Thursday, August 26, 2010

Symposium only six weeks away

It seems like the Rocky Mountain Civil War symposium has snuck up on me this year. That's mostly because I'm not as involved this year as in previous years, especially last year. I knew my involvement would have to be severely curtailed with a baby at home. Some days it seems that getting anything accomplished at home is a big accomplishment, then other days multi tasking with a baby is a breeze. So I'm glad I don't have any symposium worries to also attend to. I'm sure next year I'll take on a few more tasks for the symposium but it might be awhile til I'm back to my normal workload.

In any case this is going to be a wonderful event that I'm glad to be attending. Although I work at every event (some more than others) I go to hear the speakers. Each year has had quite a good group, and this year is no exception. This year the theme is the making of Ulysses S. Grant as a commander.

There need to be a few battle themed presentations to show the growth of Grant and some of the obstacles he faced. The two battles picked were Shiloh and Vicksburg. Shiloh because it is really Grant's first major battle. Not disrespecting Fort Donelson but Shiloh is a much bigger battle. Vicksburg shows Grant overcoming many obstacles and growing as a leader to achieve one of the more important victories of the war. In my mind the top Shiloh authors are James Lee McDonough, Tim Smith, Larry Daniel and Wiley Sword. There are others of course but if we're looking to secure a major Shiloh historian these are the four I think of first. McDonough and Smith have spoken at previous symposiums and Sword will join them this year. Shiloh is my main interest so having had the opportunity to hear from three of the top Shiloh historians over the past few years is a real treat and hopefully we'll be able to get Daniels out in the future.

A large number of prominent historians have explored Vicksburg, especially recently it seems like Vicksburg is getting its due more and more. I'm excited that John Marszalek will cover this campaign for the symposium. I know Marszalek from his Sherman work but he is also now the Executive Director and Managing Editor of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, taking the reins after the departure of John Y. Simon. I'm sure his intimate access to Grant's papers will allow him to bring a unique perspective on Grant's handling of the campaign. Also Grant's papers have now been put online which is a fabulous researching tool.

Then its important to discuss Grant's work as general-in-chief. The two battle presentations have shown his growth as a commander so its only logical to have a presentation that covers the final year of the war when Grant had an impact on the entire war effort. Gordon C. Rhea seems like a great fit for this as his books covering the the 1864 Virginia Overland campaign are an incredible series, and Grant's impact is covered in each one. I'm not sure who better could fill this role.

At each symposium we have a presentation that doesn't follow the normal pace of battles. At the first event covering the Western Theater through Stones River it was a biography of Alexander Stewart, done by Sam Davis Elliott. Last year the theme was Lee's two Northern invasions and the extra presentation covered the differing methods of preservation utilized at Antietam and Gettysburg, by Tim Smith. This year the extra talk will be about the relationship between Grant and Rawlins by Peter Cozzens, another top notch Western theater historian.

Finally there needs to be an overview of Grant. There are a ton of biographers to pick from but my personal favorite is Brooks Simpson. One of my favorite books is his "Let Us Have Peace" which covers Grant's understanding of the politics of war. It changed my view of Grant as a commander and put me well onto the path that Grant's genius had more to do with winning the war than it being simply a matter of numbers. The first stories many of us read make it out that the Confederacy generally had better generals but that they lost due to the quantity of men the North could muster into service. Now I know that the Union was equal in quality as well, just suffered early in the war when its lesser talented generals faced the best the Confederacy had to offer (think Lee versus Pope at Second Manassas or Jackson in the Valley).

So the final panel consists of Brooks Simpson, Peter Cozzens, Wiley Sword, John Marszalek, and Gordon Rhea. Any one of them individually would be enough to entice me to attend the symposium, but having them all at one event makes this year a must see event (though to be fair there has not been one presentation previously that I did not want to see).

The day will end with a panel discussion and time for books to be signed. As always there will be a book room with a ton of good books and deals. I'll have a blog post showing all of the great books in a week or so. I saw the list the other day and was impressed with the variety of books. There is only one so far I want to get but that's because I already own every other book that will be there.

Tickets will be $50 again, which also includes a continental breakfast and lunch. Click here to order your tickets today. Tickets are selling at double the pace of last year. We're in a pretty big auditorium so I don't anticipate it being a sold out event but you should order your tickets today so that you do not run that risk.

If you have any questions please contact us at RockyMtnCWRT at aol dot com.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mississippi in the Civil War: The Home Front

Mississippi in the Civil War: The Home Front. By Timothy B. Smith.

In his latest book Timothy Smith tackles the Mississippi home front during the war. Although several Mississippi battles are mentioned they are only discussed as context for some other topic, this book is not intended to inform about every military engagement in the state during the war. Smith’s intent is to cover the entirety of the Mississippi home front, some aspects of which have never been covered in such depth before.

The first half of the book focuses on the more traditional aspects of Civil War history. Smith starts off with a great chapter on Mississippi’s secession convention and explains how they did much more work than simply removing Mississippi from the Union. The convention then spent much time putting their state on footing as a country, at the time it was not a foregone conclusion that enough states would leave the Union to form a new country. Then they worked to make their state part of the Confederacy. Along the way they took time out to declare the reason they had seceded, firmly stating that it was to protect slavery and not for any other reason.

The next four chapters cover the state’s political system, the military complex that was destroyed, the infrastructure and the economy. These are the more traditional ways of discussing the home front. Smith then follows those with five chapters are areas that have barely been covered in the past. There are chapters on the war’s impact on culture, how women dealt with the war, the experience of blacks transforming from slavery to freedom, the loyal white population and the disloyal white population.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Much of it was new to me as I knew little of the Mississippi home front. One of the things I enjoyed was reading about Governor Charles Clark. Clark was a division commander at Shiloh but leaves that army afterwards and I really hadn't come across much about him. So I was excited to read about his time as governor. He was elected in November 1863 so he only saw a time of disappointment. At one point he made the following speech:

"There may be those who delude themselves with visions of a reconstructed Union and a restored Constitution. If such there be, let them awake from their dreaming! Let the last of our young men die upon the field of battle, and when none are left to wield a blade or uphold a banner, then let our old men, our women and our children, like the remnant of the heroic Pascagoulas, when their braves were slain, join hands together, march into the sea and perish beneath its waters."

So although the war effort was clearly fading quickly in the state he was still trying to do his best to hold it together. I also had to look up Pascagoulas as I've never heard of them before. According to legend, the peace-loving tribe walked single file into the Singing River, now known as the Pascagoula River, because the local Biloxi tribe were planning to attack. Anola, a princess of the Biloxi tribe, was in love with Altama, Chief of the Pascagoula tribe. She was betrothed to a chieftain of her own tribe, but fled with Altama to his people. The spurned and enraged Biloxi chieftain led his Biloxi braves to war against Altama and the neighboring Pascagoula. The Pascagoula swore they would either save the young chieftain and his bride or perish with them. When thrown into battle the Pascagoula were out-numbered and faced with enslavement by the Biloxi tribe or death. With their women and children leading the way, the Pascagoula joined hands and began to chant a song of death as they walked into the river until the last voice was hushed by the dark, engulfing waters. Apparently the Singing River is known throughout the world for its mysterious music. The singing sounds like a swarm of bees in flight and is best heard in late evenings during late summer and autumn. Barely heard at first, the music seems to grow nearer and louder until it sounds as though it comes directly under foot.

Another section I especially enjoyed was the part about the secession convention. They did much more work than simply secede, they had to get Mississippi ready to be its own country (only South Carolina had also seceded at this point, though others quickly joined them). For awhile they really operated more as the legislature as they created various boards to oversee a variety of essential tasks that would hopefully help Mississippi achieve its independence. Once it was clear that there would be a Confederacy these boards would work with the new nation to achieve those goals. They also took the time to explain that the cause of their secession was slavery.

Smith also does a great job explaining the complicated nature of Unionism in the state. Although it was the second state to secede there was quite a bit on Unionism. Some opposed secession on all grounds. Some opposed it until the new Lincoln administration proved it would not compromise on slavery. Some opposed it on practical grounds because they could see that war and/or separation would mean decreased business on the Mississippi River and a wide variety of Mississippians depended on the river trade for their livelihood, from business men to large plantation owners situated along the banks of the river.

In discussing the book with Smith I was pleased to learn that he has recently submitted a manuscript on Corinth. I look forward to that book as not much has been written about Corinth previously. I'll surely review that book too when it comes out.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Guide to Missouri Confederate Units - full review

Guide to Missouri Confederate Units 1861-1865. By James E. McGhee. Photographs, bibliography, index, 314 pp., 2009, University of Arkansas Press,, 479-575-7258, $34.95, cloth.

As a student of the Western Theater I often find myself trying to trace the history of Missouri Confederate regiments, which often times quite difficult. The information on National Park Service’s Soldiers and Sailors system is often skimpy. James McGhee has solved this issue with his new book, Guide to Missouri Confederate Units.

For each Missouri Confederate unit McGhee lists its official name plus whatever other designations it may have had, a list of its field officers, a list of company commanders plus where the company was recruited, a bibliography for further research and a narrative of the unit’s service that lists casualty numbers when known.

Generally the information is quite extensive, infantry regiments averaging about five pages of text while artillery batteries garner about two pages. For cavalry regiments there is much more diversity, some units being short lived and only having a page or two of information available while others are as long as the infantry sections. The narratives themselves are well detailed. Instead of saying the regiment fought at Franklin there are details about where in the line they were, what they attacked, how long they fought and the toll the unit suffered in the battle.

I wish the book had a few maps. I would have liked a map of Missouri showing principal towns and county names. Another useful map would have been a theater map so one could find the smaller actions Missouri troops were involved in. The photograph section is very good because the pictures don’t just focus on the generals from Missouri but include men of nearly every rank, from generals down to privates.

The only drawback on the information level is that there is not a section on the Missouri State Guard units. The index does lead you to the various units that came out of each Missouri State Guard Division. McGhee explains in the introduction that he did not include the state guard because it was a state force and not officially mustered into the Confederate service. That is the only drawback I had.

Despite the absence of maps and a section on the Missouri State Guard I would recommend this book. There is no other resource on Missouri’s Confederate units that compares. If you need a reference book for these units there is nothing else that beats it.

This review appeared in the August issue of Civil War News. It only appears online as there are now so many books being reviewed for Civil War News that there is not enough space in the print version for all of them.