Sunday, January 31, 2010

Schmidt & Hasegawa (eds.): "YEARS OF CHANGE AND SUFFERING: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine"

[ Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine edited by James M. Schmidt and Guy R. Hasegawa (Edinborough Press, 2009). Photos, drawings, notes, bibliography, index. 192 pages.]

It's a shame that the general reading public's perception of Civil War surgeons as callous incompetents will probably never change, no matter how many quality corrective volumes have been or will be published. One of these is Years of Change and Suffering (with contributors James M. Schmidt and Guy Hasegawa also serving as general editors), a useful and very readable collection of original essays covering a variety of important figures and topics associated with Civil War medicine.

With a single exception, the articles, all well documented scholarly essays, are written by physicians and/or scientists. It's quite a distinguished assemblage. The book begins with archivist Jodi Koste's 1860-1865 history of the Medical College of Virginia. She traces the institution's sudden increase in attendance and prestige, due in large part to the mass exodus of southern students from the best medical colleges of the North, as well as the many difficulties that needed to be overcome in order for the school to remain in operation during the war years. Co-editor James Schmidt drew his article from the pages of Scientific American magazine, a rather underappreciated publication that both advocated scientific progress in general and directly advised the fighting man in the field.

Perhaps no Civil War medicine book goes to publication without an article of some sort dealing with amputations, and Alfred Jay Bollet's brief essay demonstrates that the reputation Civil War surgeons had and have for a cavalier attitude toward the sawing off of injured limbs is substantially undeserved. Retrospective research has shown that Union and Confederate amputation operations were significantly more successful in terms of death rates than those performed during foreign conflicts immediately before and after the Civil War years. Also, the consensus of opinion appears (then and now) to be that surgeons actually tended to adopt too much of a conservative approach when it came to amputation, attempting to save limbs that should have been removed immediately in order to provide the best chance for patient survival.

F. Terry Hambrecht's article is a biographical summary of the life and career of Charlestonian physician and innovator J.J. Chisolm. Chisolm was a skilled hospital organizer and medical purveyor. He prepared an immensely influential surgical manual for Confederate surgeons, and also designed medical equipment. It's a fine sketch of the professional life of a major figure in Confederate medicine.

In my mind, the most fascinating contribution is Harry Herr's detailed examination of the wartime diagnosis and treatment of urological wounds (i.e. penetrating injuries to the bladder, ureters, urethra, penis, and testes). By focusing on a single, and difficult, category of injury, the essay serves as a wonderful illustration of a level of anatomical knowledge, diagnostic acumen, ingenuity of equipment design, and practical treatment methodology on the part of Civil War physicians that would surprise most Civil War readers. The precision of the language in the case reports reproduced in the article is very comparable to that found in current documentation in the modern hospital setting.

Co-editor Guy Hasegawa's article investigates the collection and processing of southern natural resources in the production of medicines. Following that, the foundations of the field of neurology are traced by D.J. Canale, with an emphasis on the efforts of a talented triad of physicians (S. Weir Mitchell, George R. Morehouse, and W.W. Keen) to identify and treat the consequences to the nervous system of gunshot wounds. The final chapter is Judith Andersen's look at the psychological consequences of sustained combat.

A number of typos crept their way into the text, but there is precious little else that would give cause for complaint. Containing scholarly essays that explore in some depth a mixture of general and specialized medical and scientific topics (yet can be for the most part readily comprehended by a general reading audience), Years of Change and Suffering is a highly recommended contribution to the effort at furthering a more accurate popular reassessment of Civil War medicine.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Author Q & A: William L. Shea

Dr. William L. Shea is a history professor at the University of Arkansas at Monticello and the author or co-author of numerous Civil War books* and articles, most related to the conflict in the Trans-Mississippi theater. He joins me to discuss a few things from his latest book Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (UNC Press, 2009).

DW: Prof. Shea, since your earlier Pea Ridge study is a personal favorite, I’d like to start with a question about the co-author process. How did the partnership with Earl Hess develop? Also, how did you divide up the research and writing duties for that project?

WLS: We discovered by chance that we were both preparing books about Pea Ridge. Since neither project was very far along, we agreed to merge our efforts. Dividing up research responsibilities was easy. He searched archives in his half of the country; I searched archives in mine. Dividing up writing duties was more challenging. We settled on a process in which one author wrote a chapter (any chapter, no particular order) and sent it to the other author, who reworked the chapter and sent it back. Some chapters went back and forth several times before both of us were satisfied. The result was a manuscript with a consistent style from start to finish.


DW: Interesting. I've come across others that utilize a similar system, and it seems to work well in many cases. Let’s now dive into Prairie Grove and your new book Fields of Blood. You did an earlier interview with historian M. Jane Johansson [link to interview] that covered much of the background and research, as well as various leader assessments from both sides, so I thought I would avoid covering the same ground. I apologize beforehand for the scattershot format this will cause.

Fields of Blood is the second Prairie Grove Campaign study to be published, the first being Michael Banasik’s Embattled Arkansas (Broadfoot, 1996). Can you describe where your interpretations of the campaign and battle differ significantly from Banasik’s?

WLS: Our books are so different in conception and execution it's hard to make comparisons of that sort. We both give Hindman a lot of credit for creating an army from scratch.


DW: The controversial James Blunt is a major figure in your book. Although Nathaniel Lyon’s brief career secured Missouri more or less permanently, do you believe a case could be made that Blunt (with issues of politics and corruption aside) was the most effective Union military leader in the Trans-Mississippi?

WLS: Samuel Curtis was the most effective Union military leader west of the Mississippi, and he would have been even more effective had the Lincoln administration not put him on the shelf for most of 1863 and part of 1864 because of politically motivated trumped-up charges of corruption. Blunt was an effective leader of troops at the brigade and division levels but I doubt whether he had the capacity to handle an army or theater command. His combative personality made it difficult for him to get along with people, though he managed to stay on good terms with everyone except Salomon during the Prairie Grove campaign. But despite his flaws (or maybe because of them), he was a fascinating figure who deserves a first-rate biography. I hope somebody is considering such a project.


DW:
Getting back to the Prairie Grove battlefield, the Confederate position along the ridge at Prairie Grove is fairly well documented, but others seem to remain a mystery. Did you ever come across a drawing or description of Frost’s blocking position astride the Fayetteville Road? Along with the earlier cavalry battle at the crossroads, it seems to be one of the fuzzier deployments in terms of available information.

WLS: I couldn't find any useful information about Frost's position along Muddy Fork. No maps, no sketches, no detailed descriptions. Nor could I find any obvious terrain features where a line of battle might have been located. It's a mystery. When I lead tours to that part of the battlefield I wave my arms vaguely and say that Frost was deployed "around here somewhere."


DW: It’s no secret that many of the Arkansas regiments were filled with large numbers of unwilling conscripts, and it’s even been alleged that an entire regiment deserted en masse during the Prairie Grove battle [unfortunately, I can’t remember which unit]. Did you find any evidence of this unique and incredible circumstance in your research?

WLS: That is one of the enduring myths of Prairie Grove. Charles Adams's Arkansas Infantry was one of the regiments with a large number of unhappy conscripts in its ranks. During the fighting around the Borden house the regiment disintegrated. Nearly everyone, officers included, fled to the rear. Many did not stop running until they were miles away. Over the next few days a large number of these men made their way to Union lines and turned themselves in. This appears to be the source of the incredible story that a Confederate regiment switched sides in the middle of the fight. Other Arkansas regiments with large numbers of conscripts performed well during the battle. Another regimental commander, Alexander Hawthorn, publicly commended his conscripts on their behavior in combat. The problem with Adams' regiment seems to have been Adams.


DW: That certainly wouldn't be unusual. In both your Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove studies, you represent those campaigns as pivotal moments in the yet undecided contest for control of Missouri, Arkansas, and Indian Territory, with the understanding that Confederate victories could have opened up vast strategic possibilities. In my mind, given the extreme logistical constraints, both battles (win or lose) better reflect the very limits of Confederate power projection in the region rather than possible starting points to even greater gains. What are your thoughts on this contrary view?

WLS: You're right. The Confederates had no realistic chance of occupying Missouri and Kansas in the usual sense of the term. But let's remember that the Union armies at Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove represented nearly all of the available manpower in the Trans-Mississippi. (This was especially true of the Army of the Frontier at Prairie Grove in late 1862.) Had either Union army been defeated and driven north in disarray—losing men, guns, ammunition, stores, wagons, and animals in the process—there was nothing to stop the Confederates from re-establishing themselves in the granary of western Missouri, which included "Little Dixie" and its hordes of irregulars. From there it would have been a relatively simple matter for the Confederates to seize the depots at Fort Scott and Rolla and continue on to threaten Kansas City and St. Louis. The presence of a rampaging Confederate army in western Missouri, however logistically challenged, would have been the military equivalent of a "fleet in being" (see Alfred Thayer Mahan). The Lincoln administration would have had no choice but to respond by rushing additional resources to Missouri and Kansas. This, in turn, would have affected the scale and scope of operations in Mississippi and Tennessee. I am convinced that a Confederate push into Missouri and Kansas in 1862, when the outcome of the war was still uncertain, would have had a significant impact not only in the Trans-Mississippi but across much of the West as well.


DW: It was long rumored that Banasik was working on a history of the Army of the Frontier and Bill Gurley is hard at work on a Parsons’ Brigade study. Do you know of any other individuals currently researching books about persons, places, or events directly and indirectly associated with the Prairie Grove Campaign?

WLS: News travels slowly in deepest Arkansas. I don't know of anything in the works.


DW: I like to close these Q&As with a question about upcoming projects. Do you have anything in the works that you are able to mention at this time?

WLS:
A biography of Samuel Curtis is in progress.


DW: Wonderful. A scholarly full biography of the man has been absent for far too long. Perhaps we can chat about that one when the time comes. Thanks for your time.



* Other books by William L. Shea:
- Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road w/ William G. Piston, Earl J. Hess, and Richard W. Hatcher III (Bison Books, 2006).
- Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River w/ Terry Winschel (U. of Nebraska Press, 2003).
- War in the West: Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove (McWhiney, 2002).
- Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West w/ Earl J. Hess (UNC Press, 1992).
- The Virginia Militia in the Seventeenth Century (LSU Press, 1983).

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"ORLANDO M. POE: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer"

During the Civil War, engineer officers rarely received laurels and promotions to match their indispensable contributions to operations in the field. Recently, historian Earl Hess's wonderful series on field fortifications in the eastern theater brought some needed attention to the efforts of obscure engineers from both sides. Now, continuing on in the same spirit, author Paul Taylor's new book Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer [(Kent State University Press, 2009). Cloth, maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 364 pages. ISBN: 978-1-60635-040-9] brings to light the life and career of Ohioan and West Point-trained engineer Orlando Metcalfe Poe.

Poe performed well in both staff and line officer capacities during the early Civil War campaigns in Virginia. His reward, a promotion to brigadier general, however, was not confirmed by the Senate, and he reverted back to his regular army rank of captain. To have his talents better appreciated, he would have to go west. As corps and then army level chief engineer in the western theater, Poe played an important role in the East Tennessee (Knoxville), Atlanta, March to the Sea, and Carolinas campaigns, all of which posed significant military engineering challenges. These events from Poe's Civil War career are ably covered by Taylor in his narrative. Another section is devoted to Poe's post-war employment designing and building lighthouses (and numerous other transportation and harbor facilities) in the Great Lakes region.

Taylor's research reaches wide and deep, to include unpublished manuscripts, government documents [undoubtedly rich material given his long public service career], newspapers, theses, dissertations, and published primary and secondary sources. The book's cloth binding and overall presentation certainly measure up to KSU Press's lofty reputation.

Paul Taylor's Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer is a fine biography of a soldier and public servant richly deserving of one. Recommended.

[The book was recently selected by the Library of Michigan as a recipient of their 2010 Michigan Notable Books Award]

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Smith: "ENGINEERING SECURITY: The Corps of Engineers and Third System Defense Policy, 1815-1861"

[ Engineering Security: The Corps of Engineers and Third System Defense Policy, 1815-1861 by Mark A. Smith (University of Alabama Press, 2009). Hardcover, map, illustrations, tables, notes, bibliographic essay, index. Pages main/total: 218/276. ISBN: 978-0-8173-1665-5 $54 ]

Dominating U.S. national defense planning for the first half of the 19th century, the Third System could be regarded as the first truly integrated plan for resisting seaborne invasion by a foreign power (the previous two regimes being "systems" in name only). Mark A. Smith's multi-faceted new book Engineering Security: The Corps of Engineers and Third System Defense Policy, 1815-1861 thoughtfully explores its implementation within military, economic, and political contexts. Along the way, he effectively counters the view that the Third System forts were obsolete failures during the Civil War, instead arguing persuasively that these military installations largely fulfilled their intended roles.

Smith demonstrates that the Board of Engineers, the new bureaucracy tasked with the site selection and design of the forts, enhanced the prestige of engineering officers within the army, a situation that, in turn, advanced the cause of institutional professionalism. The Board also brought to the fore a notable group of West Point-trained American engineers, an important step in ending dependence on foreign expertise (with the obvious attendant benefit of decreasing foreign knowledge of American defenses).

Perhaps a lesser appreciated consequence of the Third System was its fostering of local economies. Just like the frontier army helped cultivate the economic development of the western territories, Third System fort construction often increased the demand for local labor, raw materials, and industry. This profitable private development then created regional constituencies that would ensure political support for both regional and national defense policy.

Of course, the Congress, then as now, held the national purse strings, and the approval of the country's elected officials was crucial to the Third System. Contrary to the assertions of some historians, Smith contends that the Third System received consistent congressional support throughout the antebellum period, with the peaks and valley of each year's funding allocation primarily due to transient economic and foreign policy conditions rather than fundamental political and ideological disagreements. Unsurprisingly, Congress saw to it that line-item funding would replace lump sum annual appropriations to be managed by the Board of Engineers. Thus, the pet projects of individual legislators would be advanced, a progenitor of today's pork barrel politics. On the positive side, funding of one regional project tended to eventually spread to other areas, leaving no stretch of coastline entirely undefended (although, in some cases, it did take decades to do so).

In basic terms, the Third System employed permanent coastal fortifications backed by local militia, a small regular army, and an internal transportation network. Inherited by the Confederacy, the system would received its first and only test during the Civil War. Smith summarizes its performance in a short section at the end of his book. While there were certainly stunning defeats (e.g. Admiral David G. Farragut's passing of Forts Jackson and St. Philip below New Orleans and Brig. Gen. Quincy Gillmore's reduction of Fort Pulaski with land batteries) to be considered, Smith makes a strong case that the system, in the context of its original design and reasonable predictions for the development of future military technology, largely fulfilled expectations.

The forts were not designed to hold out indefinitely, but rather were intended to check an enemy naval force until reinforcements arrived. If one takes into account the period between the approach of invading union forces and the surrenders of Forts Macon, Pulaski, and Jackson-St. Philip, one can see that a more than reasonable period of time intervened for the dispatch and arrival of reinforcements. The limiting factor was the manpower and material weakness of the Confederacy, not the overall failure of the system. The Confederate held forts were undermanned, ill-supplied, and inadequately armed (in both number and modernity of guns). One could argue, as Smith does, that the system planners could not have foreseen the astonishingly rapid advances in heavy cannon development (especially that of the massive rifled pieces) that would afford Union land and sea forces a decisive advantage in range and destructive power. Steam navigation was another significant factor in rendering the Third System forts obsolete, but again the forts were not designed to withstand naval attacks without a supporting network of obstructions. The Charleston harbor defenses were a good example of a successful integration.

The high profile, vertical design of so many of the Third System masonry forts is another frequent criticism, but the author reminds readers again that the designers could not have predicted the devastating penetrating power of the newest rifled artillery. Additionally, the multiple levels of casemated emplacements were essential for maximizing the number the guns in the smallest space possible, at the time a reasonable trade off of defensive strength for firepower. Ironically, the Union navy's ironclads designed in part to reduce them had the opposite problem -- immensely strong protective armor but only feeble offensive capability.

A wish list for the book might include more illustrations. A single map marks the location of Third System forts selectively along the Gulf and Atlantic seaboards. A few drawings of fort designs were present, but the faintness and size reduction of their reproduction hinder their usefulness. Also, while a helpful source essay is placed at the end of the book, a complete bibliography is absent.

Those issues aside, Engineering Security is a remarkable history of the development of a U.S. defense policy that would remain in place for roughly half the nineteenth century. It also traces the rise of the engineer officer within the American military power structure. Moving beyond purely military matters, Smith's study effectively utilizes the events and circumstances surrounding the planning and implementation of the Third System as an opportunity to develop broader insights into antebellum politics and society.


Other CWBA reviews of U of A Press titles:
* Battle: The Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat
* Camp Chase and the Evolution of Civil War Prison Policy
* Blockaders, Refugees, and Contrabands: Civil War on Florida's Gulf Coast, 1861-1865 (Fire Ant)
* Civil War Weather in Virginia
* From Conciliation to Conquest
* Like Grass Before the Scythe
* Navy Gray
* Sherman's Mississippi Campaign
* Confederate Florida (Fire Ant)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Booknotes III (January '10 )

New additions this month:

1. The Battle of Port Royal by Michael D. Coker (The History Press, 2009).

2. The Battle of Okolona: Defending the Mississippi Prairie by Brandon H. Beck (The History Press, 2009).

Neither of the above pair of battles has received a modern book length treatment prior to these, I believe.

3. Federal Laws of the Reconstruction: Principal Congressional Acts and Resolutions, Presidential Proclamations, Speeches and Orders, and Other Legislative and Military Documents, 1862-1875 by Frederick A. Hosen (McFarland, 2009).

Save the very brief introduction, this book is entirely a documentary collection with no additional commentary. From the publisher description:
"This collection of documents (primarily statutes and presidential proclamations), provide an important research tool that gives a unique sense of the reconstruction process. Included are 37 acts of congress, 44 presidential proclamations, eight congressional resolutions, one inaugural speech, one military field order, one presidential order, and two war department circulars, all reproduced in their entirety and arranged chronologically".
4. Bullets and Steel: The Fight for the Great Kanawha Valley, 1861-1865 by Richard Andre, Stan Cohen, and William D. Wintz (Pictorial Histories, 1995).

5. Seven Months in the Rebel States During the North American War, 1863 by Justus Scheibert, trans. by Joseph C. Hayes, edited by William Stanley Hoole (Univ. of Alabama Press, 2009).

The Scheibert memoir is the first volume of Alabama's southern primary source material series Seeing The Elephant. It looks like the next one will be Recollections of War Times By An Old Veteran while under Stonewall Jackson and Lieutenant General James Longstreet by William A. McClendon, edited by Keith S. Bohannon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reynolds & Schultz (ed.): "GENERAL STERLING PRICE AND THE CONFEDERACY"

[General Sterling Price and the Confederacy by Thomas C. Reynolds, edited by Robert G. Schultz (Missouri History Museum Press, 2009). Softcover, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 152/279. ISBN: 978-1-883982-68-3 $24.95 ]

In any list of difficult Confederate generals, Sterling Price would rank near the top. While charismatic and personally brave on the battlefield, the Missourian's personal vanity and his penchants for intrigue and insubordination combined to alienate many a person needed for his own success, from President Jefferson Davis himself down through a host of prominent Trans-Mississippi military and political figures. One of these was Confederate Missouri governor Thomas Caute Reynolds.

Missouri's Lieutenant Governor at the start of the Civil War, Reynolds ascended to the top post with the untimely death of Claiborne Fox Jackson in December 1862. In what would be an essentially ceremonial political position, Reynolds served as "governor" for the rest of the war. Composed in exile in Mexico City in 1867, his Price manuscript, edited by Robert G. Schultz and published for the first time under the title General Sterling Price and the Confederacy, is in the possession of the Missouri Historical Society. Unlike many memoirs penned in the aftermath of the war, Reynold's writing is less about self-aggrandizement (in fact, there is very little in the way of personal promotion). Rather, the manuscript concerns itself with 'setting the record straight' about the Civil War career of the antagonizing figure Sterling Price. However, with Price's unexpected demise so soon after the war ended, the project was abandoned, unfortunately just at the point of onset of the controversial 1864 Price Raid into Missouri, a lamentable circumstance for future historians.

Not surprisingly, Reynolds's account is completely one-sided. Somewhat defensive in tone, he constantly reminds the reader of his own personal friendship and regard toward Price (especially early on in their working relationship) and prides himself on his willingness to overlook slights, a kindness and measure of respect that was evidently not returned. Unfortunately, the governor did not accompany Price in the field in 1863, so his information about the disastrous Helena and Little Rock campaigns is necessarily secondhand. Reynolds's narrative gives full flight to the many rumors about Price's supposed political intrigues, including the fanciful ones of the general leading a great Northwest confederation of states (from both sections) and another, hatched around the time of the darkest period of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, that would have had Price leading the Confederacy as generalissimo upon the deposing of Davis.

A common thread throughout the manuscript is that of doubts about Price's Confederate loyalties, exacerbated by the apparent sweetheart deal given to one of the general's sons, a Missouri State Guard officer who was allowed to take the oath of allegiance and return to lucrative private pursuits in Missouri, unmolested by federal authorities. One wishes that Schultz had elaborated on these events and charges in more detail in his notes, attempting to separate fact from fiction according to information available today. That would have made for highly interesting reading.

In form and style, Reynolds was not a gifted writer (to put it kindly), and Schultz bases his new book upon Dr. Cyrus A. Peterson's transcribed version of Reynold's now quite fragile manuscript, which strove to make readable what was essentially a continuous narrative without standard punctuation or paragraph breaks. Schultz inserts his own chapter breaks (by date), as well as bracketed notations within the text. His endnotes are very helpful in providing background information for persons, places, and events mentioned in the manuscript.

The edited Price manuscript runs 120 pages, but Schultz further enhanced the value of his book by including 136 pages of additional documentation. A small portion of this material is composed of Reynolds correspondence (reports and letters) earlier compiled by Dr. Peterson. The rest is Schultz's compilation of a series of documents pertaining specifically to the 1864 Price Raid, a helpful attempt to at least partially fill in the yawning gap created by the unfinished manuscript. These documents are composed of correspondence contained in the Official Records, a court of inquiry transcription, and a collection of newspaper letters to the editor with responses. A final appendix lists Missouri senators and representatives to the Confederate Congress.

Usefully edited and supported by a wealth of additional documentation, General Sterling Price and the Confederacy is an important addition to our knowledge and understanding of a pair of prominent Confederate figures from the Trans-Mississippi theater. Editor Robert G. Schultz and his publisher are richly deserving of praise for bringing this long neglected manuscript to the attention of the public, and for according it such an impressive and expansive presentation.

[this book is distributed by University of Missouri Press]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Booknotes II (January '10 )

New additions this month:

1. Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community 1861-1865 by Barton A. Myers (LSU Press, 2009).

My selections from LSU's Fall catalog finally arrived. Myers's book was most anticipated, joining works like Meekins's Elizabeth City study and Gerald Thomas's Bertie County history in highlighting the political schisms and irregular military conflict within North Carolina's coastal communities.

2. Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United States Senator by Sam Davis Elliott (LSU Press, 2010).

LSU's Southern Biography Series is one of the better ones out there. I'm hoping Elliott discovered lots of information about the governor's key role in the organization of the Provisional Army of Tennessee.

3. Baring the Iron Hand: Discipline in the Union Army by Steven J. Ramold (Univ. of N. Illinois Press, 2009).

Much admired by me for its fresh insights into attitudes toward the enemy and (in)discipline among federal volunteer soldiers is From Conciliation to Conquest: The Sack of Athens and the Court-Martial of Colonel John B. Turchin by George C. Bradley and Richard L. Dahlen (U. of Alabama Press, 2006). With its own even more direct focus on the subject, I've been looking forward to reading Ramold's lengthy study ever since its announcement.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Longacre: "CAVALRY OF THE HEARTLAND: The Mounted Forces of the Army of Tennessee"

[ Cavalry of the Heartland: The Mounted Forces of the Army of Tennessee by Edward G. Longacre (Westholme Publishing, 2009) Hardcover, 10 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 349/446. ISBN:978-1-59416-098-1 $35 ]

With relatively few exceptions, book length treatments of the Confederacy's use of cavalry in the western theater tend to focus on specific raids and raiders, with little in the way of theater-wide analysis. Indeed, Edward G. Longacre's new book Cavalry of the Heartland is heavily raid-centric in its own right, yet it should also be regarded as a broader operational military history of the Army of Tennessee's mounted arm from 1862 through to the end of the major fighting in North Carolina in early 1865.

Although the services of a host of other brigade and division level cavalry commanders are briefly noted, the central figures of Longacre's narrative are the famous generals John Hunt Morgan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Joseph Wheeler. Where applicable, the cavalry's contribution to the Army of Tennessee's major battles is outlined, but the bulk of the text is composed of chapter length summaries of the various raids and other independent actions undertaken by the commands of Morgan, Forrest, and Wheeler. The strengths of each general are fairly well presented, as well as weaknesses -- from Forrest's serial insubordination to the major battlefield and discipline problems that were part and parcel to the mercurial military leadership of both Morgan and Wheeler. Additionally, as a more general criticism, the author perceptively recognizes one of the fundamental misuses of Confederate cavalry in the west, the all too frequent tendency of army and department commanders to order or authorize lengthy cavalry raids at the very moment mounted forces were most needed as operational and tactical support for the main army.

This general outline of cavalry operations conducted over the vast geographical area entrusted to the Army of Tennessee is the book's primary source of value. That said, readers seeking a more in-depth examination of the fundamental issues that plagued the mounted arm will likely be disappointed. For example, chapter length analyses of the organizational, logistical, and discipline problems endemic to western cavalry would have greatly enhanced the meaningfulness of Longacre's work. Did the Confederate war effort get a proper return on its resource allocation of such a high proportion of cavalry to infantry (often reaching a level between 1:3 to 1:4)? I would argue no, and I wanted to know what the author believed. Furthermore, the factors behind such an unusual (and frankly embarrassing) disparity between paper and actual strength is so many mounted units should also have been better addressed, as well as the effects of ill-disciplined "foraging" on the friendly segment of the civilian population. Necessary or not, to what degree did this system of essentially sanctioned robbery contribute to the decline in popular morale and support for the Confederate government?

Although Longacre lists a vast array of manuscript materials in his bibliography (hundreds of collections), the end notes indicate a core reliance on published sources in what ultimately is a familiar narrative. While new readers will indeed find themselves with an able military overview of the subject, Civil War students already familiar with the mass of standard western campaign histories and biographies will not gain a wealth of new information or original interpretations from reading this book. As stated before, the value of Cavalry of the Heartland lies rather in its synthetic approach. On that basis, I would recommend the book.


Other CWBA reviews of Westholme titles:
* War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta
* Firearms in American History: A Guide for Writers, Curators, and General Readers
* Fighting for Paradise: A Military History of the Pacific Northwest
* Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor

Saturday, January 09, 2010

New Butler Center release in March: "The Die is Cast"

In early March, The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies [their distributor is Univ. of Arkansas Press] will be publishing another Civil War title, their first since 2006. From the publisher description for The Die Is Cast: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861 (edited by Mark K. Christ):
"Five writers examine the political and social forces in Arkansas that led to secession and transformed farmers, clerks, and shopkeepers into soldiers. Retired longtime Arkansas State University professor Michael Dougan delves into the 1861 Arkansas Secession Convention and the delegates’ internal divisions on whether to leave the Union. Lisa Tendrich Frank, who teaches at Florida Atlantic University, discusses the role Southern women played in moving the state toward secession. Carl Moneyhon of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock looks at the factors that led peaceful civilians to join the army. Thomas A. DeBlack of Arkansas Tech University tells of the thousands of Arkansans who chose not to follow the Confederate banner in 1861, and William Garret Piston of Missouri State University chronicles the first combat experience of the green Arkansas troops at Wilson’s Creek".
Sounds like another good one, with a distinguished cast of Civil War Arkansas historians.

Other Butler Center Civil War titles:
- "A Rough Introduction to This Sunny Land": The Civil War Diary of Private Henry A. Strong, Co. K, Twelfth Kansas Infantry, edited by Tom Wing.
-
"All Cut to Pieces and Gone to Hell": The Civil War, Race Relations, and the Battle of Poison Spring, edited by Mark K. Christ.
-
Things Grew Beautifully Worse: Captain John O'Brien, 30th Arkansas Infantry, C.S.A., edited by Brian K. Robertson.

Christ has been a busy man lately. In addition to this one and his other upcoming book, a March release from U. of Oklahoma Press titled Civil War Arkansas: 1863, Christ also found time for another conflict with Ready, Booted, and Spurred: Arkansas in the U.S. - Mexican War (co-editor William A. Frazier, Butler Center, 2009).

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Booknotes ( January '10 )

New additions this month:

1. Assault and Logistics: Union Army Coastal and River Operations 1861-1866 by Charles Dana Gibson (Ensign Press, 1995).

This massive book (Vol. II of The Army's Navy Series) can be paired with Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels, Steam and Sail, Employed by the Union Army, 1861 - 1868, which was published the following year by Ensign.

2. Fortress Alcatraz: Guardian of the Golden Gate by John Arturo Martini (Ten Speed Press, 2004 rev. ed.).

This is a military history of Alcatraz Island. Originally published in 1991, the revised edition (same title) followed in 2004. I don't have the older book for comparison, but this one has a fairly large chapter on the Civil War years, including a detailed map of the guns and fortifications. The perfect book to take along David's tour.

3. Military Record of Louisiana: Including Biographical and Historical Papers Relating to the Military Organizations of the State by Napier Bartlett (LSU Press, PB ed. 1996).

About half of his book is Bartlett's own memoir of his service in the east with the Washington Artillery. Of far more interest to me, the rest is a collection of source material relating to Louisiana units spread across all three major theaters, making it a useful reference work as well. Most of this edition is a facsimile reprint of the 1875 original.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Univ. of Tennessee Press Spring/Summer '10 books

Speaking of UT Press, they've redesigned their website, plus they also have their new catalog up. That's quite a Civil War line up for the first half of this year.

Also, with the issue of the first three titles, there is finally a dedicated page up for The Western Theater in the Civil War series. Its mission:
"The primary goal of the series is to publish cutting-edge scholarship on the Civil War and during Reconstruction. The series may include monographs, biographies or autobiographies, and edited volumes. Prospective candidates will draw on previously untapped sources, introduce creative perspectives and methodologies, and contribute to the ongoing debate about the place of the Western Theater in understanding the Civil War".
I've added the new links to my publisher profile page. The three inaugural releases will be:

As it did earlier for David Reed's Shiloh book, the press will also revive Henry Boynton's classic works of Civil War history. Timothy B. Smith has combined the trio into a single volume, The Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga and the Organizations Engaged.

Finally, Robert J. Trout concludes his two-part series of ANV horse artillery reminiscences with Memoirs of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion: Volume 2 - Breathed’s and McGregor’s Batteries.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Ivy League Confederates

In the latter part of last year, University of Tennessee Press published a pair of biographical reference books for Confederates attending the two most prominent Ivy League schools -- Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes and Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South by Helen Trimpi. I haven't seen the Harvard volume yet, but I do have a copy of Hughes's book, which is a deeply researched and very useful biographical register of Yale students and graduates that later went on to serve in the Confederate army and/or government.

Each entry in Yale's Confederates begins with the name and graduation date(s) or years attended, followed by a few lines listing birth and death dates and place, as well as parental and spouse names. The life sketches are in narrative form, ranging in size from a small paragraph to around five hundred words of more. If information is available, Hughes tells of the individual’s Yale experience. In terms of focus, the biographies are largely professional, highlighting each subject’s military and occupational contributions to public service more than incidents from his personal life. Source notes are placed within the text inside brackets. A downside is the paucity of illustrations, with only a few dozen photographs or drawings included (out of 500+ individuals). That consideration aside, it's a great reference volume for serious researchers and interested Yale graduates to own.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Shea: "FIELDS OF BLOOD: The Prairie Grove Campaign"

[ Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign by William L. Shea (University of North Carolina Press, 2009). Hardcover, 17 maps, photos, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 297/368. ISBN: 978-0-8078-3315-5 $35 ]

While relatively small in number, the Union and Confederate armies that confronted each other at Prairie Grove, Arkansas on December 7, 1862 suffered losses similar in proportion to those associated with the Civil War's great battles. The strategic consequences were significant, as well. The failure of Confederate General Thomas C. Hindman's 1st Corps (Army of the Trans-Mississippi) to inflict a decisive defeat on the widely separated wings of the Union Army of the Frontier under generals James G. Blunt and Francis J. Herron1 only furthered federal control of the vast Ozark Plateau. Even worse for declining southern fortunes in the region, Hindman's retreat and its associated rise in disease and desertion nearly dissolved his already ill-supplied army, a situation that helped expose the Arkansas River Valley to Union invasion and occupation the following year.

All this and more is detailed in historian William L. Shea's new book Fields of Blood, the second major military study of the Prairie Grove campaign to emerge within the last 15 years2. Earlier in his career, Shea (with co-author Earl Hess) created a model Civil War campaign history in Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West, and Fields of Blood is a worthy successor. Always with an eye toward context, the best campaign studies significantly address the connections between events occurring before, during, and after the centerpiece battle, and Shea's work clearly fits into this category. Its rich offering of background material includes overviews of Union victories at Old Fort Wayne and a pair of running fights at Cane Hill. Unfolding at regiment and battery scale, the degree of tactical detail contained in Shea's well crafted Prairie Grove battle narrative should also satisfy most readers. Additional chapters cover the military and civilian aftermath of the battle, as well as the conduct and previously underappreciated impact of the subsequent federal raid on the Confederate depot at Van Buren, Arkansas. The campaign's lasting impact on the strategic balance in the region is also evaluated.

Shea's assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of each side's military commanders largely ring true. Absent Army of the Frontier commander John M. Schofield comes across as scheming and small, but Blunt, even with his tendency to narrow his own tactical vision by leading from the front and his strange initial refusal to meet Herron halfway, shines brightest among the Union high command. Herron managed one of the most impressive forced marches in Civil War history, but his decision to detach almost all of his cavalry and his piecemeal tactical deployments at Prairie Grove led to very high casualties and near disaster for the 2nd and 3rd divisions. Among the Confederates, Hindman demonstrated an admirable degree of operational flexibility, but division commander Francis Shoup's decision to halt his advance atop Prairie Grove fundamentally altered the entire army's posture from offensive to defensive, surrendering the initiative to the enemy. This action threw his commander's plans into disarray, but it could also be argued that the move was justifiably prudent given the unexpected swiftness of Herron's march.

In researching his study, Shea mined a multitude of military and civilian unpublished primary source materials located in manuscript collections all across the country. These findings were integrated well throughout. As one would expect, large numbers of newspapers and select published primary and secondary sources were also consulted. Although a full accounting of numbers and losses is not offered, a campaign order of battle was included as an appendix.

Seventeen original maps track the operational and tactical movements outlined in the text. The battlefield positions of batteries and regiments at various key moments are adequately detailed in the tactical maps, but no distance scale is provided and the cartography lacks some of the important natural terrain elements (the absence of tree lines is a notable omission) often found in similar studies.

However, such flaws only detract in a minor way from the overall excellence of the book. Characterized by deep research, clear organization, shrewd analysis, and engaging writing, William L. Shea's Fields of Blood should be regarded as the new standard history of the Prairie Grove Campaign. A weighty contribution to the literature of the Trans-Mississippi theater, it is deserving of a place on the bookshelf of every Civil War student. Very highly recommended.

Notes:
1 - During the campaign, Army of the Frontier commander MG John M. Schofield was away. His senior subordinate, BG James G. Blunt, encamped his First "Kansas Division" in Arkansas's Cane Hill valley, while the 2nd and 3rd divisions were well over 100 miles away near Springfield, Missouri under the temporary command of BG Francis J. Herron. A highly mobile, interracial outfit of unusual combined-arms composition, the fascinating Kansas Division is deserving of a unit history of its own.
2 - The other is Michael E. Banasik's
Embattled Arkansas: The Prairie Grove Campaign of 1862 (Broadfoot Publishing, 1996). While Banasik's earlier work broadly addressed regular and irregular operations in both Missouri and Arkansas (and remains very valuable) in 1862, Shea's study is more tightly focused on the autumn campaign in northwest Arkansas.


Other Civil War Books and Authors reviews of recent UNC Press titles:
* 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