Friday, July 30, 2010

Buell's Advance to Pittsburg Landing

I'm always excited to see the newest issue of Tennessee Historical Quarterly appear in my mailbox. There tends to always be at least one Civil War article, sometimes the whole issue is Civil War themed. Also it seems that the past few years have seen quite a few Shiloh articles. This past Wednesday I received the latest issue and there were two Civil War articles and one of them was Shiloh themed.

Donald A. Clark wrote a pretty good piece on the Army of the Ohio's advance from
Nashville to Savannah, arriving in time to see combat on April 7th, with advance units reaching the Shiloh battlefield as the first day's fight was winding down. The article nearly gives a day by day account of the march across middle Tennessee with highlights from soldiers' diaries and letters. I especially liked this as it now seems like I could retrace Buell's route pretty closely.

There are things I wish the author had expanded on. He says that its now clear that Grant's army would have prevailed in the battle even without the assistance from Buell. I'm not 100% in agreement. I think the second day would have gone for the Union and that the Confederates would have retreated back to Corinth. But I think that it would have taken longer for the Union to reclaim its old camps and while in reality Grant did not use April 8th to make it a horrible disaster for the Confederacy that opportunity likely would not have even been possible if Buell had never arrived.

William "Bull" Nelson comes off quite well in the article, a conclusion I too agree with. If he had lived through the war I think he would have made some nice contributions to the Union cause. Clark has written a biography of Nelson that will be coming out this winter from Southern Illinois University.

I do think though that some of Clark's article was clumsy. When he talked about battle sequences he jumbled them up a bit. The article makes it sound like once the Peach Orchard line collapsed Grant started to bring up the siege guns to anchor a line of artillery near the landing. In reality those siege guns had started moving into position earlier in the morning, they are just too heavy for rapid movement. This might just be an editing oversight, if that paragraph had been moved up a few paragraphs it would be in the right order and make perfect sense.

Clark also revealed more about how much Grant and Buell were communicating with each other, something I had not really given much thought. But Grant sent two officers (presumably with some sort of escort) to find Buell as he marched across the state. Clark refers to one as Grant's best scout, which made me wonder how things might have been different if this scout had been available on the morning of April 6 to lead Lew Wallace into position. That is just one of the little things that perhaps changed part of the battle.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga and the Organizations Engaged

The Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga and the Organizations Engaged. By Henry V. Boynton. Edited by Tim Smith.

Henry V. Boynton should be much more well known than he is. It is due to his efforts that the battlefields of Chickamauga and Chattanooga were preserved by the federal government, the first battlefields to be preserved by the federal government. This lead to the creation of other battlefield parks in the 1890s and has continued to the present day. When the battlefields were preserved one of the first tasks was to create troop movement maps with accompanying text, which then became the basis for the iron interpretive markers on the battlefields.

In his role as the first park historian Boynton wrote quite a bit on Chickamauga and Chattanooga. He wrote an extensive tour of the battlefields with a history of the preservation efforts. He also wrote a book covering the formation of the park for the grand dedication in 1895. These books can still be found in libraries and appear for sale online quite regularly. Boynton also wrote three small books that are much less readily available in libraries or for sale. Timothy B. Smith has collected these three short volumes into one book. He also provides an introduction that places Boynton and these three volumes in their proper historical context. The three volumes are presented as originally published, Smith confined his notes about the books to the introduction.

This is a very useful addition to the study of these battles. These rare volumes can now be owned by anyone. Then being able to pair the text with the maps, available online, makes it an even more worthwhile book.

If you wish to learn more about Boynton’s role in the formation of Chickamauga check out A Chickamauga Memorial: The Establishment of America’s First Civil War National Military Park by Timothy B. Smith

The full review will appear here after its publication in Civil War News.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Chickamauga Campaign

The Chickamauga Campaign. Edited by Steven E. Woodworth.

Western theater battles often lack the coverage that Eastern theater battles do. This discrepancy will never be erased but lately there has been a surge of Western Theater material. Partially trying to fill this void is the Civil War Campaigns in Heartland series from Southern Illinois University Press. The second volume, covering the Chickamauga campaign, follows on the heels of the wonderful Shiloh volume published last year.

Editor Steven E. Woodworth has assembled eight essays that explore some aspects of the campaign and provoke some critical thinking. The collection of essays focuses more on the Confederate side than the Union side. There are essays on D. H. Hill, Alexander Stewart, James Longstreet, Patrick Cleburne’s night assault, James Negley’s actions on Horseshoe Ridge, the performances of Thomas Crittenden and Alexander McCook, the near battle of McLemore’s Cove and Henry Van Ness Boynton’s shaping of Chickamauga as a national park. Although the collection focuses more on the Confederates it is not a distracting decision especially since the essay on Crittenden and McCook is nearly three times the length of the other essays, so the page count is probably pretty closely divided.

All the essays were good, there did not seem to be a weak one in the collection. There are four maps at the front of the book. Although it is nice to have maps these are not the best maps as all troop locations are shown as a horizontal box. On a theater map this is fine but on a battlefield map this makes it appear as if all troops were facing north or south. Some maps from contributor David Powell’s recent “Maps of Chickamauga” would have been better.

The problems with the maps though are easily overlooked though because of what a wonderful collection of essays this is. With two volumes in the Campaigns in Heartland series completed this series is now established as one to pay attention to for all future installments.

Contributors were John R. Lundberg, Alexander Mendoza, David Powell, Ethan S. Rafuse, William G. Robertson, Timothy B. Smith, Lee White, and Steven E. Woodworth.

The full review will be posted after its publication in Civil War News.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Ever-Changing Leaders and Organization of the Army of the Potomac

The Ever-Changing Leaders and Organization of the Army of the Potomac by George S. Maharay

I made a previous post about this book, the author had emailed me trying to sell a copy and made the claim that there were 6 changes in army command and the 8 changes in general-in-chief. He made a big point in the email (and on the back of the book) about saying how many changes there were among the leaders and the organization of the army. The back of the book proclaims 149 changes in leadership and 94 changes in organization.

I thought he was overreaching on both points. Even if we consider McDowell a commander of the Army of the Potomac (he technically wasn't because it wasn't the Army of the Potomac yet but many authors will credit him as the first commander because his army is the basis for the Army of the Potomac) that leaves us with five; McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, Hooker and Meade. And those are truthfully only four changes. But Maharay claims Pope as a commander of the Army of the Potomac, giving him a tenure of "six days or less" as commander. This is obviously wrong. Not to belabor a point but McClellan was not relieved of command in late August 1862, he had many of his men temporarily transferred to Pope's command. And if Pope had won the battle of Second Manassas I'm sure those transfers would have become permanent and McClellan would have been sent home. But he retained command of the army until November 1862. And Pope was never given command of the Army of the Potomac, just over many of its men. There is also the possibility that if the two armies were combined under a victorious Pope that the new army would be called the Army of Virginia (the name of Pope's army, who would the victors choose the name of the army that had been defeated in all of its major battles?)

His logic for the general in chief post is even more convoluted, he claims times when Lincoln was general in chief and times when Lincoln and Halleck held the post jointly. Both are false. There definitely were times when Lincoln did Halleck's job but he was never officially general in chief. I thought his email might have been mostly exaggerated to sell books but he actually says in the text that Lincoln was general in chief.

I think this book had the chance to be great, and some of it is worthwhile. Partly it is his interpretations of things that weaken the book. In the chapter discussing Grant becoming general in chief and electing to keep his headquarters near the Army of the Potomac instead of at a desk in Washington Maharay does a good job of explaining the situation and the decision. Then near the end of the book when recapping all the commanders of the army he writes this one sentence paragraph to close the chapter, "US Grant took to the field with the Army of the Potomac and from March 1864 until the end of the war, the army had two commanders." There were times Meade felt that he wasn't really commanding the army but on paper he was still the commander, his commanding officer just happened to always be very close by. Maharay did a good job explaining that setup the first time it appeared and then made an error the second time around.

The author is really devoted to numbering the changes, closing each chapter with a list of the changes and numbering them. I'm not so sure that his figures of 149 changes in leadership and 94 changes in organization are correct. For example when Burnside replaces McClellan as commander of the army this is counted as two changes, McClellan being relieved and Burnside replacing him. Same thing when McClellan replaces Scott as general in chief, Maharay counts it as two, Scott retiring and McClellan replacing him. This would make me believe that the number of changes is more likely half or two-thirds of the 149 and 94 Maharay claims. The actual number is not something I care about but when the author makes a big deal about numbering them then I feel he should be accurate.

I would have liked to see Maharay expand the book down to the divisional level. The book only focuses on the changes at the corps level and beyond. That's another reason the 149 and 94 changes claim seems way too high. That is a ton of changes for the corps and beyond level. At the most there were eight corps in the army at one moment. I made a chart from Maharay's info and it has 38 men making 49 command changes. This ignores the times that wings were used but those would not add more than a dozen command changes.

The book is self published. I've seen more of these in recent years and being self published doesn't necessarily make it a bad book. What seems to be lacking in them is the extensive review process many other presses put their books through. I know the University of Tennessee Press uses two peer reviewers who only worry about content and not grammar. A self published book could plenty of peer review as well as copy editing, instead though they seem to lack this. This book is a prime example.

A peer reviewer would have seen the issues I listed above and while they might not have been fixed they most likely would have been addressed more. Instead of a one sentence paragraph claiming Grant and Meade were both army commanders, 50 pages after a well reasoned section on the structure, the peer reviewer would have likely pressed Maharay to change that sentence or to enlarge the paragraph and explain why in his opinion Grant can be classified an army commander. I doubt that this book as is would have been published by a university press or one of the other good presses around the country. They might have eventually published the book but it would have looked different than it does now.

I'm glad I got this book through the library and did not spend my own $28 on it. I would not recommend anyone using their own money on this book.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Louisianians in the Western Confederacy: The Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War

Louisianians in the Western Confederacy: The Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War. By Stuart Salling.

Stuart Salling’s book on the Adams-Gibson Brigade of Louisianians follows the brigade as it fought in the Army of Tennessee, participating in all the battles of that army until after Nashville when it was transferred to Mobile Bay rather than being sent to North Carolina. The brigade also served as part of Joe Johnston’s army in Mississippi during the summer of 1863.

The brigade went through many reorganizations but its main elements were banded together in August 1862. The ravages of war reduced the Louisiana regiments to the point that they had to be consolidated together, and sometimes they were able to gain enough recruits to regain their individual status again. Salling does a good job of explaining the plentiful confusing command and structure changes with the regiments of the brigade.

Salling also does a good job of explaining the political infighting between Bragg and his generals. Brigade commander Daniel Adams was a Bragg supporter, in fact he received this brigade to prevent Randall Gibson, a Bragg opponent, from commanding a brigade. Adams and Gibson though appear to have gotten along quite nicely. After Bragg resigned following the battle of Missionary Ridge Adams was one of the many officers who recommended Gibson for a promotion to brigadier general, which he got. Gibson commanded the brigade in all its future actions

Besides being an interesting story the book is laid out well visually. There are quite a few pictures of the men and officers who served in the brigade. The maps are nice as they show the layout of the regiments within the brigade and also show the entire battlefield as well. Sometimes these sorts of books get so focused on the activities of their small part that they ignore the larger operations, this book tends to do a good job of not getting too focused.

The full review will appear after its publication in Civil War News.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Matthew Archer

Its taken me awhile to get the time to make this post but nearly two weeks ago my son was born. Matthew Archer joined this world at 2:01 PM on June 30th. He weighed 6 pounds and 7 ounces, and was 18.5 inches long. Things were not 100% normal or easy but when my wife was released three days later we were able to bring Matthew home at the same time so it worked out fine in the end. I took the last week off of work so I could have some bonding time, plus help my wife while she recovered. This week I'm back to work and already missing the little guy. I'm looking forward to this evening when I'll be back home with my two sons and wife.

I could share a ton of pictures but I'll only bother you with three. The first is Matthew when he was just 30 minutes old.
Finally after three days in the NICU our other son was able to hold his brother for the first time. He wasn't allowed in the NICU so the best he got was seeing him once for a minute through a window. He really wanted to see and hold his little brother so once we were cleared to leave the hospital we took a few minutes in the room so big brother could hold little brother. In the last 12 days I think he has worn his big brother shirt on 4-5 of them. He is a protective of his little brother and is going to be a great big brother.

And here is Matthew during his first evening home.