Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Battle of Carthage by Kenneth Burchett

The Battle of Carthage, Missouri: First Trans-Mississippi Conflict of the Civil War. By Kenneth E. Burchett. Photos, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index, 240 pp., 2013, McFarland,, $35 softcover.

            Kenneth Burchett has done a good job of bringing more attention to one of the war’s first battles, the battle of Carthage.  As a minor battle it may not need many book length treatments but the battle now has its second modern book.  While it does not supplant that book, David Hinze and Karen Farnham's The Battle of Carthage: Border War in Southwest Missouri, July 5, 1861, as the premier book it complements it well and expands our knowledge of the battle a bit more.  Certainly any Western theater student has room for both books on the shelf.

            One way Burchett’s book succeeds is that he focuses on southwestern Missouri rather than give an overall description of the state at the beginning of the war.  Another aspect I found particularly interesting was his description of figuring out how many casualties there were.  There are no muster rolls for the Missouri State Guard troops from this time frame so most reporting of Confederate causalities comes from eyewitness accounts and not hard numbers gained through muster rolls.  He does not give a number he thinks is correct, instead offers up all the conflicting tallies.  He does seem to suggest the figure is around 75 killed and wounded per side, numbers that would be dwarfed by many battles to come.  Carthage’s significance though is in its place in the timeline of war, an early Confederate victory.

            The only problem I had with this book was its lack of maps.  In fact there is only one map, a period piece prepared for General Sweeny’s official report.  It is a very nice map but I personally like many more maps, showing troop movements.  This is a major drawback but it can be overlooked because of the clear writing of the battle.  Do not disregard this book simply for its lack of maps, just be prepared to flip back and forth to the one good map or print your own map off the internet to supplement the book.  Overall I would recommend this book because of what it adds to our understanding of the battle and southwest Missouri at the beginning of the war.  If it had been full of maps it would be a must have.


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