Sunday, November 28, 2010

Frazier & Hillhouse (eds.): "LOVE AND WAR: The Civil War Letters and Medicinal Book of Augustus V. Ball"

[Love and War: The Civil War Letters and Medicinal Book of Augustus V. Ball edited by Donald S. Frazier and Andrew Hillhouse, transcribed by Anne Ball Ryals (State House Press, 2010). Cloth, 21 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 523 pp. ISBN:978-1-933337-42-5  $59.95]

Like many contemporaries seeking a better life in the west, 27 year old native Georgian Augustus "Gus" V. Ball planned to emigrate to Texas with his new bride. Unfortunately for the young couple, their timing could not have been worse. Just weeks before their wedding, first Georgia then Texas seceded, casting doubt on peaceful pursuits. Ball was a graduate of the Reform Medical College in Macon, Georgia, an institution that followed the teachings of New England herbalist Samuel Thomson, the founder of a nineteenth century movement to cure bodily ills with botanical concoctions. Licensed only in Georgia, Ball in 1862 was not exempt from conscription in Texas. Joining the war effort a year after his arrival in the state, he enlisted with the 23rd Texas Cavalry as a private and was assigned hospital attendant duties.

In the remarkable new book Love and War: The Civil War Letters and Medicinal Book of Augustus V. Ball, Ball's wartime correspondence (mostly to his wife, Argent, but also to and from friends and family), transcribed by descendant Ann Ball Ryals and edited by noted Trans-Mississippi Civil War historian Donald Frazier, is given a classy treatment. Maps and photographs abound, and Frazier's work goes beyond that usually found in books of this type. The letters are grouped into chapters roughly by campaign, each of which is introduced by an essay preparing the reader for the events that follow with detailed background information and context. In addition to their incorporation of key excerpts from the letters that immediately follow, these narratives expand significantly upon events (mostly military) mentioned by Ball in his letters. The correspondence is also carefully annotated by Frazier and his student assistants. In addition to identifying persons, places, and events, there is a great deal of explanatory material present in their work. The notes are also helpfully placed at the bottom of each page.

The 23rd patrolled northeast Texas until early 1863, when it was sent to the coast to repel Union amphibious attacks. There, camped along the unhealthy mouth of the Brazos River, Ball cared for sick comrades. Although he does not relate much detail about his army duties in his correspondence, insight is provided into the sorry state of his regiment, which suffered from poor leadership (especially at the top with Colonel Gould), indiscipline, and desertion. It is a familiar story to students of many disaffected Trans-Mississippi regiments, but the 23rd seems almost exceptionally dysfunctional.

By the end of the year, Ball found himself transferred to the artillery, appointed a limber driver in McMahan's Battery (previously designated Co. E, 1st Texas Heavy Artillery). The battery participated in the battles of the 1864 Red River Campaign, with Ball being called forward to the firing line to help serve the battered guns during the Battle of Yellow Bayou. Frazier's own contribution to this part of the book is worthy of special mention. His chapter length account of Yellow Bayou and his sequence of eight small scale tactical maps together comprise a wonderful record of the battle and McMahan's battery's role in it [Ball himself writes little of his battlefield experiences].

One of the most valuable aspects of Ball's correspondence is his recording of events occurring between the conclusion of the 1864 Red River Campaign and final surrender, a period of the war in Trans-Mississippi Louisiana little addressed in the literature. Generally speaking, Ball and his unit remained in the Alexandria area during this time, manning fortifications and countering small scale Federal incursions by ships, regular units, and guerrillas.

Another fascinating section of the book is the inclusion of Ball's collection of Thomsonian remedies. Running over sixty pages, and expertly edited by biomedical researcher Dr. Andrew Hillhouse, the recipe book is a large compilation of pharmaceutical formulas from a bygone medical system. Hillhouse diligently identifies the herbs, compounds, and chemicals listed, as well as the often arcane terminology of the period.

Beautifully bound and illustrated, and touching upon several understudied facets of the war in the Trans-Mississippi theater, Love and War is a truly unique contribution to the literature and is highly recommended. Students of Civil War medicine, as well as those with a specialized interest in American nineteenth century medical fads, will also find the recipe book section a valuable historical document.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Slow season

October and November sure seem like the weakest Fall I've seen since beginning to keep track of such things. I don't think it points toward any particular trend. A few Fall scheduled releases have been pushed into December, and the situation could very well be that the numbers are similar but with fewer titles than usual appealing to me personally. Perhaps some publishers are holding back books in the (farfetched) hope that the first year of the Sesquicentennial "celebrations" will significantly boost sales. Who knows. The good news is my previously huge review copy pile evaporated during this time, and the bad that I had to burn through my backlog of completed reviews I always save up over time for weeks when I don't feel like writing.

I should have my annual 'Best of the Year' list up soon, maybe as early as next week.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mesic: "COBB'S LEGION CAVALRY: A History and Roster of the Ninth Georgia Volunteers in the Civil War"

[Cobb's Legion Cavalry: A History and Roster of the Ninth Georgia Volunteers in the Civil War by Harriet Bey Mesic (McFarland, 2009). Hardcover, 24 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. 376 pp. ISBN 978-0-7864-3795-5. $59.95]

Raised by prominent Georgia lawyer and ardent secessionist Thomas R.R. Cobb in the summer of 1861, the infantry, cavalry, and artillery components of Cobb’s Georgia Legion were destined not to serve together as a single unit. The mounted battalion, later consolidated with other companies to form the 9th Georgia Cavalry, first fought in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. From there, the Legion cavalry participated in some capacity in most of the major campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia, ending its distinguished service in the Carolinas in 1865.

Mostly a straightforward narrative of military events, Harriet Bey Mesic’s unit history of Cobb’s Legion Cavalry runs roughly half the book’s length. While the text is annotated, there are some basic errors [two on the first page of chapter one alone – James Longstreet was not a Confederate army corps commander in 1861, and squadron/company are not interchangeable cavalry organization terms] that raise concerns about the author’s attention to detail. That said, the battle and campaign summaries of the legion’s wartime service are well organized for quick referral, and the military coverage is quite comprehensive. Many descriptions of raids and obscure actions occurring along the periphery of the main army clashes were included.

The bibliography is limited, but does include some manuscript material. A number of prominent secondary sources were absent. While somewhat crudely drawn, maps are plentiful, mostly depicting broad geographical areas of operation. There are tactical battle maps for the Brandy Station, East Cavalry Field (Gettysburg) and Trevilian Station battles.

The second half of Cobb’s Legion Cavalry is composed of a well researched and wonderfully detailed unit roster. Running almost 150 pages in length, each name entry (1,457 in total) is packed with far more information than that found in the typical Civil War roster study. Other appendices provide select biographical sketches, along with death, POW, deserter, and final surrender lists. While the narrative history is a useful summary, it is the roster section that will likely provide the book’s most enduring value to readers, historians, and genealogical researchers.

[This review originally appeared in Blue & Gray Magazine, XXVI #3, Pg. 32,41]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Booknotes II (November '10)

New Arrivals:

1. The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta by Gary Ecelbarger (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2010).

At first glance, The Day Dixie Died appears to be a favorable compromise between a large publisher's market and the author's previous battle books [Kernstown and First Winchester/Front Royal] targeted for a smaller audience. By the way, the Publisher's Weekly blurb that's been out for a while now mistakenly lists the number of maps at 3; there are actually 13.  And, yes, that did pre-sour me unnecessarily.  I am going to start on this one tonight.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dakota Dawn

Although numerous books have chronicled the events of the Dakota War of 1862 in Minnesota, none have really detailed the early fighting in a satisfying way.  This will likely change next April with the publication of Gregory Michno's Dakota Dawn: The Decisive First Week of the Sioux Uprising, August 1862. It will run over 450 pages and be given the Savas Beatie treatment so hopefully, in addition to the fullest narrative yet, we'll get some real maps of the fighting at Fort Ridgely, Redwood Ferry, Birch Coulee, and New Ulm.

From the publisher description:
In addition to important secondary studies, Michno's work is based upon 2,000 pages of primary sources including recollections, original records, diaries, newspaper accounts, and other archival records. One seldom-used resource is the Indian Depredation Claim files. After the Uprising, settlers filed nearly 3,000 claims for damages in which they itemized losses and set forth their experiences. These priceless documents paint firsthand slices of the life of a frontier people, their cabins, tools, clothes, crops, animals, and cherished possessions. Many of these claims have never been incorporated into a book, allowing Michno to more fully expound on various episodes and correct previous misconceptions.

Can't wait.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wolk: "FRIEND AND FOE ALIKE: A Tour Guide to Missouri's Civil War"

[Friend and Foe Alike: A Tour Guide to Missouri's Civil War by Gregory Wolk* (Monograph Publishing, 2010).  Softcover, maps, drawings, photos, bibliography, place name index. 262 pages. ISBN:978-0-9799482-6-8  $29.95]

With its broad reach and detailed presentation, Gregory Wolk's Friend and Foe Alike is an ambitious driving tour guide of Civil War Missouri. In it, he's created five long travel loops, each of which generally follows the path of historic roads and, according to the author, takes approximately two days to complete. Loops are further broken down into discrete segments for those visitors unable to devote the full recommended time to a particular region. Additionally, seven "connecting routes" (labeled A through G at the back of the book) offer alternate pathways and, in some cases, connect adjacent loops.

All military focused, the five tours each have several major themes, with some overlap. An example of a campaign with sites present in all tours is the wide ranging 1864 Price Raid.

The following denote the primary events emphasized in each:
Loop 1: St. Louis and SE Missouri - U.S. Grant in Missouri (1861), M. Jeff Thompson's Big River Campaign, John Pope's Island No. 10 Campaign, and the Price Raid.
Loop 2: North Central Missouri - Grant's Missouri command again, Joseph Porter's north Missouri recruiting expedition, Bloody Bill Anderson in Centralia, and the Price Raid.
Loop 3: South Central Missouri - Jo Shelby's "Great Raid", John C. Fremont's 1861 campaign, and the Price Raid.
Loop 4: Region of Kansas City - 1861 Lexington Campaign, Thornton-Thrailkill Raid, and the Price Raid.
Loop 5: Southwest Missouri - Wilson's Creek Campaign, Prairie Grove, Pea Ridge, John S. Marmaduke's 1863 Springfield Raid, and the Price Raid once again.

By following these routes, readers will visit courthouses, cemeteries, battle and skirmish sites, bridges, buildings, museums, towns, and camp sites. Each stop is photographed, with detailed directions (distances are measured in mile tenths) located in the book margins. Numerous informational sidebars, mostly biographical in nature, are also placed there and within the main text.

One of the best features of the book is its heavy emphasis on obscure 1861 events, including material on U.S. Grant's time in Missouri and the war in the much neglected southeastern part of the state. Most readers will be familiar with the Wilson's Creek Campaign, but 1861 saw fighting all over the state, and many of these battles and skirmishes are covered, the Battle of Athens in far NE Missouri being a notable exception.

Some smaller historical maps are present in addition to the modern automobile route tracings, but one wishes the author had created some modern overlay maps for battles with multiple tour stops (e.g. Marshall and Fredericktown) so the reader can better grasp the terrain and troop positions. A more complete index would be helpful to the success of a future edition, too.

Minor complaints aside, this is the best guidebook available examining sites statewide in a single volume. Highlighting both famous and little known events, places, and personalities from Missouri's Civil War history in its thoughtfully constructed road tours, Friend and Foe Alike is an excellent resource for casual tourists and serious students alike.

* - The author has a book blog here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Desert Tiger: Captain Paddy Graydon and the Civil War in the Far Southwest"

If he's recognized at all by Civil War readers, James "Paddy" Graydon is known for his flawed scheme to attack a Confederate camp in New Mexico by forwarding mules laden with lit fused howitzer shells. Regardless of which version of the story is to be believed, it was a fiasco, fatal only to the poor mules. But there is more to Capt. Graydon's Civil War service, a subject ably recounted by Jerry Thompson in his study Desert Tiger: Captain Paddy Graydon and the Civil War in the Far Southwest (Texas Western Press, 1992).

Born in Ireland, Graydon immigrated to America at age 21, enlisting almost immediately in the 1st Dragoons in 1853. The dragoons ranged across the New Mexico Territory and the Gadsden Purchase, gaining its officers and men valuable experience fighting Indians, particularly the Apache. Discharged in 1858, Graydon stayed in the area and became a prosperous businessman, and a bit of a frontier enforcer. When Civil War broke out, he formed an "Independent Spy Company", recruited from a cross section of New Mexican society. Attached to E.R.S. Canby's army at Fort Craig, Graydon's company vigorously gathered intelligence about the approaching Confederates under Henry H. Sibley. While appreciating the Irishman's success in maintaining discipline, Thompson notes that the information obtained by Graydon was sometimes seriously inaccurate. Even so, he was well regarded by many in the Union army. After Sibley's retreat back to Texas, Graydon remained in New Mexico, scouting the mountains and trails surrounding Fort Stanton. There, an alleged ambush and massacre of Apaches at Gallinas Springs indirectly led to Graydon's demise, as he was mortally wounded in a dispute over the event with ex-army surgeon John Whitlock at Fort Stanton in November 1862.

At only 63 pages of text, Thompson's monograph is a brief, albeit well researched and even handed treatment of James Graydon's army service, both before and during the Civil War. While it is fully annotated and several useful maps supplement the narrative, the book suffers from the lack of a bibliography and index. Nevertheless, in addition to its biographical features, Desert Tiger provides important insights into lesser known events of the Civil War in the desert southwest.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Civil War in Texas in 20 books

Battles and Campaigns:
* Fire in the Cane Field: The Federal Invasion of Louisiana and Texas, January 1861-January 1863 by Donald S. Frazier.
* Waters of Discord: The Union Blockade of Texas During the Civil War by Rodman L. Underwood.
* Planting The Union Flag In Texas: The Campaigns of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in the West by Stephen A. Dupree.
* The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch by Jeffrey W. Hunt.
* The Yankee Invasion of Texas by Stephen A. Townsend.
* Sabine Pass : The Confederacy's Thermopylae by Edward T. Cotham.
* Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston by Edward T. Cotham.

Essay Compilations:
* Lone Star Blue and Gray: Essays on Texas in the Civil War by Ralph A. Wooster.
* The Seventh Star of the Confederacy: Texas During the Civil War edited by Kenneth W. Howell.
* The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State ed. by Charles D. Grear.

Dissent and Unionism:
* Tainted Breeze: The Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas, 1862 by Richard B. McCaslin.
* Brush Men and Vigilantes: Civil War Dissent in Texas by David Pickering and Judith M. Falls.
* Death on the Nueces: German Texans, Treue Der Union by Rodman L. Underwood.

Units:
* Lone Star Regiments in Gray by Ralph A. Wooster.
* Walker's Texas Division, C.S.A: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi by Richard Lowe.

Politics and Society:
* Vaqueros in Blue & Gray by Jerry D. Thompson.
* Why Texans Fought in the Civil War by Charles David Grear.
* Texas in the Confederacy: An Experiment in Nation Building by Clayton E. Jewett.

The Borders:
* Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas' Rangers and Rebels by David Paul Smith.
* Civil War & Revolution On The Rio Grande Frontier: A Narrative And Photographic History by Jerry D. Thompson and Lawrence T. Jones III.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Smith: "THE 22ND MAINE VOLUNTEER INFANTRY IN THE CIVIL WAR: A History and Roster"

[The 22nd Maine Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Ned Smith (McFarland, 2010). Softcover, 13 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. 260 pages. ISBN:978-0-7864-4893-7 $35]

The 22nd Maine was a 9-month infantry regiment formed in the summer of 1862. After a stopover in Washington D.C., it was shipped to Louisiana as part of General Nathaniel Banks's Department of the Gulf (19th Corps, Cuvier Grover's division). Soon after their arrival on the lower Mississippi, the Maine men were assigned to garrison duty in Baton Rouge and participated in the land diversion directed against Port Hudson in support of Admiral Farragut's attempted forced passage of the batteries there.

The 22nd, along with the rest of Grover's division, next met the enemy at the April 14, 1863 Battle of Irish Bend during the Teche Campaign, suffering only one man wounded. Their stay in New Iberia and St. Martinville exposed the men to the local plantation culture, with a detachment from the regiment helping to quell an apparent slave uprising at the latter place. The 22nd reinforced the Port Hudson trenches after the May 27 assaults failed to carry the Confederate defenses. The regiment supported attacks west of Fort Desperate on June 11 and the north face of the "Priest Cap" sector three days later. Suffering the loss of only six members KIA or mortally wounded over the entire term of its extended service (in contrast to 160 dead by disease) in Louisiana, the men of the 22nd were fortunate to avoid the bloodiest that Port Hudson had to offer and were able to go home soon after its surrender.

Using the O.R. and a range of published and manuscript source materials, historian Ned Smith's The 22nd Maine Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War brings the history of the regiment to readers for the first time. In addition to Smith's narrative, much of the details of the 22nd's wartime odyssey are related through the correspondence of Francis A. Ireland, a young enlisted soldier from Dexter, Maine. Dozens of these letters, addressed to Ireland's family back home, are reproduced in full, adding personal insights into his regiment's camp, garrison, travel, and combat experiences. As with many soldiers sent to the Deep South, disease was a constant companion and concern expressed in Ireland's letters. He also frequently rails against being held past his term of enlistment by the Port Hudson Campaign, and his difficulty in obtaining information about the official muster date (a problem for many Civil War regiments). The book does not provide much in the way of new information about the Bayou Teche and Port Hudson Campaigns, but it does flesh out a few things, such as the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of the 22nd's commander, Colonel Simon Jerrard, for insubordinate language and refusal to obey attack orders at Port Hudson.

The volume is well illustrated and the maps adapted from Official Military Atlas plates. While not ideal, they do give the reader a general idea of where the regiment fought its battles. A lengthy appendix attempts to sort out the reasons behind the variety of enlistment terms of Maine regiments. A complete unit roster can also be found in the appendix section. The text is fully documented, but the bibliography appears to be comprised of only a limited selection of the sources consulted by the author.

It is unusual for a regimental history of a 9-month unit to be published, perhaps even more so for a New England unit that experienced active combat service in the Gulf Department. On those grounds and of its own merit, The 22nd Maine Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War is worthy of recommendation.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Holly Springs raid

I haven't received my copy yet, but the latest issue of Blue & Gray features Earl Van Dorn's 1862 Holly Springs raid, the one widely credited with ruining Grant's overland campaign to capture Vicksburg. B&G is a wonderful outlet for military subjects with scopes exceeding that found in the typical article but perhaps not quite meriting book length treatment. They certainly get a first class presentation by Dave Roth and staff in terms of maps, illustrations, and a detailed tour. Beyond Ed Bearss's Holly Springs section from his Centennial-era book Decision in Mississippi (1962) -- which I believe was also reprinted in full in his Vicksburg trilogy -- no significant publication has dealt with this raid, so I am looking forward to Corinth ranger Thomas E. Parson's take on the event.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Dishman: "A PERFECT GIBRALTAR: The Battle for Monterrey, Mexico, 1846"

[A Perfect Gibraltar: The Battle for Monterrey, Mexico, 1846 by Christopher D. Dishman (University of Oklahoma Press, 2010). Hardcover, maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:240/288. ISBN:978-0-8061-4140-4  $34.95 ]

In terms of inspiring premier modern style battle studies, the U.S.-Mexican War lags far behind other 18th and 19th century American wars, especially the Civil War. Thankfully, Christopher Dishman's A Perfect Gibraltar, a military history of the September 21-23, 1846 Battle of Monterrey, goes some distance in addressing this historiographical deficiency.

Monterrey was preceded by a pair of demoralizing Mexican defeats at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, but the Mexican authorities responded by marshaling heavy reinforcements and fortifying the Monterrey defenses. Dishman's text does a good job summarizing the political situation in northern Mexico and informing the reader how the chaos hampered their ability to repel the invaders. Terrain difficulties and time worn issues of time and distance were also critical. The author also describes well the Mexican efforts to fortify all likely military approaches into the city, the imposing geography and defensive works together comprising the "perfect Gibraltar" of the book's title.

Mexican War studies generally gush about the role of West Point trained U.S. topographical engineers in scouting roads and gathering intelligence (especially during Winfield Scott's later more famous Mexico City campaign). However, for the approach to Monterrey, Taylor instead relied on Texas Ranger companies, who did an excellent job of scouting and screening the U.S. advance, capturing enemy soldiers for interrogation, and, most important, discovering the best routes for the passage of the army's artillery and trains. In his private correspondence, engineer officer George Meade bitterly laments Taylor's perceived lack of respect for and use of the Pennsylvanian's professional skills prior to Monterrey.

Once the army arrived at Monterrey, the lack of siege artillery led Taylor to plan a direct assault on the city. Accordingly, he divided his army into wings for an attack on September 21. The left, under Taylor himself, would press against the works on the Mexican right and center in what was later termed a diversion but what was in reality a fairly vigorous assault with heavy casualties. The right wing, entrusted to William Worth, would pass both through and around the fortified high ground ringing the west and southwest approaches to the city. Though he captured Fort Teneria, Taylor's attack on the left was essentially repulsed, but Worth succeeded magnificently, capturing all of his objectives with comparatively little loss. It only remained for the Americans to pitch into the city itself and squeeze the Mexican army between Taylor and Worth's wings.

It is here, once the street fighting begins, that the balance of perspectives is most upset. Dishman recounts the swirling combat in stirring detail, noting that the Texan volunteers leveraged their knowledge of Mexican architecture and experience in urban warfare (most notably at Mier) to demonstrate to the rest of the army the way to press back the Mexican defenders without suffering catastrophic loss. In contrast to the detail lavished on the Americans, however, the Mexican point of view from command level on down is only intermittently presented, with the reader provided with little information about their order of battle or positioning of forces to oppose the Americans. One suspects a dearth of source material is the primary culprit.  The rank and file of the Mexican army was clearly less literate than their American counterparts, and it is a shame more officers and civilian residents did not write of their experience.  

The author's treatment of the end of the battle is abrupt, with the negotiations to surrender the Mexican forces covered in a single short sentence. However, the political fallout over Taylor's too generous terms is  recounted and a lengthy final chapter relates the war's course subsequent to the battle.

The book's main failing is in its cartography.  Including previously unpublished archival maps and a series of beautiful battle lithographs is fine, but usefulness needs to trump all other concerns. Shrinking a large historically significant map to fit within a half page space makes identifying its features all but impossible. All proper battle histories must have original terrain and troop position maps specifically wedded to the text. As an example, for all its narrative excellence, a truly solid grasp of the course of the street fighting around Fort Teneria during Taylor's diversionary attack, and for the combined urban assault on the 23rd, is substantially lost on the reader without clear maps.

Nevertheless, even with its presentation flaws, A Perfect Gibraltar is clearly one of the better Mexican War battle studies in the literature, certainly the finest account of the Battle of Monterrey to date. All serious students of the U.S. war with Mexico will want to find a copy of this book. The exploits recounted therein of prominent volunteer and West Point trained officers who would go on to assume roles of great responsibility during the Civil War should be of interest to enthusiasts of that later conflict, as well. Recommended.


Other CWBA reviews of books from this publisher:
* Patrick Connor's War: The 1865 Powder River Indian Expedition (Arthur H. Clark)
* Texas: A Historical Atlas
* Civil War Arkansas 1863: The Battle for a State
* Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane
* Powder River Odyssey: Nelson Cole's Western Campaign of 1865 the Journals of Lyman G. Bennett and Other Eyewitness Accounts (Arthur H. Clark)
* Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester
* The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare In The Upper South, 1861-1865
* The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865

Friday, November 05, 2010

Booknotes (November '10)

New Arrivals:

1. Red Cloud's War: The Bozeman Trail, 1866-1868 (2 Volumes) by John D. McDermott (Arthur H. Clark, 2010).

The conflicts with Northern Plains tribes described in this two volume set had their origin in the 1863 gold discoveries in Montana. Among others clashes covered in the books are the famous Fetterman Massacre, Wagon Box Fight, and Hayfield Fight.

2. Marking Civil War History in the Ozarks: A Guide to Civil War Markers and Monuments in Twenty-Four Southwest Missouri Counties by Frances Carver Black and Sally Napier Bueno (Mary Whitney Phelps Tent DUV, 2010).

In addition to the 140 markers and monuments highlighted and the 250 photographs, there is a useful amount of background information contained in the book.

3. Abraham Lincoln, Esq.: The Legal Career of America's Greatest President edited by Roger Billings and Frank J. Williams (Univ Pr of KY, 2010).

This is a wide ranging collection of essays discussing the significance of Lincoln's law practice to history.

4. Fugitive Slave on Trial: The Anthony Burns Case and Abolitionist Outrage by Earl M. Maltz (U Pr of Kansas).

A paperback reprint.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

November releases and future happenings

November will be a fairly active month for book publishing.

Also, items from Spring/Summer catalogs are now bubbling up faster. The delayed Thunder Across the Swamp: The Fight for the Lower Mississippi, February-May 1863 now has a tentative August date. It's been a while since we've seen something Civil War related from Clayton Newell, so it's nice to see Of Duty Well and Faithfully Done: A History of the Regular Army in the Civil War. A history of the Regulars in the western armies was published in the fairly recent past, but Newell's should be interesting (nasty price, though). Scott Patchan will be busy, with the Chinn Ridge book in April and The Last Battle of Winchester: Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, August 7 - September 19, 1864 set for May. The ground covered in The Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Eleven Days That Shook the Union appeals to me, but it does sound a bit too pop history for me.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Reinhart (ed.): "A GERMAN HURRAH! : Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Staengel, 9th Ohio Infantry"

[A German Hurrah!: Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stängel, 9th Ohio Infantry edited and translated by Joseph Reinhart (Kent State University Press, 2010). Cloth, 7 maps, notes, biblio essay, index. Pages main/total: 316/384. ISBN: 978-1-60635-038-6 $59]

Given their significant internal political, cultural, and religious differences, it serves truth little to generalize too much about the German population in the North. Like members of other ethnic groups, some individuals chose to remain insular and others integrated into mainstream local communities. While over 200,000 foreign born German-Americans enlisted in the Union armies, less than 40,000 served in what we would call 'German regiments'. Fellow Württemburgers and Union army officers Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stängel served in one of these units, the 9th Ohio, and their early war soldier-correspondent letters are compiled, translated, and edited by Joseph Reinhart for his latest book A German Hurrah!.

Their letters (98 from Lieutenant Bertsch to the Cincinnati Volksfreund newspaper between June 1861 and September 1862 and 10 written by Captain Stängel for the Louisville Anzeiger) provided a German speaking home front with a stream of information about the progress of the war and the role local German soldiers played in it. Quite vehemently ethnically chauvinistic in tone, there is much social historical value in the writings. The material also comprises a valuable set of personal perspectives of 1861-62 military events in West(ern) Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.  Meant for public consumption, the correspondence is, generally speaking, more literate, more interested in addressing broad social and political issues, and more militarily detailed than the typical published letter compilation. Even so, for length considerations, Reinhart felt the need to edit out up to 35% of the content* to make his work more suitable for publication.

With the 9th seeing action at Rich Mountain, Carnifex Ferry, Gauley Bridge, New Creek, and Sewell Mountain, among other places, students of the 1861 campaigns in western Virginia will be pleased to find so much lengthy military-themed material from this period. The letters dealing with the 1862 Mill Springs battle in Kentucky are similarly detailed. Bertsch's writing also takes the reader to Nashville, Corinth (his unit just missed Shiloh), and across northern Alabama to Tuscumbia, where his beloved commander, Robert L. McCook, was killed. Apparently one of the few native American officers truly liked and respected by men like Bertsch, McCook's "murder" hit the German hard and was the subject of several lengthy letters.

Although railing against nativist prejudice pervaded the writings of both men, Bertsch and Stängel believed, apparently with sincerity, in the innate superiority of German soldiers, even questioning the commitment of native Americans to the prosecution of the war.   From the start, both were advocates of the application of hard war, promoting the burning of Confederate supporters's homes as early as June 1861. They also frequently complained about mainstream (i.e. Anglo-American) politics and culture, especially its religious aspects. The pair are perfect examples of the human condition, in that they both could, without consciousness of irony, decry outside prejudices while at the same time vigorously and publicly offer their own. Stängel's pen is the more bitter of the two, and his complaints about the Union leadership actually led to his dismissal from the service. Bertsch, on the other hand, served more honorably, and was mustered out in June 1864. If anything, the attitudes expressed by these two men seem to reinforce the findings of several recent studies contending the Civil War did not broadly expedite German assimilation.

Once again, editor and translator Joseph Reinhart is owed a great deal of thanks for bringing the correspondence of German-American Civil War soldiers to print. In addition to annotations, a short piece of text is placed between each letter, summarizing content and transitioning between communications. By Reinhart's estimate, only around ten Civil War letter collections written by German fighting men have been published in English. This fact and the fine editorial work found in A German Hurrah! together mark the book as a rare and noteworthy addition to a slowly expanding body of Civil War soldier literature.


* -  Much in the way of rumors and anecdotes did not make the cut, as well as many of the longer descriptions of weather, terrain, and landscapes. For those that wish to read the material in its entirety, Reinhart placed complete translations of the letters in the able hands of the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky.


Other CWBA reviews of titles from this publisher:
* Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer
* August Willich's Gallant Dutchmen: Civil War Letters from the 32nd Indiana Infantry
* Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations
* Winfield Scott and the Profession of Arms

Monday, November 01, 2010

Glendale/Frayser's Farm study

Given all the attention Virginia battles of all sizes get from writers and publishers, it remains a bit of a surprise that none of the larger Seven Days clashes (Oak Grove, Mechanicsville, Gaines' Mill, Savage's Station, Glendale-White Oak Swamp and Malvern Hill) have received their own full book length treatments. There are some rumblings, however. I understand there is a Malvern Hill project in the works, and next spring will see the publication of The Battle of Glendale: The Day the South Nearly Won the Civil War (McFarland, 2011). I don't know anything about author Jim Stempel or how ambitious his work will be. However much the subtitle delves into nebulous what-if ground, there's no denying a big opportunity was lost by the Confederates on June 29-30.