Thursday, September 20, 2007

Five Trans-Mississippi cavalry books: (Part 5 - Conclusion) "The Fifth Season"

[The Fifth Season: General “JO” Shelby's Great Raid of 1863 by Mark E. Scott (Two Trails Publishing, 2001-OP)]

The Fifth Season is the publication of author Mark Scott's 1996 Masters thesis. The first half of the book is a general recounting of the Civil War in Missouri and northern Arkansas up to Colonel Joseph O. Shelby’s “Great Raid” of 1863. Naturally, emphasis is placed on the actions where Shelby himself was present. For this part of the book, Scott relies mainly on older published sources for the overview and many factual errors creep into the text. The well informed reader could skip this entire section and miss little.

The second half of the book is a reasonably complete story of Shelby’s 1863 “Great Raid”, an effort that stretched over 41 days and 1500 miles. It is at this point that the book significantly improves. Here, the author makes better use of manuscript and other primary sources and weaves an interesting narrative history of the raid. Shelby and his men rode from the Arkansas River north all the way to the Missouri River before the raiders were forced by converging Federal forces to retrace their steps back to Arkansas. The battle at Marshall, the raid’s most significant fight, was described by the author in some detail. However, a map would have been a helpful tool in gaining a clearer understanding of the natural and man-made terrain features.

In addition to the errors in the book’s first half, the presentation is sloppy in places (e.g. cover and spine carry different titles & the author’s brief introduction had at least six typos!) and, while the work is footnoted, no index is included. The maps are inadequate, making it difficult at times to follow closely the actions of raider and pursuer. Overall, though, based on the generally well written overview of the title raid, I would give The Fifth Season a lukewarm recommendation for those readers interested in this chapter of the war in the Trans-Mississippi.

[This concludes the five-part series]

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