Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Bitter Divide

The book description of The Bitter Divide: A Civil War History of St. Charles, Missouri by Rory Riddler says a lot of nothing but I am always interested in new Missouri related local histories and will almost surely pick up a copy at some point.  There were no big battles fought around the town but its location just west of St. Louis placed it in the midst of many other kinds of wartime events and threats.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

B&G Vol. 31, #5 sneak peak

In its long history, the only time (I believe) that Blue & Gray Magazine tackled a non-Civil War topic was for their Little Bighorn special issue (Volume 23 Issue #2). I suppose it's fitting that the second time around is for the Rosebud fight (TOC).

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Booknotes II (July '15)

New Arrivals:

1. A Scientific Way of War: Antebellum Military Science, West Point, and the Origins of American Military Thought by Ian Clarence Hope (Univ of Neb Pr, 2015).

"A Scientific Way of War analyzes how the doctrine of military science evolved from teaching specific Napoleonic applications to embracing subjects that were useful for war in North America. Drawing from a wide array of materials, Ian C. Hope refutes earlier charges of a lack of professionalization in the antebellum American army and an overreliance on the teachings of Swiss military theorist Antoine de Jomini. Instead, Hope shows that inculcation in West Point’s American military curriculum eventually came to provide the army with an officer corps that shared a common doctrine and common skill in military problem solving." The book argues for the existence of a distinct American way of war that developed throughout the antebellum period. Authored by a high ranking Canadian army officer, the professional perspective of an outsider looking in might also prove interesting.

2. The First Battle for Petersburg: The Attack and Defense of the Cockade City, June 9, 1864 by William Glenn Robertson (Savas Beatie, 2015).

Another new Petersburg related Sesquicentennial edition that has been revised and expanded from the original, Robertson's book covers the June 9 battle. By pairing Robertson with Sean Chick's recent book covering June 15-18, readers will gain a fine education in the initial botched Union attempts by both the James and Potomac armies to take Petersburg by direct assault.

3. Grant's Last Battle: The Story Behind the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Chris Mackowski (Savas Beatie, 2015).

For the prolific Emerging Civil War series, this study of the writing and publication of Grant's memoirs is a rare departure from histories and tours of battles and battlefields.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The rebirth of "Civil War Regiments"

Roughly equal in cultural importance to the return of the X-Files will be the 2016 return of Civil War Regiments. Yesterday, Emerging Civil War announced that they and publisher Savas Beatie will be partnering up to revive the well regarded but long defunct unit essay journal. It appears that the new issue format will be similar to the later evolution of the series as a themed compilation. No mention of any kind of volume subscription plans this time around, which is fine for those of us who will want to pick and choose our subjects. Good news this is.

Monday, July 20, 2015


[The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta by Earl J. Hess (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, OB, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:222/287. ISBN:978-1-4696-2241-5. $35]

It has been a long time coming but the gaping chasms in book length battle coverage for the 1864 Atlanta Campaign are now being rapidly filled. Happily, some of the best Civil War military historians in the field are crafting these battle studies and, even better, getting them right with reader expectations on the first attempt. One of the contributors to this welcome trend is Earl Hess, whose previous book on Kennesaw Mountain was masterful. In addition to being the first full length treatment of the subject, his new volume The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta is yet another strong effort that will be difficult to surpass in the future.

As he does with all his work, Hess effectively incorporates into his Ezra Church battle narrative source material from archives located across the country. The July 28, 1864 battle is presented in four stages (entirely appropriate given the piecemeal nature of the attacks), each recounted in lavish tactical detail. The first Confederate charge, which stepped off roughly at noon, involved John C. Brown's division of S.D Lee's Corps. Beginning on the left with Brantley's Brigade, Brown's unsuccessful assault eventually covered the entire front. This was followed by Lee's next division (Henry Clayton's), which aggressively assailed the left of the Union XV Corps at the angle of the Army of the Tennessee's refused line of defense [XV Corps facing south with XVI and XVII Corps fronting east]. Upon the repulse of Clayton, Brown's reserve brigade (Manigault's) moved forward and struck the XV Corps center on its own. Finally, Edward's Walthall's division of A.P. Stewart's Corps arrived on the field and responded to Lee's pleas for help by crashing into the Union right (where Brantley failed earlier) and center, all to no avail.

Curiously, the battle was essentially an all infantry affair, with little to no artillery involvement on either side. On the subject of losses, figures for the Union side are widely accepted as 632 killed, wounded and missing but quantifying Confederate casualties in a satisfactory manner has proved elusive. The book does not make a special study of the Confederate count, accepting the more conservative estimates of around 3,000.

Upon close inspection, it becomes clear why the Confederate attacks failed. Each division attacked on its own and there was very little coordination between brigades as well, a tragic hallmark of Army of Tennessee assaults throughout the war. Terrain was also a factor, with the Union defenders having the luxury of higher ground and a naturally angular line offering many opportunities for both converging and enfilade fire. The three steep ravines that effectively divided the battlefield substantially hindered the attackers, who went in with little knowledge of the ground. The fire discipline displayed by the veteran boys in blue, who were also protected by makeshift breastworks, had an important role in inflicting horrific casualties and stopping each successive attack cold. Finally, the command and control shortcomings of the attacking Confederates were not shared by the defending federals. Union commander O.O. Howard's calm and close direction of his army (with some timely interventions on his part) paid dividends. John A. Logan's 15th Corps, the target of Lee's assaults, benefited from a timely stream of heavy reinforcements from unselfishly cooperative 16th and 17th Corps commanders.

Hess does a very fine job of presenting the battle in the context of the larger Union strategy of extending the federal line south and beyond the Confederate left, with the goal of eventually striking the railroad below Atlanta and forcing its evacuation. The fighting at Ezra Church ends around two-thirds of the way through the book and extensive attention is directed toward the immediate aftermath of the battle, the plight of the wounded, and the continued flank extension of Sherman's confident army group. By the author's estimation, Lee's bloody repulse delayed Sherman's movements by only six days, a brief period not worth the massive bloodshed expended in the effort.

The contrast between the opposing high commands at Ezra Church could not have been more stark. Even with a highly controversial change in top command (with newcomer O.O. Howard replacing the popular and competent John A. Logan as head of the Army of the Tennessee) the Union mass redeployment from left to right proceeded smoothly. Overall, Howard moved with caution but his three corps quickly and skillfully assumed mutually supportive defensive positions once they reached a point west of Atlanta. On the Confederate side, army commander John Bell Hood directed newly appointed corps commander Stephen D. Lee to block the Union advance at Lick Skillet Road, with the intention of setting up a flank attack the next day by A.P. Stewart's Corps. Lee instead violated the spirit and intent of Hood's orders and attacked Logan's Corps frontally. With Hood's attention diverted by the pair of Union cavalry raids running around south of Atlanta, the Confederate army commander was not personally present at Ezra Church. His absence throughout the fight has been strongly condemned in the literature but Hess rightly contends that Lee's impetuous and poorly managed attack was neither ordered nor expected, making much of the criticism of Hood misplaced. On the other hand, with Lee being new to the Army of Tennessee, one could make a reasonable argument that Hood should have felt the need to oversee in person the operation that led to Ezra Church, but, as Hess observes in the book, it seems unlikely that the established facts of Lee's high command incompetence (so clearly borne out during his recent defeat at Tupelo) would have had sufficient time to make their way through the army before the general's arrival in Atlanta.

Hess has maintained in this book and others that a key factor driving Union success during the Atlanta Campaign was their domination of the skirmish line. This was demonstrated at Ezra Church during both the initial federal push against the Confederate cavalry screen and the later infantry fighting around the Lick Skillet Road, but the author doesn't really articulate what he sees as the reason(s) behind the Union army's skirmish line supremacy. Surely by 1864 the veteran officers and men of both armies developed similar skills for operating in no-man's-land. Was it sheer Union numbers (more, and fresher, men to spare on the skirmish line), disparities in morale and confidence, the essentially inexhaustible supply of ammunition available to Sherman's legions that tipped the scales, or all of these or something else? It's an interesting argument that one would like to see more fully developed. The maps in the book are a bit rudimentary, more schematic in nature than the accurately scaled and finely detailed battle cartography current readers have come to expect. The positions and movements of each regiment are clearly delineated but terrain features are rendered in minimalist fashion (e.g. the forests, tree lines and fields so often mentioned by the participants are absent, with only roads, breastwork lines and a general idea of the contours of the sloping ground and ravines represented on the page).

Hess's brilliantly written account of the Battle of Ezra Church clearly demonstrates that, despite the gross disparity in casualties, Ezra Church had several nervous moments for the defenders and was not the "easy" Union victory that tradition has suggested. The battle is significant in that it represents the third and final Confederate attempt to arrest the advance of Sherman's army group by offensive maneuver. For the rest of the campaign, Hood's diminished army would be forced into a reactive operational position. The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta is another ground breaking contribution to the campaign's assemblage of canonical works from Earl Hess, who incredibly manages to maintain a highly prolific output without any relaxation of scholarly standards of excellence. Highly recommended.

More CWBA reviews of UNC Press titles:
* Agriculture and the Confederacy: Policy, Productivity, and Power in the Civil War South
* A Gunner in Lee's Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter
* Nature's Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia
* A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People
* Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign
* With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North
* The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi
* Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina
* West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace
* Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (link to author interview)
* A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (link to author interview)
* In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat
* The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
* Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
* Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
* Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign
* Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia
* Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign
* Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beilein & Hulbert, eds.: "THE CIVIL WAR GUERRILLA: Unfolding the Black Flag in History, Memory, and Myth"

[The Civil War Guerrilla: Unfolding the Black Flag in History, Memory, and Myth edited by Joseph M. Beilein, Jr. and Matthew C. Hulbert (University Press of Kentucky, 2015). Hardcover, maps, photos, illustrations, notes, index. 255 pp. ISBN:978-0-8131-6532-5 $50]

Recent decades have witnessed an explosion of Civil War guerrilla warfare studies that have manifestly altered previously simplistic perceptions and understanding (for the better) of the "inner war" that raged across much of the continent during the conflict. This newfound sophistication has immeasurably enhanced the quality of many of the military, social, economic, political, and local home front studies being published today. Drawing from this new breadth of knowledge while offering significant insights of their own are the eight essays contained in The Civil War Guerrilla: Unfolding the Black Flag in History, Memory, and Myth, edited by historians Joseph Beilein and Matthew Hulbert.

In his introduction to the volume, Christopher Phillips expresses his appreciation for the pioneering scholarship of Michael Fellman while also politely but firmly rejecting some of the late professor's most tightly held views on the guerrilla war as a largely nihilistic arena of violence created by the basest instincts of mankind when unshackled by civilization's prior constraints. Unlike Fellman, Phillips believes that strong ideological concerns underpinned the actions of most Civil War irregular warriors in Missouri, among other things (including draft evasion) citing evidence for a demonstrably strong upswing in guerrilla violence in the state immediately after the Emancipation Proclamation that continued to escalate to coincide with the enlistment of black troops. 

Another contributor that sees clear patterns rather than random violence and chaos is Andrew Fialka, whose utterly fascinating article attempts to discover Central Missouri trends using a novel quantitative "spatiotemporal" mapping technique plotting guerrilla incidents over time. Overall, Fialka's data finds that guerrillas primarily targeted Union troops and militia but perhaps the most interesting finding is the close relationship between temporary Union occupation of an area and retaliatory violence against civilians. With large permanent garrisons established all over the state, 1861 witnessed little guerrilla violence but as the war progressed, and more and more regiments were withdrawn from Missouri, the increasingly sporadic presence of occupying forces and reliance instead on short-lived expeditions correlate strongly in time and place with the tragic explosions of guerrilla violence that occurred during 1863-64.

The next essay contrasts levels of anti-Confederate feeling and local unrest in the adjacent Piedmont regions of North Carolina (where it was widespread and strong) and South Carolina (where it was largely muted outside of a passing surge of desertion in 1863 within regiments exiting the state).  The most obvious difference is near unanimity among South Carolinians on the issues of secession and the legitimacy of the Confederate government while this was far from the case among citizens of the Tar Heel Piedmont.  Noel Fisher's now classic East Tennessee study revolutionized in readers's minds the importance of pre-war kinship, religion, political party, and economic ties in determining wartime loyalties and those factors also apply to the Carolinas Piedmont and a South Carolina section more strongly infiltrated by cotton and slavery.

Megan Kate Nelson takes the study of Civil War irregular warfare farther west than most, in her case the arid Desert Southwest. Nelson's essay quite rightly suggests that American Indian forces have been too often excluded from the Civil War guerrilla discussion. Specifically, her chapter seeks a greater appreciation for the role of American Indian raiders, their stealth tactics for stealing enemy horses and supplies honed by centuries of experience and necessity, in blocking Confederate efforts to conquer New Mexico and Arizona.

Sergeant Thomas Goodman's published captivity narrative of his time spent with William T. Anderson's band after Centralia is examined closely by Matthew Hulbert. Far from simply enriching himself by telling an exciting tale to a hungry reading audience, Goodman had clear objectives in drawing public attention to the service of federal units opposing guerrilla bands and persuading readers that their sacrifices were just as honorable and deserving of commemoration as those of Union soldiers fighting in the great battles to the east.  For modern readers, Goodman's account also serves as an effective counterpoint to John Newman Edwards's popular heroic portrayal of pro-southern guerrillas.

Fictionalized accounts of the inner war experience in southern Appalachia as expressed in literature and theater are the subject of John Inscoe's essay. As is often the case with fiction created with the intention of persuading a given audience, exaggerated accounts extolling the virtues of one side and condemning the perfidy of the other are common in the three works analyzed in Inscoe's chapter. In addition to the insertion of romantic elements for popular entertainment value, the works on a more serious level do draw appropriate attention to the critical active and support roles assumed by women during those troubled times. Curiously, given the traditional view that slavery and emancipation issues were less important to Appalachian residents, the writers also assign prominent roles to black characters, albeit in blatantly ideological fashion.

Finally, Rod Andrews attempts to sort fact from fiction in the life of Reconstruction guerrilla Manse Jolly of South Carolina while co-editor Joseph Beilein picks apart the scholarly sins of William Connelley's seminal work Quantrill and the Border Wars. While today's historians have well identified the specific flaws in Connelley's book, its broad brush portrayal of Missouri bushwhackers as murderous unprincipled outlaws remains immensely influential today. One of the most fascinating aspects of Beulein's essay is its recounting of Connelley's cunning manipulation of ex-guerrilla William H. Gregg and partisan cherry picking of Gregg's memoir for source material.

The contents of The Civil War Guerrilla leave little cause for complaint, the absence of a specifically Kentucky-based essay (though the first chapter does touch upon shared Border State contexts) perhaps being the most unexpected omission given the state's high profile connections with the topic. The fact that half the essays center on Missouri keenly reminds us how events in that most troubled of states continue to most prominently inform our general awareness and understanding of the guerrilla conflict during the Civil War. The great variety of inner war experiences are certainly well matched by the diversity of scholarly approaches adopted by the book's contributors. All of the essays are solidly grounded in the current literature of the guerrilla conflict while offering substantive and frequently quite striking contributions of their own. The Civil War Guerrilla is highly recommended.

More CWBA reviews of UPK titles:
* For Brotherhood and Duty: The Civil War History of the West Point Class of 1862
* Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase
* A General Who Will Fight: The Leadership of Ulysses S. Grant
* The Union Forever: Lincoln, Grant, and the Civil War
* One of Morgan's Men: Memoirs of Lieutenant John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry
* My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans
* Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War
* Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy
* Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History
* Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee
* Kentuckians in Gray: Confederate Generals and Field Officers of the Bluegrass State
* Virginia at War, 1863
* Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The North Carolina Civil War Atlas: The Old North State at War

Put together the word atlas and the name Mark Moore and you have an instabuy on your hands. The North Carolina Civil War Atlas: The Old North State at War was originally intended as a late spring 2015 release but the project went through a publisher change (now the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources). We're apparently still looking at 2015 but late in the year would be my most hopeful surmise.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Sherrill: "THE 21ST NORTH CAROLINA INFANTRY: A Civil War History, With a Roster of Officers"

[ The 21st North Carolina Infantry: A Civil War History, With a Roster of Officers by Lee W. Sherrill, Jr. (McFarland, 2015). Softcover, 16 maps, photos, officer roster, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:455/535. ISBN:978-0-7864-7626-8 $45 ]

As one of North Carolina's "Manassas to Appomattox" regiments, the 21st Infantry forged an impressive Civil War combat record. Equally impressive in the arena of regimental studies is Lee Sherrill's massive The 21st North Carolina Infantry: A Civil War History, with a Roster of Officers, an incredibly detailed history of the unit. An oversize (8.25 x 11 inches) volume with densely packed double-columned print and with a main narrative over 450 pages in length, to say Sherrill's study is exhaustive in content and research is an understatement. One cannot recall another modern North Carolina unit history quite like it.

Recruited from the Piedmont region of the state, the progenitor of the 21st was the 12-month 11th North Carolina, which fought at First Bull Run with Bonham's brigade. During the grand reorganization of the Confederate army in 1862 the unit was redesignated the 21st regiment and it would fight on in that capacity to the Army of Northern Virginia's end at Appomattox. Sherrill briefly covers the recruitment and training periods as well as the officer selection turmoil that plagued so many regiments. The 21st's leadership factionalism, however, went on far longer than most and one marvels at the fighting prowess and unit cohesion demonstrated by the regiment on so many battlefields with so much uncertainty at the top. That said, the regiment was gifted with more than one good colonel, as both William Kirkland and Robert Hoke would perform well and go on to higher commands.

Unlike many other recent regimental studies (especially those authored by professional historians), Sherrill's book does not concern itself with any kind of complex demographic study of the men nor does it directly engage many of the common themes of modern Civil War unit scholarship (e.g. why the men enlisted, their wartime connections to the home front, what happened when they returned home, etc.). Instead, Sherrill sets out to create a definitive military biography of the regiment, one that addresses in equal measure the camp, march, and battlefield experiences of the men. With its uncommonly meticulous handling of the 21st's tragic exposures to the great epidemics of disease that raged through Confederate camps and field hospitals during the many months of inactivity following the victory at First Bull Run, the book's sweeping ambitions are apparent from the start.

The series of battle chapters comprise the heart of The 21st North Carolina Infantry. Sherrill's micro-level accounts of the 21st's actions during the battles that raged across Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and North Carolina between 1861 and 1865 are deep tactical mini-studies. That said, the bigger picture of events, at both the battle and campaign levels, is never lost in the small unit details. In addition to discussing the regiment's role in the many famous engagements fought by the Army of Northern Virginia (among them First Bull Run, Winchester, Cross Keys, Gaines' Mill, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, 2nd Winchester, Gettysburg, many 1864 Shenandoah Campaign battles, and Fort Stedman), the book also covers at great length many comparatively obscure battles involving the 21st, like Batchelor's Creek and other lesser known 1863-64 operations in North Carolina.

Accompanying these battle narratives is an excellent set of maps. In addition to being nearly full-page sized, the terrain and battle line representations (with the 21st always specifically referenced) are exemplary. A large collection of photographs is also included. The book's broad and deep bibliography (with its extensive collection of primary source materials of all types) and expansive endnotes attest to the exhaustive research that went into crafting the narrative. In terms of drawbacks, the book's size dimensions and weight are a bit too unwieldy for the paperback format. There are a few typos here and there and a full unit roster, a staple of modern regimental studies, is missing. On the other hand, the officer and staff biographical and service roster that is provided will serve as a useful reference tool.

As a military campaign themed regimental history, Lee Sherrill's The 21st North Carolina Infantry cannot be recommended highly enough. In a crowded genre, this title very much stands apart in the areas of research, content and presentation. Certainly readers primarily interested in Old North State soldiers and units that fought for the Confederacy will be overjoyed upon viewing Sherrill's handiwork.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Booknotes (July '15)

New Arrivals:

1. Grant Under Fire: An Expose of Generalship and Character in the American Civil War by Joseph A. Rose (Alderhanna Publishing, 2015).

This heavy tome (the main text runs over 600 pages) assumes a rigorous devil's advocate position for just about every aspect of Grant's generalship, character, and presidency. The author has an informative promotional website under construction (here) which offers a good idea of the type of content and context the reader can expect. It's all in how you use it but the book's bibliography is truly massive. The conclusions will be controversial but the pre-publication blurbs from well known Civil War historians (among them William Glenn Robertson, Gordon Rhea, Wiley Sword, and Larry Hewitt) laud Rose's research skills and argumentative powers. Grant's legendary integrity has received some convincing jabs in recent years but successfully presenting Grant as a bad general to today's informed readership strikes me as a task too tall for anyone. Rose seems game to attempt it, though.

2. Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893: The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 2 by Stephen R. Wise and Lawrence S. Rowland w/ Gerhart Spieler (Univ of S. Carolina Pr, 2015).

More on this book here.

Looks like a pretty slow summer coming up in terms of new releases but given the large backlog of unread titles the pace of reviews shouldn't change much.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Gallman & Gallagher, eds.: "LENS OF WAR: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War"

[Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War edited by J. Matthew Gallman and Gary W. Gallagher (University of Georgia Press, 2015). Hardcover, photos, notes, reading list, index. 258 pp. ISBN:978-0-8203-4810-0 $32.95]

Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War is another fitting entry in Georgia's UnCivil Wars series, which has carved out a bit of a niche for itself publishing titles off the worn paths of Civil War publishing. The big idea is that contributing editors Matthew Gallman and Gary Gallagher would invite another 25 other historians to join them in selecting a photograph and writing an essay about it. The cliche that a picture is worth a thousand  (or more) words certainly applies here and it's clear that photographic images have long possessed the ability to inspire budding Civil War scholars in ways unavailable to young minds discovering for the first time earlier conflicts like the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

All contributors were offered complete creative freedom in writing their accompanying essays. This could have been a mess for the editors but it turned out well in this case. Format is elective, either formal or informal and with or without scholarly notes. Many chose to explicitly personalize their essays by writing in first person and nearly all fell back on their training and included chapter notes.

The convention for essay collections large in number is to divide them into sections and that's done here, with dutiful grouping into five parts (Leaders, Soldiers, Civilians, Victims, and Places). These categories suggest the full range of images and there's no need to go into specific examples here. The book's subtitle refers to "iconic photographs" but there are some fairly obscure ones in there, too, although one supposes that most readers that have been Civil War enthusiasts for a long period of time will have seen then all before at some point.

As one might expect given the amount of free reign involved, the essays vary widely in style and approach. The images are very often deconstructed in a detailed manner, either literally or along thematic lines. Some authors delve more deeply into historical background information than others and many use the power of the photograph to explore grander social, military, political, racial, class, and gender themes of interest to today's scholars. Some wander off into quite tangential territory. Most make an attempt to identify and profile the photographer. The degree of speculation involved also varies. Facial expressions and their underlying meaning are frequently interpreted with (undue?) confidence because it's probably more fun that way but others more cautiously assess the human gazes reflected in the images.

Not in the book, but a reviewer favorite.
Many of the writers note the staging (often quite elaborate) inherent in their particular selections. Viewing the iconic photographs in the book in this light, one appreciates even more the few successful spontaneous "action" photos of the war like the unique scene (at right) of a heavy column of Confederate soldiers tramping through a Frederick, Maryland street during the Maryland Campaign in September 1862.

It's difficult to imagine a Civil War enthusiast of today who lacks a deep curiosity in the photographic legacy of the conflict and Lens of War is highly worthy of recommendation to history students of all levels. The editors do mention that their book isn't intended to be read mechanically from cover to cover. Reviewers unfortunately don't really have that luxury but this one would agree with the editors that the volume is probably best experienced in short bites during casual revisits. Upon finishing this photographic study, the question surely arises in the mind of every reader as to which particular image he or she would choose if fortunate enough to have been asked to participate in the project*.

* - Readers, feel free to offer your own choice in the comments section. Mine (which, by the way, found its way into the book as T. Michael Parrish's selection) is the disturbing photograph (below) of Confederate dead from the Battle of Corinth, arguably the most evocative image of the scale of death involved in Civil War battles and the physical indignities suffered by the corpses of those killed in action.  Curiously, Parrish points to Colonel William P. Rogers (at far left in the picture) as one of only two positively identified bodies of the slain in all of Civil War photography, the other being Confederate cavalry general Turner Ashby. There's also a well known grisly death photo of Missouri guerrilla William T. "Bloody Bill" Anderson but perhaps Parrish does not consider him a "soldier" in the strictest sense.

More CWBA reviews of UGP titles:
* Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War
* Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia
* The Autobiography of Henry Merrell: Industrial Missionary to the South

Friday, July 03, 2015

Various book things

A few updates.

If you didn't get your 1864 Price Raid fill in recent months on the two excellent Pilot Knob studies by Suderow & House and Gifford or the campaign overview by Forsyth, Kyle Sinisi's long awaited full length operational history The Last Hurrah: Sterling Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864 is still on track for release in July. Unfortunately, Mark Lause's concluding second volume to his own treatment The Collapse of Price's Raid: The Beginning of the End in Civil War Missouri is delayed yet again to maybe August.

Another long delayed project, but a very promising one, is Terry Lowry's The Battle of Charleston and the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign. It's still churning along toward completion, perhaps by September. It will be the first book to cover this virtually unknown chapter of the great Confederate summer offensives of 1862.

A new title that received a bit of an early release is Ian Hope's A Scientific Way of War: Antebellum Military Science, West Point, and the Origins of American Military Thought, which sounds like an interesting study of the military intellectual development of Civil War armies.

Enjoy your 4th of July holiday.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Elmore: "POTTER'S RAID THROUGH SOUTH CAROLINA: The Final Days of the Confederacy"

[Potter's Raid Through South Carolina: The Final Days of the Confederacy by Tom Elmore (The History Press, 2015). Softcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:95/128. ISBN:978-1-62619-959-0 $19.99]

In the waning moments of the Civil War, a hastily assembled Union division under Brigadier General Edward E. Potter embarked on a destructive raid into the South Carolina interior, traveling 300 miles in three weeks (April 5 - 21, 1865). Given that it had essentially no impact on the course of the war, the operation has been relegated to obscurity. Though the occasional article has appeared here and there, Tom Elmore's Potter's Raid Through South Carolina: The Final Days of the Confederacy is the first serious study to be published on the subject. What prompted Department of the South commander Major General Quincy Gillmore to order another raid when the entire state of South Carolina was nearly devoid of Confederate troops was General Sherman's remembrance of an earlier failure to capture Florence, South Carolina and its large collection of trapped locomotives and rolling stock.

Elmore's brief narrative traces the entire raid, which began at Georgetown on the coast and rapidly drove inland to Manning. The only defenders available were local militia and a scratch force of mostly mounted Kentucky and South Carolina Confederate units. Potter brushed aside the Confederates at Dingle's Mill on April 9 and occupied Sumter. Moving on to Manchester, Camden and Stateburg led to other skirmishes at Spring Hill, Boykin's Mill, Dinkin's Mill and Beech Creek, as well as heavy destruction of cotton, gins, mills, and finally the targeted railroad assets. On the return trip to Georgetown the raiders learned of the end of hostilities and were directed to cease acts of destruction. Elmore crafts a solid narrative of these events that incorporates both military and civilian experiences, with many of the details related to the fighting contained in lengthy excerpts from firsthand accounts, mostly from the O.R..

Photographs are a prominent feature of most Civil War titles from the publisher and Elmore includes many modern images of the various sites mentioned in the text. The appendix section contains orders of battle and an event chronology. Wishlist items are few. The book definitely needed more maps, at least one good one tracing the entire path of the raid. Also, in an unfortunate oversight, General Gillmore's name is misspelled wherever it appears.

Much like George Stoneman's 1865 raid, Potter's Raid engendered some controversy, even among the Union soldiers that participated in it, over the question of whether the heavy destruction inflicted on economic and infrastructure targets was really justifiable at such a late stage in the war. There's certainly a reasonable argument to be made that the raid was conducted with excessive zeal but it should be recalled that the war was still going on and at the outset of Potter's Raid the armies of both Lee and Johnston were still in the field.

For students of the Civil War in the Palmetto State as well as those more generally interested in what happened militarily during the closing weeks of the conflict, Tom Elmore's Potter's Raid Through South Carolina is a recommended resource.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893

Given that I'm always looking for good books about the Civil War in South Carolina, it was a pleasant surprise to find Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893: The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 2 by Stephen R. Wise and Lawrence S. Rowland w/ Gerhart Spieler (USC Pr, 2015) delivered to my doorstep. The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina: Volume 1, 1514-1861 was published way back in 1996 and Rowland has wisely brought Stephen Wise aboard as co-author of the planned trilogy's Civil War era coverage. Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption is a massive tome, with more than 400 pages alone devoted to Civil War activities. The political borders of Beaufort District and County have shifted over time but the geographical area under consideration in the book is roughly bounded on the N-S axis by Barnwell County and the Atlantic Ocean and from east to west by the Salkehatchie-Combahee and Savannah rivers. A hotbed of Civil War action, indeed. The study details the initial Confederate evacuation of the sea islands, the Union occupation and expansion of their coastal enclaves, the Port Royal Experiment, the Confederate defensive arrangements for the Beaufort District, the 1862 Battle of Pocotaligo, emancipation and army recruitment of ex-slaves, the Combahee and Bluffton raids, the 1863 attack on Charleston, the Battle of Honey Hill, the battles around Tulifinney's Crossroads, and the passage of Sherman's triumphant army. The final 150 pages of so document the Reconstruction and Redemption periods.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Solonick: "ENGINEERING VICTORY: The Union Siege of Vicksburg"

[Engineering Victory: The Union Siege of Vicksburg by Justin S. Solonick (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). Cloth, maps, photos, drawings, appendices, notes, biblio essay, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:233/301. ISBN:978-0-8093-3391-2 $37.50]

The siege phase of the Vicksburg Campaign, the roughly six week period between the conclusion of the failed May 22, 1863 assaults and the July 4 surrender, is arguably the most neglected aspect of the  military literature surrounding the topic. While the third volume of Edwin C. Bearss's classic trilogy The Vicksburg Campaign dutifully recounts the thirteen named siege approaches, its discussion of the elements of siege craft employed by the Union army is limited and related historical context beyond its scope. Warren Grabau's Ninety-Eight Days explores the campaign in great breadth and depth but siege coverage is superficial. Michael Ballard's Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi is a modern synthesis that excludes by design any kind of micro-level study of the siege itself and his more recent Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege largely skirts around the actual operation. With its in-depth examinations of the mechanics and historical context of the Vicksburg siege operation, Justin Solonick's Engineering Victory substantially furthers our knowledge and understanding of the great military undertaking that resulted in the capture of the Gibraltar of the Confederacy.

The fact that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was the nation's preeminent engineering school during the antebellum period is known to every Civil War student and Solonick briefly traces the development of the military engineering department at the school. The author focuses on the critical contributions of Professor Dennis Hart Mahan and his series of publications (all heavily influenced by the famous French engineer Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban) that constituted the educational foundation of the American military engineers who excelled during the war with Mexico and the Civil War. Another instructor, James C. Duane, also deserves mention. His Manual for Engineer Troops greatly enhanced the specialized knowledge and skill base of the young officers.

Vicksburg's limited American siege warfare antecedents, from Yorktown in 1781 to Vera Cruz in 1847 and back to the Peninsula in 1862 (the last a pseudo-siege), are summarized. Yorktown brought elements of Vauban to the American experience and Vera Cruz demonstrated the professional skill and decisive impact of West Point trained engineers. Finally, McClellan's engineers on the lower Peninsula first put into practice methods of siege craft that would be honed and expanded during the Vicksburg operation. While many writers and historians link Vicksburg and Petersburg together as precursors of the trench systems of World War One, Ballard instead views Vicksburg as a unique event. With its completed (albeit not continuous) line of circumvallation, zig-zag approach trenches, parallels, covered ways, breaching batteries, and mines, it was the last great Vauban-inspired siege in western military history, with the new technologies and innovations employed really marking Vicksburg as a transitional point between classic and modern siege warfare.

Engineering Victory is unique in that it details the mechanics of Civil War siege warfare like no other study has done before and also closely scrutinizes how each element was applied to Vicksburg specifically. Entire chapters are devoted to siting the line of circumvallation, digging saps and parallels, and constructing trench cavaliers, forward battery positions, and mines. For the last, Solonick offers a fascinating and accessible mathematical analysis of how engineers determined the amount of powder needed to displace a given amount of earth, with additional consideration given to what kind of breaching crater one wished to form. Sniping and fire suppression are discussed at length in the book as are the design, construction, and use of practical tools of the trade like head logs, gabions, sap rollers and others. A fairly generous collection of maps, diagrams, and photographs enhances these sections.

A general theme of the book is the shortage of trained military engineers available to the Army of the Tennessee and how the creative innovations and common sense of Grant's westerners picked up the slack left behind by the overtaxed professionals. The engineer officers directly oversaw some approaches but were only able to offer general instruction for others. Of course, such a system led to wide variability in siege work design and effectiveness as well as in the rates of advance of the various approaches. Solonick also points out the importance of top down direction, with the progress of siege approaches conducted by the army corps led by West Pointers William T. Sherman and James McPherson outpacing those of political general John McClernand (at least until he was replaced by E.O.C. Ord) even though McClernand's XIII Corps had more academy graduate division commanders than either XV or XVII Corps. Non-regulation innovations were a part of nearly every aspect of the siege, two of the more interesting ones detailed in the book being the massive "land gunboat" sap roller used for Logan's Approach and the observation/sharpshooter tower constructed by 2nd. Lt. Henry "Coonskin" Foster of the 23rd Indiana.

Solonick also effectively describes how Vicksburg's topography and the physical qualities of the soil affected various aspects of the siege operation. For example, the loess soil made for easy digging and its clinging properties often aided the Union cause by making extensive and time consuming shoring unnecessary. Additionally, while the rolling hills and steep ravines surrounding Vicksburg are often cited as benefits for the defense, the peculiar shape of the landscape also allowed Grant's army to approach the Confederate trenches under defilade and construct the initial line of circumvallation far closer than the prescribed distance. This in turn allowed Union engineers to dispense with the multiple parallels dictated by the siege manual and significantly speed up the entire operation.

Complaints are few. There's a great deal of repetition in the narrative that could have been shaved off with a bit more ruthless editing. Also, for the sake of reference value if nothing else, the inclusion of a more formal graphical and text summary documenting all thirteen siege approaches (in the main text or as an appendix) would have been welcome.

The above quibbles aside, Engineering Victory is a truly original study that offers unprecedented insight into the mechanics of the Vicksburg siege from the Union perspective. It also serves as a powerful reminder that ultimate victory was not just a question of starvation but also one of skillful execution of the siege tactics of the period. Justin Solonick's impressive work is richly deserving of a place of high honor in the Vicksburg Campaign literature canon.

More CWBA reviews of SIUP titles:
* The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863
* Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege
* The Prairie Boys Go to War: The Fifth Illinois Cavalry, 1861-1865
* The Chattanooga Campaign
* Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs
* An Illustrated Guide to Virginia's Confederate Monuments
* The Notorious "Bull" Nelson: Murdered Civil War General
* The Chickamauga Campaign
* Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War
* The Shiloh Campaign