" of Adams Hill occurred just west of San Antonio on May 9, 1861 and resulted in the negotiated surrender of a sizable but vastly outnumbered contingent of U.S. Regulars to Confederate forces under Colonel Earl Van Dorn. It marked one of the earliest episodes whereby large numbers of prisoners-of-war were taken by either side, the situation contributing to the establishment of protocols for the disposition and later exchange of captured combatants. In this case, it would be February 1863 before the last Union soldier from the Adams Hill surrender was exchanged.

The wartime cloth mill at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville offers readers an interesting story of a state run enterprise that aided the Confederate war effort and filled government coffers. Huntsville cloth production, over seven million yards in total, was the state's leading industry and generated revenue for Texas second only to property tax. Public and private partnerships were vital for manufacturing war material in the industry-poor South and the Huntsville mill offers an illuminating case study.

Enemy threats from the sea were omnipresent during the conflict and the third Civil War chapter offers insights into the defenses of the state capital, a network that would eventually comprise three forts and their connecting trenches. In 1863, work on Fort Magruder was begun using slave labor but construction was halted the next year when the southern approaches to Austin that it was designed to defend were deemed safe. The earthworks remained visible as late as the 1930s but urban development has since overtaken the site. Today, a 2003 marker placed nearby and a commemorative city street name (misspelled "McGruder") are all that's left for visitors to see.

Other sites covered in the book include Camp Myers (the Black Seminole Scouts base), a fort and airfield originally aimed at stopping Mexican border raids, WW1 and WW2-era training camps and airfields, the Atlas missile site at Lawn, Aransas's WW2 coastal defense facilities, and the short lived Naval Station Ingleside. Altogether, Echoes of Glory offers a great way for today's Texans to learn about the rich military history located in their own backyards. There's also more than enough broader interest material in the book to engage students of the Indian Wars, the Civil War, revolutionary Mexico, WW1, WW2 and the Cold War.


More CWBA reviews of TAMUP titles:
* Confederate Saboteurs: Building the Hunley and Other Secret Weapons of the Civil War
* The Maltby Brothers' Civil War
* Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine: Iron, Guns, and Pearls
* Turmoil on the Rio Grande: The Territorial History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865
* Tejanos in Gray: Civil War Letters of Captains Joseph Rafael de la Garza and Manuel Yturri
* Why Texans Fought in the Civil War
* Moss Bluff Rebel: A Texas Pioneer in the Civil War
* Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas' Rangers and Rebels
* Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West
* Planting The Union Flag In Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West
* The Yankee Invasion of Texas
* Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Civil War Siege of Jackson, Mississippi

During the Vicksburg Campaign, the Mississippi capital of Jackson was occupied twice by Union forces, after both the May 14, 1864 Battle of Jackson and the weeklong "Siege" of Jackson conducted in the immediate aftermath of the July capture of the Hill City. The military aspects of these events were covered by Ed Bearss in his 3-volume campaign study and also in a separate commissioned work co-authored with Warren Grabau. However, the first book devoted solely to the so-called siege (the Civil War literature is generally rather loose on the military definition) will be published later this year under the title The Civil War Siege of Jackson, Mississippi. The author, Jim Woodrick, was the Civil War Sites Historian for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History so it should be reasonable to expect that his study might rank among the better Civil War Series titles from The History Press.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sharpshooter

As esteemed Army of Northern Virginia historian Robert K. Krick notes in his foreword to the upcoming Sharpshooter: The Selected Letters and Papers of Maj. Eugene Blackford, C.S.A., Volume I (CFS Press, FEB 2016), the Blackford family out of Fredericksburg and Lynchburg, Virginia are source royalty when it comes to the war in the eastern theater from the Confederate perspective. Easily the most famous figure is W.W. Blackford, whose memoir War Years with Jeb Stuart was published in 1945 and populates the notes and bibliography sections of countless books and articles. But brother C.M. Blackford's Letters from Lee's Army is up there with it. Then there are works from artillerist L.M Blackford, engineer B.L. Blackford, and now Eugene Blackford. In creating his fine study of the sharpshooter battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia, Shock Troops of the Confederacy (2006), author Fred L. Ray leaned heavily on the writings of 5th Alabama infantry major Eugene Blackford and soon the first of three volumes of Blackford letter, diary and memoir materials will be released.

Volume I includes a selected body of letters from January 1861 through May 1863, which contain useful firsthand accounts of First Bull Run, Seven Pines, Gaines's Mill, Malvern Hill, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville while also treating readers to a wide range of lively opinions on other matters like camp life, unit politics and the officer corps of the army. Ray pens an introduction and epilogue for each of the book's ten chapters, as well as many brief transitional pieces within. A number of maps (including some interesting sketches made by Blackford himself), photos, and drawings are also scattered about the book's pages and Ray's chapter notes clarify persons, places and events mentioned in Blackford's letters.

Much more information about the book can be found at: http://www.ebsharpshooter.com/
• Pre-order page: http://www.cfspress.com/Blackford/order.html

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Knight & Jesperson: "GRANT RISING: Mapping the Career of a Great Commander Through 1862"

[Grant Rising: Mapping the Career of a Great Commander Through 1862 by James R. Knight and Hal Jesperson (Lombardy Studios, 2015). Cloth, maps, photos, illustrations, orders of battle, notes, bibliography, index. 120 pp. ISBN:978-1-940169-01-9. $50]

Grant Rising is a combined narrative history overview and map atlas that chronicles the military career of U.S. Grant beginning in the war with Mexico and concluding with the failure of the first Vicksburg Campaign in late 1862. The Civil War battles covered are Belmont, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Iuka, Corinth, Davis Bridge and Chickasaw Bayou. The work is published in landscape format with the text presented on the left-hand side and the maps on the right, all packaged in a volume of manageable dimensions in the roughly 9 x 11 inch range. Partially funding the project with a successful Kickstarter campaign, Lombardy Studios is hoping that the book (designated Map Study Series CW No. 1) will be the beginning of much more to come.

In earlier works covering Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge and Franklin, the author of Grant Rising's text, James R. Knight, has shown himself to be highly adept at condensing large scale military events and he demonstrates similar skills here with his double column narrative descriptions of the action represented on each map. In addition to providing concise accounts of the campaigns and battles, Knight also pauses between operations to remind readers of their context within the wider war (east and west). Footnotes are sparingly used and indicate a reliance on Grant's Memoirs, the O.R. and the major secondary campaign works. As one might guess, a very positive picture of Grant emerges in the book and when controversies do arise the writer tends to adopt either the Grant view of events or a benignly neutral position.

The volume's 46 maps were created by prolific cartograther Hal Jesperson. These attractive drawings span all three levels of military action, from strategic overviews to operational movements to tactical maneuvers on the battlefield. The maps are multi-color, with detailed renderings of both the natural terrain (with elevation shading) and man-made land features. So that descending command relationships can be recognized at a glance, sub-units are also assigned their own tint of the primary color representing each side, blue for the Union units and red for the Confederate side (examples). Where other map studies like the Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series break up battlefields into smaller sections for maximal detail, this one prefers to keep the entire field in view for each stage of a given battle. This helps the reader less familiar with the material stay oriented to the overall flow of battle but it also limits the unit scale to the brigade level for most maps (although there are some regimental-scale tactical maps for smaller battles like Belmont and Davis Bridge). Appropriate to its stature, Shiloh is assigned the largest number of maps in the book for a single battle at nine.

In addition to the main text and maps, photographs and artwork populate the pages of Grant Rising, as do sidebars covering topics like the Lew Wallace controversy at Shiloh and the critically important role of the navy in the western campaigns. Orders of battle for Fort Donelson, Shiloh and Corinth were also included. They illustrate army organization in the usual fashion and list which units (infantry, cavalry and artillery) were attached to each brigade, but they do not delve as deep as providing present for duty numbers, casualties or battery compositions.

The most hardcore subset of Civil War military history readers will probably want more unit detail in the maps but everyone else should be well satisfied with the result. Grant Rising offers both a solid narrative summary and an appealing visual rendering of U.S. Grant's early Civil War career. One hopes to see the series continue onward.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Booknotes: The Army of Northern Virginia

New Arrival:

The Army of Northern Virginia: Organization, Strength, Casualties 1861-1865 by Darrell L. Collins (McFarland, 2015).

I reviewed the Army of the Potomac companion a short while back. The new ANV volume follows the same pattern in that the information is gleaned primarily from the O.R. but its content and organization is different. Section I begins with the traditional army OB format for defined periods but the greater part is composed of commander (of corps, division, brigade, regiment, battalion, and battery) timelines. Section II is comprised of present for duty (PFD) reports, mostly at the division level, with some quantitative analysis of changes over time in the general summaries at the end. There will be more detail in the review. Section III, the last one, offers casualty reports by regiment and battery (with some more PFD data, including some regimental strength numbers and gun compositions) and also loss summaries. Two indexes, for commanders and units, are provided. It looks like a useful reference tool.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Booknotes: General Henry Baxter, 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry

New Arrival:

General Henry Baxter, 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry: A Biography by Jay C. Martin (McFarland, 2016).

Native New Yorker Baxter moved west with his family to Michigan as a child. According to the book description "Baxter was involved in developing Michigan's political, business and educational foundations. He excelled at enterprise, leading a group of adventurers to California during the Gold Rush, co-founding what would become the Republican Party and eventually becoming President Grant's diplomat to Honduras during one of the most dynamic periods of Central American history." Rising from captain to brevet major general, his Civil War career was noteworthy, fighting and receiving wounds in many eastern theater battles. Colonel of the 7th Michigan by the time of Fredericksburg, his regiment was selected to cross the Rappahannock River under fire on December 11, 1862 and establish a bridgehead on the other side. Promoted to brigadier general, Baxter's command would famously contribute to the severe mauling of Rodes's Division north of Gettysburg on July 1. He would lead a brigade for the rest of the war. Jay Martin's biography covers Baxter's entire life, with substantial sections on Baxter's early life and postwar years. The bibliography looks solid, with a healthy amount of manuscript research.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Lamb: "THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF CHARLES POMEROY STONE: Soldier, Surveyor, Pasha, Engineer"

[The Extraordinary Life of Charles Pomeroy Stone: Soldier, Surveyor, Pasha, Engineer by Blaine Lamb (Westholme, 2015). Hardcover, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:237/287. ISBN:978-1-59416-232-9.  $29.95]

Union general Charles P. Stone is best known for being the imprisoned scapegoat of the Ball's Bluff disaster and high profile victim of the newly established Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. But his public life was much more than that, encompassing a solid antebellum army career, a foreign military post in the army of the khedive of Egypt, and chief engineer of the massive concrete base of the Statue of Liberty. Historian Blaine Lamb's The Extraordinary Life of Charles Pomeroy Stone is a first full biography of Stone. The lack of any great body of Stone papers made Lamb's task difficult but this isn't unique in Civil War biography and the author's thorough research in other sources negotiates in fine fashion the obstacles this void places in the way of modern scholarship.

Young Charles Stone was a good student, graduating seventh out of forty-one in his West Point Class of 1845 (one place ahead of Fitz-John Porter, who would also run afoul of army politics). Missing out on the Corps of Engineers, he was assigned to the Ordnance Department. During the US-Mexican War, Stone accompanied the army siege train to Vera Cruz. Though he spent most of his time managing munitions and armaments, policing the battlefield, cataloging captured equipment and repairing damaged ordnance, he did personally direct artillery operations at times during the campaign, earning two brevets.

After the war, Stone returned to his arsenal work, charged with setting up army ordnance facilities for the West Coast in the Bay Area of California. Because of the high cost of living and low pay, army officers were not discouraged from supplementing their incomes. So Stone, in addition to fulfilling his professional duties at the Benicia Arsenal, engaged in railroad company work and gold bullion brokering. The former venture failed but Stone was successful in the gold and banking business, at least until a senior partner mismanaged several loans and an office clerk absconded with a large sum of money. Stone was financially ruined and, according to Lamb, the misfortune foreshadowed other career ventures sabotaged by misplaced trust in colleagues and subordinates. Ashamed at losing the investments of army acquaintances and family members, Stone resigned his commission in 1856 and sought civilian employment, eventually raising enough cash to pay off most of his debts.

Stone's next job was heading a potentially lucrative surveying expedition in northern Mexico but local interference, bad faith on the part of the Mexican central government and Stone's own indelicate belligerence torpedoed the project. Stone and his family relocated to Washington D.C. where his lobbying for redress from Mexico went nowhere. However, his own country's exploding crisis provided another opportunity.

In Washington, Stone was the right man in the right place and Winfield Scott appointed him colonel and inspector general of the D.C. militia. As Lamb describes in the book, Stone performed brilliantly at this new task, organizing the city defenses while his effective system of detectives and spies rooted out disloyal elements. 3,500 militia were armed, drilled and some put to work reopening land communications with the North. During Union offensive operations into northern Virginia in 1861, Stone competently led the Rockville Expedition along the Upper Potomac but didn't see action after joining Robert Patterson's command in the Shenandoah Valley.

The October 21, 1861 Ball's Bluff debacle has received excellent coverage in the literature and Lamb does not relate the particulars of the battle itself but rather concentrates on Stone's specific role as commander of the division-sized Corps of Observation. There aren't any significant new discoveries from Lamb's sources that would alter the case for or against Stone's conduct but the book's summary of the circumstances surrounding Ball's Bluff, before, during, and after the defeat (and Stone's place in it), is very well outlined for the reader. Of President Lincoln, General McClellan, the Joint Committee members, and the Secretary of War, none displayed a surfeit of integrity in the matter and it would take legislative intervention (led by Senator James A. McDougall of California) to end Stone's six month imprisonment without charge or trial.

Two generals later requested Stone's services but both were rebuffed by Secretary Stanton. Finally, he was allowed to join General Banks in the Department of the Gulf. After acting in an advisory capacity during the Port Hudson siege, Stone was appointed Chief of Staff. Stone's specific role during the 1864 Red River Campaign isn't discussed much in the campaign histories and Lamb's book also doesn't extensively detail that part of his military career. Apparently Stone and Banks did not get along and Stone was removed from his post after the campaign ended. Stone was also shocked to find that Stanton had struck him from the volunteer general officer rolls, reverting Stone back to his Regular Army rank of colonel. After a short stint with the Army of the Potomac, he resigned from the army.

After the war, Stone's private business ventures failed yet again but he was recommended to the khedive of Egypt, who was seeking experienced non-European officers for staff positions within his army (at different points in time, nearly two dozen former US and Confederate officers were contracted). In 1870, Khedive Ismail appointed Stone army chief of staff and the American became his most trusted military adviser (Stone also served Ismail's son, Tewfik). The transformation of the army had mixed results and the two Abyssinian campaigns that tested its mettle both ended in disaster. A variety of internal and external factors finally ended Stone's Egyptian tenure in 1883.

Stone's final job was chief engineer for the construction of the Statue of Liberty base and pedestal (this was later expanded to embrace other aspects of the statue's construction). Funding was intermittent and progress slow and Stone once again found himself under negative scrutiny, though perhaps it's inevitable that anyone in charge of a massive public project would be the target of politicians, journalists, jealous colleagues and disgruntled contractors. Regardless, the project was (obviously) successfully completed in 1886. Unfortunately, Stone wasn't to live much longer, dying on January 24, 1887 after a brief respiratory illness.

It's impossible to know what heights Charles Pomeroy Stone's military career might have reached. U.S. Grant's comment about Stone that he "had been the most unfortunate man he had ever known" is surely an exaggeration given the totality of the man's life accomplishments but there's certainly a grain of truth in it.  Among the panoply of Union generals, Stone's is one of the most compelling cases of lost potential and Blaine Lamb's sympathetic yet evenhanded overall treatment of the general's life offers readers a learned assessment of how and why he should be remembered.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Booknotes: Service with the Signal Corps

New Arrival:

Service with the Signal Corps: The Civil War Memoir of Captain Louis R. Fortescue edited by J. Gregory Acken (Univ of Tenn Pr, 2015).

According to the description, this is the first published memoir from a member of the Signal Corps of the Union army. "Fortescue’s memoir not only presents a unique look at the corps, but it also provides important insights into the war as a whole. Fortescue experienced the conflict from several perspectives—infantry subaltern, signal officer, aide-de-camp (briefly), and prisoner of war—and took an active role in a number of significant campaigns and battles [Upper Potomac 1861, Shenandoah 1862, Cedar Mountain, 2nd Bull Run, Harpers Ferry, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg]." Fortescue was captured by Confederate cavalry on July 5 and spent the rest of the war as a POW. Adding further value to the memoir, editor Gregory Acken provides an introduction, blocks of background and transitional narrative throughout, and extensive endnotes. Looks like a good one.