Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Booknotes VI (October '12)

New Arrivals:

1. Year of Glory: The Life and Battles of Jeb Stuart and His Cavalry, June 1862-June 1863 by Monte Akers (Casemate, 2012).

A history of Stuart's command from the Peninsula through Brandy Station.

2. Lincoln and McClellan at War by Chester G. Hearn (LSU Pr, 2012).

The description leads one to expect yet another McClellan bad/Lincoln good rehash, but I'll at least start it and see how it goes.

3. Confederate Currency by Pierre Fricke (Shire, 2012).

The author is a dealer, collector, and expert on Confederate money. This small, heavily illustrated volume is a historical work rather than a collecting guide, outlining the seven currency series issued by the CSA.

4. Maryland's Civil War Photographs: The Sesquicentennial Collection by Ross J. Kelbaugh (Maryland Hist Society, 2012).

An oversize paperback assemblage of Maryland-related Civil War photos gleaned from individual and institutional collections, it is "a collection of the most significant outdoor views, interiors ... , and studio portraits combined to place them in the historical context of their creation".

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Woodworth & Grear, eds. : "THE CHATTANOOGA CAMPAIGN"

[The Chattanooga Campaign edited by Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012) Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, index. 236 pp. ISBN:978-0-8093-3119-2 $29.95]

This third volume from SIUP's Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series is the first to welcome historian Charles Grear as co-editor. Beyond his own scholarly expertise, Grear also contributes his mapmaking skills to the series, going some way toward redressing a deficiency common to the previous volumes covering Shiloh and Chickamauga.

As with volumes one and two, the main focus of The Chickamauga Campaign is military, specifically in depth tactical examinations of various sections of the battle field. The first two essays, by Alexander Mendoza and Stewart Bennett, examine the Lookout Valley fighting on the far left of the Confederate defensive line. Mendoza's short piece emphasizes the command dissension present at all levels of Longstreet's Corps, while Bennett takes the exercise a step further with a deep tactical analysis of the fighting at Wauhatchie and Smith's and Tyndale's Hills. Bennett adds to the chorus of writers praising Geary's performance, but is critical of Hooker's hesitancy in pressing his attacks once the hills were captured. It is true that Jenkins's Confederate division was ripe for destruction, but Hooker's actions are understandable given the cost incurred and the fact that it was nighttime and the terrain unfamiliar.

The next two chapters take the reader to the opposite side of the battlefield and the clash between William T. Sherman and Patrick Cleburne. Critiques of the fighting on this sector often emphasize either Sherman's tactical incompetence or Cleburne's tactical brilliance, and both Steven Woodworth and John Lundberg take the latter tack. Woodworth's fine article is noteworthy for its description of Cleburne's employment of a defensive line located atop the reverse military crest. His explanations of the strengths and weaknesses of this choice, and how it ultimately proved effective in blunting Sherman's assaults on the far northern end of Missionary Ridge, are perceptive and persuasive. Lundberg's essay focuses on Tunnel Hill, again crediting Cleburne's tactical management of his division and his masterful use of terrain for the victory, rather than Sherman's oft alleged blundering.

One of the unquestionable jewels of the collection is Brooks Simpson's piece on the Orchard Knob controversy. In it, he judiciously assesses what the known handful of primary sources have to say on the subject, and then critically analyzes how later historians and writers used and misused these sources in creating their own narratives of the battle. His article performs a task that not nearly enough issue driven essays and books attempt. It presents the arguments of all the major players in the literature (naming names, not burying them in the notes) and calmly critiques each in turn, affording readers a fascinating glimpse inside the head of a fine historian practicing his craft.

In a volume already containing many excellent tactical level treatments, the pair covering Rossville Gap and Ringgold Gap are worthy additions. Sam Davis Elliot ably recounts the Union capture of Rossville Gap and offers the intriguing observation that, with Hooker's captors of the gap poised behind the Army of the Tennessee's left, it actually benefited the Confederate army's escape that the center of the Missionary Ridge position collapsed so quickly. Like Woodworth and Lundberg before him, Justin Solonick's Ringgold Gap chapter makes the ultimate determination that terrain and Patrick Cleburne were the decisive elements of success, rather than Union mistakes. With so much evidence of a disorderly Confederate retreat, Hooker's hasty attacks on the gap are understandable, but Solonick still believes that Hooker should have waited and arranged a coordinated attack with artillery support. Modern writers often try to have it both ways, condemning generals for not pressing badly beaten enemies while in the same breath criticizing them when the tip of the aggressively pursuing spear is blunted by an unexpectedly strong rear guard action. Solonick's essay engages in a bit of this, but not at an egregious level.

The final three essays (by Ethan Rafuse, Charles Grear, and Timothy Smith) examine how Cincinnati newspapers viewed the the removal of Rosecrans and the subsequent Chattanooga Campaign conducted by Grant and Thomas, why Confederate soldiers from Texas and Arkansas deserted, and the creation of the Chattanooga part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Improving with each volume, offering truly fresh insights, and containing few duds, the Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series* is eminently worthy of continued support from those with a common interest in promoting serious western theater military scholarship.

* - at the rear of the book is a listing of future titles. Click here for the rundown.


More CWBA reviews of SIUP titles:
* 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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book storage tips

linked from Paul Taylor's collecting site.  --- Caring for Your Collectible Books

There's some good advice in the above blog article.

Collectible or not, I am a big believer in not storing thick books (e.g. 500+ pgs) upright. I hate to see the lower edge of the text block transform into that unsightly shallow 'U'-shape that weakens the spine and dirties the paper edge. This is a widening problem with new books, too, with publishers skimping on the robust spine needed to support the weight of even modestly thick and/or heavy blocks.

The reasoning behind leaving open space behind shelved books is probably practical as well as preservative. Some suggest that the air circulation keeps moisture traveling through the wall from settling in the book pages, but I would assume that the vapor barrier in modern houses would obviate this. I mainly do it because it makes it easier to remove books from the shelf without placing much direct pressure on the top of the spine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Future "CW Campaigns in the Heartland" titles

I found a list of planned titles for SIUP's Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series at the back of the Chattanooga Campaign book. Having completed only 3 to this point, looking forward all the way through 18 volumes is pretty ambitious!
 
4. Vicksburg: Mississippi Blitzkrieg, May 1863
5. The Tennessee Campaign of 1864: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville
6. The Vicksburg Assaults
7. Forts Henry and Donelson
8. Vicksburg Besieged
9. The Kentucky Campaign of 1862
10. Vicksburg: To Chickasaw Bayou
11. The Atlanta Campaign from Rocky Face Ridge to Oostenaula: The Battle of Resaca
12. Vicksburg: Grant's Winter Endeavors
13. The Atlanta Campaign from the Oostenaula to the Etowa: Dallas, New Hope Church, 14. and Pickett's Mill
15. The Atlanta Campaign from the Etowa to the Chattahoochee: The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain
16. Iuka and Corinth
17. Peachtree Creek
18. The Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mitcham: "RICHARD TAYLOR AND THE RED RIVER CAMPAIGN OF 1864"

[ Richard Taylor and the Red River Campaign of 1864 by Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. (Pelican, 2012). Hardcover, illustrations, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 384 pp. ISBN:9781455616336 $26.95]

Given the dearth of coverage for many Trans-Mississippi theater campaigns and battles, it is somewhat surprising that the 1864 Red River Campaign has been the subject of a large number of single volume overviews. The latest is Samuel Mitcham’s Richard Taylor and the Red River Campaign of 1864.

Launched in the early months of 1864, the campaign was conducted along two main axes of advance -- a combined army-navy movement up the Red River itself (led by General Nathaniel Banks and Admiral David Porter against General Richard Taylor’s small Confederate army) and Union general Frederick Steele’s corp-sized Camden Expedition opposed by a handful of cavalry divisions commanded by General Sterling Price. Both wings were aimed at Shreveport, Louisiana. Banks’s vanguard received a severe check by Taylor’s command at Mansfield (Sabine Crossroads) on April 8, but, even though the federals recovered enough to stop the Confederates cold the very next day at Pleasant Hill, the Union army commander never regained the initiative and retreated. The complete withdrawal of Union army and navy forces from the Red River Valley was successful, but not without significant loss in manpower and ships, all inflicted by Taylor’s aggressively led but vastly inferior force in a series of skirmishes and small battles. Meanwhile, the bulk of the Confederate infantry was redirected toward Steele’s Camden army. After decisive victories against federal foraging detachments at Poison Springs and Marks’s Mills forced a Union retreat, the southern army was repulsed by Steele’s rear guard at Jenkins’ Ferry, enabling the latter’s escape and ending the campaign.

The Red River Campaign narrative has been well established by the research and publications of historians and writers like Ludwell Johnson, Gary Joiner, William Brooksher, Jeffrey Prushankin, Michael Forsyth, Ed Bearss, Steven Mayeux, Steve Bounds, and Curtis Milbourn. Mitcham’s writing differs from the accepted line of interpretation in only minor ways and he does incorporate recent groundbreaking work (e.g. Gary Joiner’s research into the hydrological aspects of the campaign), but there’s essentially nothing new here for seasoned readers. The bibliography is composed entirely of printed sources, with some notable omissions (Bounds and Milbourn’s series of excellent North & South magazine articles among the most striking of these), and the lack of any archival research is surprising given the author’s background as a professional historian and university professor. More troubling is the large number of errors, outdated interpretations, and undocumented assertions. The most egregious of these is Mitcham’s perpetuation of the myth that tens of thousands of “Black Confederates” served in the southern armies as full-fledged soldiers. While the subject itself is only tangentially related to the story (the author contending that 8% or more of Taylor’s army was made up of black soldiers), the entire section comprises an embarrassing litany of wholly discredited ‘facts’, casting a pall over the credibility of the entire book.

There are presentational flaws as well. Many of the illustrations are blurry, and the maps, while plentiful, are sterile affairs of minimal usefulness beyond pointing out specific geographical locations to readers unfamiliar with the region. The book is engagingly written and, for the battles fought, generally jibes with the rest of the literature, but the number of errors of fact and interpretation are too much to overlook, especially when no new information is offered and so many superior works already exist. Readers interested in the subject are best off seeking out the scholarship of Joiner and Johnson for Red River operations and Bearss and Forsyth for the Camden Expedition. The finest work examining the role of Richard Taylor in the campaign, especially in the context of the general's contentious relationship with his superior Edmund Kirby Smith, is that of Jeffrey Prushankin. Finally, as no book length studies for exist the major battles of the Red River wing, this reviewer would refer readers to the magazine articles of Curtis Milbourn and Steve Bounds.

[this review first appeared in slightly different form in On Point Magazine, the quarterly journal of the Army Historical Foundation]

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Guelzo does Gettysburg

It is hard to think of something less Sesqui-essential than a new 700-page Gettysburg campaign history, but the author of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Knopf, Spring 2013) is at least a surprise.  [Lesson in presupposition:  Just because an eminent historian's massive body of published scholarship offers little or no evidence of a deep professional interest in crafting military history (excepting a N&S article from years ago), it doesn't mean the desire's not there!]

Then again, I am assuming the type of book solely from its title, which could very well be a mistake.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Geiger: "HOLDING THE LINE: The Battle of Allegheny Mountain and Confederate Defense of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, 1861-62"

[Holding the Line: The Battle of Allegheny Mountain and Confederate Defense of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, 1861-62 by Joe Geiger (West Virginia Book Company, 2012). Softcover, maps, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:201/276. ISBN:978-1-891852-83-1 $19.95]

Spanning several Appalachian Mountain peaks and ranges, the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike was an important transportation artery linking far western Virginia (Parkersburg on the Ohio River) to the Shenandoah Valley at the town of Staunton. Though experience would quickly demonstrate the road to be unsuitable for sustained use during bad weather, it was actually considered a viable invasion route early in the war by the Union high command. All of these factors would make the turnpike a bloody witness to several battles and innumerable raids and skirmishes during 1861 and early 1862. These events are the subject of Joe Geiger's groundbreaking new study Holding the Line: The Battle of Allegheny Mountain and Confederate Defense of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, 1861-62.

Geiger's overview of the strategic importance of the turnpike to both sides is excellent, as is his exploration of the tug and pull relationship between military operations along the turnpike and adjacent fronts (especially Stonewall Jackson's Romney campaign, which drew heavily from the Confederate defenders of Allegheny Mountain). In terms of numbers present, the largest battle discussed in the book is the first, the October 3, 1861 clash at Greenbrier River between the division-sized command of Union General Joseph J. Reynolds and a Confederate brigade led by General Henry R. Jackson. In this fight, Jackson's Camp Bartow defenders turned back Reynolds's weak probes against both southern flanks, but the main action was a cross river artillery duel.

The bloodiest battle described in the book occurred two months later on December 13, when Union General Robert Milroy launched a two-pronged assault on the Confederate fortifications atop Allegheny Mountain. The federal attacks were uncoordinated, and Colonel Edward Johnson was able to shift his meager forces to meet both attacks and repulse them. As noted by Geiger, the irony of the battle was if Milroy only had waited a few days he could have taken the peak nearly unopposed [the Confederates were in the midst of a general withdrawal]. The southern victory confirmed the fears of those that saw the mountain passes as federal invasion routes that needed to be garrisoned.  Thus, the Confederates would remain there during the miserable winter months of 1861-62.

During his research, Geiger uncovered a prodigious body of primary source material, especially in the form of unpublished diaries and letters. In addition to facilitating the author's construction of detailed accounts of the fighting, these sources also convey to readers how difficult it was for the soldiers, especially those native to the Deep South, to endure the brutal fall and winter weather conditions in the mountains.

Overall, the 1861 campaigns in western Virginia have been covered quite well in the literature, with book length studies from writers and historians like Francis Haselberger, Terry Lowry, Tim McKinney, Hunter Lesser, Eva Margaret Carnes, and Clayton Newell, but the subject matter discussed in Holding the Line is entirely new. In addition to his accounts of Greenbrier River and Allegheny Mountain, Geiger also meticulously documents the large number of raids, skirmishes, scouting expeditions, and guerrilla operations that occurred in the region through the spring of 1862.

The only significant problem I have with the book is with the maps, none of which are original creations. The handful of reproductions [O.R. atlas plates, a pair of drawings, and an engraving] are helpful with the big picture and offer a general understanding of the Battle of Greenbrier River, but there are no maps for the attack on Camp Allegheny and the archival drawing depicting sites of January 1862 skirmishes is illegible. A series of maps specifically wedded to the narrative should have been considered essential by author and publisher.

Map issues aside, Holding the Line is an important achievement, a highly detailed account of military events never before the subject of book length study. In addition to its descriptive accounts of regular operations, the book's concurrent guerrilla narrative (which highlights a number of aspects of the "inner" war) should educate readers of all backgrounds on the fact that the irregular war in the wilds of western Virginia was every bit as brutal and widespread as that experienced in border regions currently better documented in the literature. Holding the Line is highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Booknotes V (October '12)

New Arrivals:

1. The Golden State in the Civil War: Thomas Starr King, the Republican Party, and the Birth of Modern California by Glenna Matthews (Cambridge UP, 2012).

The publisher's description suggests multiple directions -- cultural, political, and military -- of Civil War California study. Things like this do not come along very often, and I am really looking forward to reading it. Given the massive price disparity between formats, a toast to Cambridge for sending me the hardcover edition, as well!

2. Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict Between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland by Larry J. Daniel (LSU Pr, 2012).

I am a big fan of Daniel's work, still considering his Shiloh work the best single volume on the subject. I will be curious to see what comes out of the strategic and political discussions, as the Stones River book is clearly not set up to compete with existing works in terms of operational & tactical detail.

3. Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History by John Fabian Witt (Free Press, 2012).

Given the flood of books and articles in recent years pertaining to the irregular war as well as other Union military-southern civilian interactions, it's about time someone wrote a detailed history of the formulation of the Lieber Code and analysis of its practical application. This is not that, instead taking what appears to be a philosophical and cultural approach to the study of the American laws of war as first expressed during the Civil War in the Lieber Code and then carrying these ideas forward to the policies governing today's conflicts. Might be interesting.

Monday, October 15, 2012

We all suspected this stuff was going on ...

[pertinent link] ... but who knew it could be so shamelessly lucrative on an individual level.

I am sometimes asked to mirror my reviews on certain e-commerce sites, but I always refuse. In addition to practical concerns (e.g. unsurprisingly, I prefer to retain ownership of my own reviews), I simply do not wish to be part of star-rating systems that can be so easily manipulated and are so non-reflective of serious thought.

The only rating system that I've ever found appropriately judicious is the Internet Movie Database's ten-point system [Rotten Tomatoes was pretty good until they badly redesigned a perfectly fine site and ruined it].  Why it works so well for IMDb, I have no idea, but the astounding degree to which the individual ratings conform to my own highly diverse tastes and viewing experiences comprises a large part of the reason why it is my favorite website to frequent.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Booknotes IV (October '12)

New Arrivals:

1. The Petersburg Campaign - Volume I: The Eastern Front Battles, June - August 1864 by Edwin C. Bearss with Bryce Suderow (Savas Beatie, 2012).

An collection of classic Bearss Petersburg articles (edited by Suderow, with maps by George Skoch), chapters cover the first two June attacks on Petersburg, Jerusalem Plank Road, the Crater, Weldon Railroad, and Second Ream's Station.

2. The 124th New York State Volunteers in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Charles J. LaRocca (McFarland, 2012).

The 124th -- the "Orange Blossoms" -- fought in the major eastern theater campaigns beginning with Fredericksburg in 1862. Using a large number of diaries and letter collections, LaRocca constructs a detailed regimental history and roster for the unit.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hasegawa: "MENDING BROKEN SOLDIERS: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs"

[Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs by Guy R. Hasegawa (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012). Hardcover, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:95/142. ISBN:9780809331307 $24.95]

Nineteenth century factories and farms could be very dangerous workplaces, a consequence of which was a relatively mature northern artificial limb industry by the outbreak of the Civil War. It will come as no surprise that the number of patents for limb replacement devices exploded during the conflict, and it is the programs, U.S. and Confederate, that assisted the return of maimed soldiers to productive lives that are the subject of Guy Hasegawa's excellent little monograph Mending Broken Soldiers.

In 1862, the U.S. government established a board of prominent physicians to select replacement limb designs for military amputees and administer the distribution of funds for their manufacture. In this section of his book, Hasegawa introduces the reader to the various northern firms that produced artificial arms and legs, as well as the individuals who ran them. The Palmer leg was the most common in use, but there were many others. In addition to briefly discussing the design elements of a number of the most prominent devices, the author also delves into the logistical challenges of the programs. Where soldiers would go for fitting, who would pay for their boarding and transportation costs, and who would pay the cost difference for devices that exceeded the board approved amount were all issues that needed to be addressed. Competition among manufacturers was fierce, with patent infringement and questionable marketing claims commonplace. Many readers will be surprised at the level of technological advancement in the limb replacement industry (e.g. ingenious artificial arms were crafted with fully articulated fingers manipulated by spring and lever systems).

The southern program, by contrast, had insurmountable difficulties that led to its supplying of fewer limbs than hoped for at the time. To begin with, the program was established late in the war, in 1864, when the blockade and currency inflation were in full force. There was also no pre-war native limb replacement industry, so many makers had to start from scratch*. Additionally, as opposed to the U.S.'s government sponsored and funded program, ARMS (the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers) was private, necessitating the expenditure of time and resources in soliciting donations. Two firms supported by ARMS, Hanger and Brother and Wells and Brother, did manage to produce some high quality devices, but, given acute shortages of skilled labor and quality materials, they could never approach promised production levels. Although Reverend Charles Marshall was the founding force behind ARMS, Hasegawa credits the tireless efforts and personal financial sacrifices of Confederate surgeon William A. Carrington with the program achieving as much as it did.

A counterintuitive point raised at the very end was the startling fact that an overwhelming majority of amputees elected instead to receive a cash payment in lieu of a new limb or even replacement of a previously satisfactory but worn out device.  Why this was so (and one can come up with several possible reasons) might comprise a fruitful line of research for another scholar.

In less than 100 pages of narrative, Guy Hasegawa has done a fine job of presenting both descriptive and analytical histories of the Union and Confederate wartime limb replacement programs. Mending Broken Soldiers is an excellent addition to the related historiographies of Civil War medicine, commerce, and technology.


* - Hasegawa relates an interesting tale of the ARMS program's attempt to obtain and reverse engineer Union Col. Ulric Dahlgren's Jewett model leg, originally confiscated with the young officer's body after he was killed leading an infamous 1864 raid on Richmond. According to the author, two different Confederate soldiers wore Dahlgren's device before it was finally repatriated to Dahlgren's father after the war.


More CWBA reviews of SIUP titles:
* 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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Booknotes III (October '12)

New Arrivals:

1. The Great Hanging at Gainesville, 1862: The Accounts of Thomas Barrett and George Washington Diamond (Texas State Hist Assoc, 2012).

In 1862, tensions between Texas Unionist and Confederate neighbors reached fever pitch, with fears of a burgeoning armed fifth column leading to the trial and execution of dozens of pro-Union civilians at Gainesville. Two memoirs of these events were published in the 1960s. Now out of print, both are combined unedited in a single volume for the first time with a new introduction by historian Richard McCaslin, the foremost modern authority on the subject.

2. Discovering the Civil War in Florida: A Reader and Guide, 2nd Edition by Paul Taylor (Pineapple Pr, 2012).

This is a newly revised edition of Taylor's book, which features official reports from several Florida battles as well as a site guide.

3. The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory: The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter by Lance J. Herdegen (Savas Beatie, 2012).

Herdegen is the author of several books about the Iron Brigade, and this full length unit history, which has all the elements one would hope for in a brigade study, appears to be the culminating effort of all those years of dedication and accumulated expertise.

4. The Tribunal: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid edited by John Stauffer and Zoe Trodd (Belknap Pr/Harvard UP, 2012).

This is a thick compilation of documents [speeches, letters, newspaper articles, journals, poems, and songs] reacting to John Brown's Raid. In it, the editors sought to collect viewpoints as wide ranging as possible, both domestic and foreign.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Booknotes II (October '12)

New Arrivals:

1. The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee by Earl J. Hess (Univ of Tenn Pr, 2012).

It's safe to say that we can scratch Knoxville off the list of campaigns and battles lacking a good modern treatment. This one has all the appearances (deep research, tactical and operational detail, and lots of maps) of yet another winner by Hess.

2. The Untried Life: The Twenty-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War by James T. Fritsch (Ohio UP/Swallow Pr, 2012).

A 500-page oversize volume making heavy use of diary sources, this regimental history covers in great detail the Civil War history of the 29th Ohio, from its time in the eastern (the Valley, Cedar Mountain, 2nd Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg) and western (Chattanooga, Dug Gap, Atlanta, March to the Sea, and Carolinas) theaters.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Gerteis: "THE CIVIL WAR IN MISSOURI: A Military History"

[The Civil War in Missouri: A Military History by Louis S. Gerteis (University of Missouri Press, 2012). Cloth, maps, photos, notes, index. Pages main/total:221/250. ISBN:978-0-8262-1972-5 $29.95]

Outside of Union general Nathaniel Lyon's lightning-paced 1861 Missouri campaign, the number of books devoted to conventional operations in the state pales in comparison to the flood of works detailing various aspects of the guerrilla war. Given the disparity, a survey history of the campaigns, battles, and significant skirmishes and raids conducted in Missouri has long been needed. Flawed on several counts, Louis Gerteis's The Civil War in Missouri does nevertheless manage, in a little over 200 pages of narrative, to construct a useful and reasonably inclusive outlining of these events.

The book's short length is both a strength and a weakness. While readers new to the subject matter would likely have little patience for a 400-page synthesis, those more familiar with the available literature might wish for more depth. The unfulfilled desires of the latter group of students are only compounded by the author's decision to heavily front load his study with events from 1861.  On some level, this is understandable, given the critical importance of the period.  Lyon's seizure of  the Missouri River valley and essentially the entire rail system of the state practically guaranteed that no Confederate army could operate in the interior on a permanent basis.  As demonstrated by the initial successes of numerous 1861-62 recruitment campaigns, thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of willing Missourians existed to fill Confederate ranks, but Union control of the transportation network placed insurmountable barriers in the way of getting these men to army camps of instruction in Arkansas. Lyon deserves much of the credit for this.  Gerteis's placement of the Siege of Lexington as the high water mark of pro-Confederate military power in the state mirrors the thoughts of other scholars and students.  However, by devoting over half of a very brief study to 1861, coverage of the final 3+ years of conventional fighting is given short shrift, an overall situation inadvertently reinforcing the popular misconception that the guerrilla war militarily overshadowed all else in Missouri from 1862 onward.

In part undoubtedly due to space limitations, The Civil War in Missouri is far more descriptive than analytical in nature. Gerteis does highlight a brief period early in the conflict that might have offered a reasonable chance for successful Confederate offensive operations, correctly noting that taking advantage of it was impossible with the theater's divided command structure, conflicting military priorities, and persistent lack of any spirit of cooperation between Confederate and Missouri state forces.  The book also recognizes the sound reasoning behind the Union army's initial allocation of so many resources to Missouri, the view being that securing the Missouri flank was a prerequisite to projecting Union land and naval military power in the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland river valleys.

The following lists are not exhaustive, but the high points of the book's 1861 coverage include Boonville, Carthage, Wilson's Creek, Lexington, Blue Mills Landing, Fremont's Campaign with Zagonyi's Charge, Pope in North Missouri, and Fredericktown in SE Missouri.  Gerteis deserves credit for not ignoring important 1861 campaigns outside Lyon's, a common failing of previous writers. He missed the boat in NE Missouri by not mentioning the Battle of Athens, but Gerteis devotes a significant amount of space to the operations of M. Jeff Thompson in Missouri's "Bootheel".  For 1862, one gets descriptions of New Madrid/Island No. 10 and the Confederate recruitment campaigns (with battles at Kirksville, Independence, Lone Jack, and Newtonia). The next year witnessed a trio of celebrated raids, two by John S. Marmaduke (the first culminating in a failure to capture Springfield and the second a fruitless attempt to damage Federal forces in SE Missouri) and one by Jo Shelby (his "Great Raid" into west-central Missouri). These are all covered in the book, but the twelve month period following Shelby's raid is glossed over completely, and the book's penultimate chapter is devoted entirely to a summary of the 1864 Price Raid. In a bit of an odd move, instead of a contextual summation of the meaning, and perhaps an appreciation, of the conventional war in Missouri, the final chapter discusses the post-war lives of several key figures from Gerteis's narrative.

Perhaps the most immediate problem most readers will have with the book is its dismaying number of typographical errors, often several on a single page. Misspelled proper names abound and many factual errors* that should have been caught in the editing process are also present. A bibliography is absent, as is mention of a number of good sources in the notes.  A great opportunity to direct readers toward the best existing scholarship drawn from a relatively obscure Civil War military historiography was thus missed.  One suspects that turmoil over the planned closure of the press (thankfully rescinded since) played a role in the substandard editing and presentation of this release.

All this sounds like I wouldn't really recommend this title to anyone, but it would be more accurate to say that, in my opinion, the book will benefit a smaller than hoped for group of readers. Those already steeped in the literature of Civil War Missouri will likely be disappointed in the overall brevity of the work, with its comparatively thin analysis and best coverage devoted to ground already well trodden. On the other side, however, new readers, and those well informed about the war in other theaters but needing a conventional military historical primer for Missouri, will find Gerteis's comprehensive summaries of battles and campaigns generally adequate for their purposes.


* - A few examples: (a)  absurdly high casualty levels are frequently expressed in the text. Figures of 1,000 Confederate dead at Pilot Knob and Mulligan losing half his brigade-sized force in killed & wounded at Lexington are vastly inflated. (b) The Missouri State Guard did not, as Gerteis asserts, completely transfer its regiments to Confederate service in 1861, the command instead maintaining a prominent role in the 1862 Pea Ridge battle. The organization also participated in the Corinth siege and existed in attenuated form until the end of the war.


More CWBA reviews of UMP titles:
* Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri
* Demon of the Lost Cause: Sherman and Civil War History
* Yankee Warhorse: A Biography of Major General Peter J. Osterhaus
* General Sterling Price and the Confederacy (for Missouri History Museum)
* Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General
* Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln: The Political Odyssey of James Henry Lane
* Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register
* Peacekeeping on the Plains: Army Operations in Bleeding Kansas
* Missouri's Confederate: Claiborne Fox Jackson and the Creation of Southern Identity in the Border West
* The Civil War's First Blood: Missouri, 1854-1861 (for Missouri Life)
* Key Command: Ulysses S. Grant's District of Cairo

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Booknotes (October '12)

New Arrivals:

1. Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom by James M. Schmidt (The Hist Pr, 2012).

Edward Cotham has gifted us the military side of Civil War Galveston and now Jim Schmidt delves into a wider set of issues.

2. To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 by D. Scott Hartwig (Johns Hopkins UP, 2012).

I did not know until this year that Scott Hartwig was working on a Maryland Campaign mega-history. This first volume, covering origins through September 16, is a huge book, its narrative, maps, appendices, and notes filling around 800 pages. The Sesquicentennial has been far kinder to some subjects than others and Antietam students have been among the best treated. I can't imagine a serious Antietam reader without this one.

3. Battlefields of Honor: American Civil War Reenactors by Jeannine Stein and Mark Elson (Merrell, 2012).

This is a text and photographic study of reenacting, one that attempts to replicate the look and feel of period images.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Kennesaw Mountain and more Atlanta stuff

Earl Hess's Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign (UNC Press) is scheduled for a spring 2013 release. It is great to finally see more 1864 Atlanta Campaign battle books hit the shelves.  Both author and press have great track records with books of this type, so high expectations are merited.

Until then Civil War Atlanta students can absorb a new study of the bombardment and occupation of the town, Stephen Davis's What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman's Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta (Mercer UP, Oct 2012).