Monday, November 29, 2010

Chickamauga Campaign - full review

The Chickamauga Campaign. Edited by Steven E. Woodworth. Maps, bibliography, index, 199 pp., 2010, Southern Illinois University Press,, $24.95, cloth.

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 was one conclusion that stuck out as odd and it appeared in two essays. In the DH Hill and Cleburne assault essays the authors were not critical of Bragg restructuring his command in the middle of the battle. Alexander Mendoza said that it was “correct procedure, given Longstreet’s rank and prestige” and John R. Lundberg said “in view of the circumstances, it seems that Bragg made the best possible decision.” Interestingly William G. Robertson’s essay on Longstreet did not comment on if Bragg was right or wrong to restructure his command in the middle of the battle. Since the restructuring had an influence on how the second day of battle was fought it definitely is a topic for discussion and given how much confusion it created it seems odd that no one was critical of the decision.

The two essays on Longstreet and Crittenden and McCook challenge our interpretations of their performances in the battle and campaign. Crittenden comes off better than the historiography has and Longstreet’s reputation suffers a little here.

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.

Review by Nicholas Kurtz

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Adams Brigade - full review

Louisianians in the Western Confederacy: The Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War. By Stuart Salling. Photographs, maps, bibliography, index, 260 pp., 2010, McFarland,, 800-253-2187, $39.95, paper.

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

One of the strengths of the book is the many photos with detailed captions that supplement the main text. For example in a chapter on battle there will also appear a few photos of men who were killed or wounded or distinguished themselves in some other way during the battle. Especially in the case of casualties these men are not always listed in the main text so the photo captions help to supplement the text in a meaningful way.

The maps are another strength of the book. Usually the first map in a battle chapter will show the entire battlefield and subsequent maps will focus on the area where the Adams-Gibson Brigade fought, with many of these showing the alignment of the regiments within the brigade.

There are a few minor errors in the book. In the battle of Missionary Ridge chapter the 15th Indiana is credited with the capture of the 13th Louisiana’s flag. At the bottom of the page the flag is shown but the caption credits the 15th Illinois with the capture. The main text is right, the capture was made by the 15th Indiana. In the section on the July 22nd battle for Atlanta there is a minor editing error, “Baker and Stovall were deployed in the first line with Gibson and Baker in the second, Gibson behind Stovall and Jones behind Baker.” Clearly it was Gibson and Jones in the second line.

In the description of the fighting around Spanish Fort near Mobile the author says Gibson asked for “Negro troops” and was given them. This is a bit troubling as the author does not make clear if they were soldiers or laborers, the text does make it seem like they were soldiers. I am not well versed on the battles for Mobile Bay but I think if there was a large number of Negro soldiers in the Confederate army there it would be a major story in itself.

This is a worthy addition to any Civil War library, especially for someone who follows the war in the West. This book does a good job of providing enough details about individual soldiers without going overboard like some regimental histories do but at the same time it does a good job focusing on the larger picture of the war.

Review by Nicholas Kurtz

Monday, November 22, 2010

Catching Up

I'm back now. It took me awhile to figure out what happened with my blogger account. All I could do was sign into comment moderation, not actually moderate comments, just see what was being left. There was no method to leave a note here that I would return, that blogger was preventing me from getting full access. Plus I was pretty busy with other things so it was easy to ignore the errors I received from blogger. But whatever was wrong is fixed now and I can return to blogging 2-3 times a week.

Since we last connected my eldest son has become a Tiger Cub scout and I have joined him as one of the assistant den leaders. I was part of scouts way back when and am glad that my son is in and, more importantly, is enjoying it. I look forward to summer camping trips and teaching a dozen boys life lessons through scouting.

We're also looking for a new house, something with a fourth bedroom as we are seriously contemplating having a third child. But first our house has to sell, so if you're looking for a three bedroom, three bath house in Littleton Colorado let me know.

I also completed and sent to the publisher a manuscript I'm proud of that has the possibility of being part of a larger series. Wish I could share more details on the project but one of my writer/historian friends has passed onto me a reluctance to share information broadly until things are much more concrete. So going forward with the belief that there will be a series here I have started researching the book that would follow. I once again feel optimistic about a book project after my previous foray was quashed by a short sighted man. Its good to have that optimism back and hopefully its not misplaced.

The flow of review books from Civil War News has trickled down, guess there is not as much Western Theater stuff coming out as there was earlier in the year. So during the past month I've picked up Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series which follows Richard Sharpe's career in the British army during the Napoleonic years. Its very enjoyable but I'm not going to become a Napoleonic wars buff.

There were so few Western Theater books that the other day the book review editor at Civil War News sent me an Eastern Theater regimental history. I'm actually struggling with writing that review right now. There are a few things about the book that bother me, and not in a West vs East sense, but in a why is this regiment important sense. Plus there was not a single map at all. But it was a good book, very detailed and ultimately I did enjoy it.

But internally I am grappling with a philosophical question of the point to regimental histories. Should it be that going forward they should only exist for regiments that did something extraordinary or whose service was unique? Or that fill a gap in the historiography? For example the new book on the Louisiana Brigade in the Army of Tennessee fills a gap in that there is not many other Western Theater brigade histories published. Their service was not super unique, obviously every unit was unique aspects to their service but this brigade did not see service too different than other units. By the way its a tremendous book that I have reviewed in brief previously and my full review (that is similar to the review that appeared in Civil War News) will appear on here this week.

I also reviewed a book on the 1st Nebraska, a soldier's diary to be specific. Their service was unique in that they served in Arkansas-Missouri but not with the army that fought at Pea Ridge. They didn't achieve much, very limited combat, as I remember the soldier first fired his musket nearly 2 years into his service. He then was transferred to St Louis as a provost guard and remarked on the ship building being done. A fascinating book that looked at an aspect of the war usually forgotten, both the guard duty aspect and the small expeditions he was part of in Arkansas and Missouri.

The book I got the other day is for the 4th Michigan, a regiment that seemed to miss the bulk of the combat nearly every time. They were either left behind as a guard or served on a part of the battlefield that saw little action. They got into serious combat four times, and lost three colonels in those fights, which is remarkable. It is a good book, and the only drawback is the lack of maps. I will rate it favorably although I will make it clear that the lack of maps hurts, especially when locations are described with much detail. But I can't see the road on the map then enough a tremendous amount of detail does little to show me where they were. I need a map. Anyway despite my favorable feelings for the book I'm struck that by and large the regiment did not do something too unique or special. They suffered at Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Gettysburg and the Wilderness. At other battles they saw limited action, suffering casualties one would equate with a skirmish even if it was a large battle. But at other times they were left well to the rear. At both Bull Runs they were left behind as a guard. At Antietam they stayed on the wrong side of the river. At Chancellorsville they were the far Union left. None of these were their fault but they certainly did not see as many fights as other regiments. So is the goal of regimental histories to eventually fill in all the gaps so that every unit in every major army has a regimental history? And in this endeavour the Eastern Theater is well ahead and widens its gap every year.

The symposium went very well once again. My involvement was very small after helping get the panel selected. I thought everyone did a great job getting it done. We've already got our panel for next year and I'll make a formal announcement about that soon as well, would do it right now but it should have its own posting and not be reduced to the end of this post.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I've been having some problems accessing my blogger account, grief about passwords and settings. But apparently things are now cleared up and I can resume a regular blogging schedule in the near future.