Review of Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection

Product DetailsSmithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2013. 308 pp. $40.00.

This book reflects the efforts of the Smithsonian Institute to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war by showcasing the many unique and special items housed in their collections related to the war.

While it is not a scholarly monograph, this book is a wonderful piece that belongs on the shelf of those interested in the Civil War for both scholarly and general interest pursuits.

It provides hundreds of beautifully detailed photographs of objects housed in the collections, including uniforms, equipment, photographs, and documents. In addition, informative captions describe and discuss the objects. This is coupled with thematic and chronologically-focused stories to provide context to the substantial amount of images.

The book covers many themes related to the war, including the home front, slavery, freedom, music, government, soldiers, material culture, and photography. Readers will find something for almost every possible topic related to the conflict within this book.

What stood out for me on this book was the beauty of it and its construction, as a fairly sturdy hardback book. The paper quality is excellent, with glossy paper that allows the images to pop off the page. Related to the great construction and printing, is the price, which is quite reasonable for a large hardback book, making it affordable for many interested in the war.

Through rich photography of items, coupled with informative and gripping stories and captions, this book will hopefully build interest in learning more about the Civil War well beyond the recent 150th anniversary commemorations. Younger readers will be able to access the book via the rich imagery, while adults can discuss with them the stories behind the photos, fostering learning.

The Smithsonian did an outstanding job with this book and I recommend it for all folks interested in the Civil War as one that should be on your wish list and eventually your shelf. Smithsonian Civil War is a glowing testimony to the expertise and quality of the Smithsonian’s commitment to preserving our nation’s history, including the Civil War. If you don’t have a chance to visit the physical museums in Washington, consider getting this book to allow you to take a virtual tour.

Book Review of Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations

Phillip E. Myers. Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations. New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations series. Kent: The Kent State University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-87338-945-7. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xi, 332. $55.00.

Dr Phillip E. Myers, Director of Administration at the Western Kentucky University Research Foundation, examines Anglo-American relations after the War of 1812 to the Treaty of Washington (1871).  The author focuses on Anglo-American relations during the American Civil War and puts it into the larger context of overall relations between the two states during the nineteenth century.

Myers argues against the traditional view that Britain and the United States had tense relations that could have easily resulted in foreign intervention or an Anglo-Union war during the American Civil War.  Instead, the author stresses that Britain and the United States employed caution and cooperation, rather than conflict, in their wartime relations.  Myers shows that both states had used caution and cooperation in their relations before the conflict that resolved border issues in the Rush-Bagot Agreement (1817), Convention of 1818, Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842), and Oregon Treaty of 1846.  He writes: “The four treaties showed that caution and cooperation were the leading British-American aims” (p.23).

After the outbreak of the American Civil War, Myers stresses that Britain and United States worked to avoid an Anglo-American conflict, and that neither side seriously wanted war against the other.  The North had its hands full with the war against the South.  Britain was more worried about Napoleon III and the French threat to the British Isles and the European Balance of Power.  Britain declared neutrality in the American conflict, resulting in British recognition of belligerent status for the South.  Tension was evident over British trade with the South and the Union blockade.  Myers stresses that the Trent Affair (1861), traditionally thought to be a crisis moment when Britain and the United States might to go war against one another, was less serious than previously believed.  Neither power wanted war.  Private diplomacy quickly brought the two states back to cooperative relations that avoided a crisis for the rest of the American conflict.  He points out that the Palmerston Cabinet opted for cooperation with the Union in the Intervention Debate of 1862, and relations continually improved for the duration of the war.  The author states that, “by the end of 1862 the British-American peace was stronger than at any time since the beginning of the Civiil War . . .” (p.139).

Myer’s argument contrasts sharply with previous historians, such as Howard Jones’ Union in Peril: The Crisis over British Intervention in the Civil War (1992), that stress tense Anglo-American relations and crisis moments between Britain and the United States that could have led to foreign intervention in the American Civil War.  Myers’ work is based on archival research in Britain, the United States, and Canada.  The study is valuable for depicting Anglo-American relations in a different light.  Is his thesis of Anglo-American caution and cooperation overstated?  This reviewer recommends this study for students and scholars to read and make up their own minds.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Book Review of Spain and the American Civil War 

Wayne H. Bowen. Spain and the American Civil War. Shades of Blue and Gray Series. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8262-1938-1. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. v, 188. $40.00.

Few historians of the American Civil War focus on the international history of the conflict.  Most Civil War studies are about political and military leaders, military campaigns, and battles.  By comparison there has been just a trickle of studies over the last fifty years devoted to the subject of diplomatic affairs.  And, yet, most historians agree that foreign intervention, by way of mediation or military action, would have greatly influenced the outcome of the war.

There are several modern surveys of Union and Confederate diplomacy.  These studies include Howard Jones’ recently published Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations (2010), Dean B. Mahin, One War at A Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War (1999), and the older David Paul Crook, The North, the South, and the Great Powers, 1861-1865 (1974) as well as his briefer version Diplomacy during the American Civil War (1976).  Early Union diplomacy is examined in Norman B. Ferris, Desperate Diplomacy: William H. Seward’s Foreign Policy, 1861 (1976) and The Trent Affair: A Diplomatic Crisis (1977).  Confederate diplomacy is covered in Frank L. Owsley’s classic King Cotton Diplomacy (1931) and the more recent Charles M. Hubbard, The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy (1998).  Union relations with Britain are the focus of many studies, including Brian Jenkins’ two-volume Britain and the War for the Union (1974-80), Howard Jones, Union in Peril: The Crisis over British Intervention in the Civil War (1991), and Philip E. Myers, Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations (2008).  French foreign policy concerning the American Civil War is examined in Lynn Marshall Case and Warren F. Spencer, The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy (1970) and Daniel B. Carroll, Henri Mercier and the American Civil War (1971).  French policy in Mexico is considered in Alfred Jackson Hanna and Kathryn Abbey Hanna’s Napoleon III and Mexico: American Triumph over Monarchy (1971) and Michele Cunningham’s revisionist study Mexico and the Foreign Policy of Napoleon III (2001).  Little has been written on Spain’s involvement in the conflict other than James W. Cortada’s study Spain and the American Civil War: Relations at Mid-Century, 1855-1868 (1980).

Dr. Wayne H. Bowen, Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Southeast Missouri State University, delivers us the most recent diplomatic history of the American Civil War.  In Spain and the American Civil War Professor Bowen explores Spanish foreign policy and Spain’s relations with the Union and Confederacy.  He stresses that efforts by the Confederacy to attract support from Spain has received little attention by historians “despite the advantages to both states that mutual assistance could have brought” (p.5).

Bowen describes how Spain, under the leadership of Prime Minister Leopoldo O’Donnell (1856, 1858-63), a former general, was in the midst of a political, economic, and military revival in the late 1850s.  O’Donnell was attempting to use the revived military and naval power of Spain to restore Spain’s prestige as a Great Power.  Spain had lost most of its American possessions in the Spanish American Wars of Independence (1808-33).  It had also survived two civil wars, the First Carlist War (1833-39) and Second Carlist War (1846-49) which challenged Queen Isabel II’s (1833-68) rule of Spain.  All that was left of the once extensive Spanish Empire was Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.  By the late 1850s, Spain’s military revival resulted in an active duty army of 115,000 troops with a reserve of another 85,000 men (p.38).  Madrid was also rebuilding its naval fleet, which had 170 new ships in the 1860s.  Most of these vessels were steamships with sails that were built in Britain, France, and the United States.  By 1860, Spain was the 4th largest naval power in the world in terms of firepower and displacement (p.47).

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, Spain was pursuing an aggressive foreign policy and flexing its muscles.  Spain opted not to assist France and Britain in the Crimean War, but it sent six frigates and 1,000 troops from Manila to assist France in Cochin China in 1857.  Then, in 1859-60, O’Donnell deployed 38,000 troops to northwest Africa to defeat Morocco. Next, in April 1861, the Spanish government sent 3,000 troops from Cuba to occupy Santo Domingo (the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola).  Spain officially annexed the territory two months later, and increased the military strength in Santo Domingo to 20,000 troops by 1862.  In 1861-62, during the first year of the American Civil War, Spain joined Britain and France in a punitive military expedition against Mexico, forcing the Benito Juárez government to make good on its international debts.  The initial allied force consisted of 6,200 Spanish troops from Cuba, under the command of General Juan Prim y Prats, alongside 700 British and 2,000 French troops.  Spanish and British forces withdrew from Mexico after a few months, although French troops stayed, and eventually took Mexico City and established the Mexican Empire.

Bowen believes that the Confederate States of America and Spain were “natural allies.”  He expounds that Spain was a more likely ally for the South than Britain or France.  Spain had kept slavery in its Caribbean territories while Britain rejected slavery in 1833 and France in 1848.  Spain and the United States had poor relations dating back to the American support for Spanish American Wars of Independence in the early nineteenth century.  The Monroe Doctrine (1823) was aimed at preventing Spain from reclaiming lost Latin American states.  Spain feared American expansionism, as well as US efforts to dominate Latin America and seize Spain’s remaining colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico.  The Spanish government was pleased to see the breakup and weakening of the United States in 1861.  Some of the Spanish elite, including Queen Isabel II, Prime Minister O’Donnell, aristocrats, and military leaders, were sympathetic to the Southern cause.  Spanish plantation owners in Cuba and business leaders identified with and supported the South.  Spanish newspapers cheered Confederate battlefield victories.  Spanish seaports in Cuba and Puerto Rico provided safe harbor for Confederate smugglers and blockade runners.

The Confederate States of America looked to Britain, France, and Spain to gain diplomatic recognition and possibly intervention during the American Civil War.  Spain, like Britain and France, declared neutrality in the American struggle, but gave belligerent rights to the South in June 1861.

Why wouldn’t Spain openly side with the South?  First, Madrid refused to grant diplomatic recognition and establish an alliance with the Confederate States unless Britain and France took the first step (p.75).  Spain, despite its growing economic and military strength, was too weak to take unilateral action against the North in support of the South.  Madrid would need to reply on much superior British and French economic, military, and political power.  As Bowen writes: “Defeating Morocco alone was one thing, taking on the United States, even as an ally of the Confederacy, was a task beyond the capacity of Spain in 1861” (p.60).  Spain, depending on French and British leadership in foreign policy, would take a wait-and-see approach.  Secondly, the author points out that there was mistrust between the Confederacy and Spain throughout the American Civil War.  Spanish leaders realized that the primary arguments for United States acquisition of Cuba in the 1850s had come from Southern politicians, the same men that were in charge of the Confederate government in the 1860s.  Southern politicians had frequently mentioned that “after the South broke from the Union, Cuba, Mexico, and Central America would naturally join or be joined to the new Confederacy as slave states . . .” (p.71).  As such, Spain, not trusting the South, kept its newest naval ships and best army regiments stationed in Cuba (p.76).  Third, Madrid had overstretched its military and naval resources, especially with the occupation of Santo Domingo.  An insurgency against Spanish rule in Santo Domingo broke out in 1862-63, and Spain had to keep 25,000 troops there fighting a costly guerrilla war for the next three years (p.99).  The conflict, the most important issue in Spanish foreign policy at the time, led to the downfall of the O’Donnell government.  And, finally, Union naval power and military strength, especially after 1862-63, deterred Spain from openly siding with the Confederacy.  The United States Navy could deploy a couple of ironclad warships and destroy Havana (p.118).

By late 1863, the Confederate States had lost realistic hope of European intervention in the American conflict.  The South shifted its primary diplomatic efforts from Britain to Emperor Napoleon III of France.  But, France, like Spain, was tied down in a conflict, the Franco-Mexican War (1861-67) and had other diplomatic concerns in the Polish Uprising (1863-64) and Schleswig-Holstein Crisis (1863-64).  Moreover, United States naval and military strength, along with battlefield victories in 1863 and afterwards, allowed the North to make diplomatic threats against France and Spain that needed to be and were taken seriously.

In Spain and the American Civil War Professor Bowen provides a much needed examination of Spanish foreign policy during the American crisis.  Most diplomatic studies of the American Civil War ignore Spain and its influence in the Caribbean Region.  The author stresses the mid-century revival of Spanish power and how Madrid became strategically overextended while trying to regain influence as a Great Power.  In doing so, he shows that Spain would have been of limited assistance to the South unless Britain and/or France diplomatically recognized and allied with the Confederate States.  This is an interesting study and should be on the reading list of every student and scholar interested in the American Civil War and international diplomacy in the mid-nineteenth century.  It is based on both primary and secondary sources.

Dr. William Young
University of North Dakota

H-Net review of Army Life

My latest book review for H-Net posted a few days ago. I reviewed the book Army Life: From a Soldier’s Journal: Incidents, Sketches, and Record of a Union Soldier’s Army Life, in Camp and Field, 1861-1864 by Albert O. Marshall, veteran of the Thirty-Third Illinois Infantry Regiment, and edited by Robert G. Schultz. Overall, I found the book quite good and a reliable primary source on the Civil War. I encourage you to read it here on the H-Net site.

Review of The Badax Tigers

Nanzig, Thomas P., Ed. The Badax Tigers:  From Shiloh to the Surrender with the 18th Wisconsin Volunteers. New York:  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002. ISBN:  0-7425-6019-8  384 pp. $22.95

This book is an insightful look into a company within a Wisconsin Infantry regiment, from its origins, to the end of the war. Editor Thomas Nanzig provided wonderful research into Company C, 18th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry (known as the Badax Tigers), basing it around primary sources from letters and newspaper accounts on the regiment that bring the life of the common soldiers to the forefront.

The book begins by discussing the beginnings of the Tigers in camp of instruction in Milwaukee. This is especially of interest to myself, as my thesis dealt with the subject in Illinois. I even used it in a draft chapter of the thesis that was not included in the final version. It then chronciles the company’s participation in several major engagements in the Western Theater of the war, including Corinth, Vicksburg, and Atlanta, including the end of the war.

The book centers around the letters of Private Thomas Jefferson Davis to his wife throughout the war and is supplemented by newspaper articles and reports on the regiment as well as letters written by other soldiers in the company intended for publication. Nanzig does an excellent job of combining these rich sources into a coherent story of one Federal unit during the war. This book reads like many other histories, but has the benefit of narrower focus, where the individual soldiers are able to come alive more, as they are examined against the company of roughly one hundred instead of the regiment of one thousand.

There are a couple other great things about this book in addition to the rich source material. Nanzig provided readers good analysis of the material. Further, he included several sections after the bibliography, including statistics for the regiment and Company C, an organizational chart of the 18th Wisconsin, and a roster for Company C. These provide important information for better understanding of the source material in the text.

In addition, Nanzig relies on good sources outside of the soldiers’ materials. These include works by Allan Nevins, James McPherson, as well as early works by Stephen Ambrose and the reports of the Wisconsin adjutant general during the war, which are vital to studying soldiers. These materials provide a strong scholarly background for this work.

Overall, this is an insightful work into a Wisconsin infantry unit and provides a wonderful look into the lives of common Union soldiers. It is easy to read and well-edited. Scholars and general audiences alike will find value in this work. Scholars should examine this for their own research into Civil War soldiers and should consider using this in classes on the war, as students will find it accessible and compelling. General readers will enjoy an intimate connection to the boys in blue, as they (the soldiers) write to loved ones back home, and reporters tell the story of the Badax Tigers. The Badax Tigers should be on the shelf of every library that includes Civil War material.

My H-Net review of Campaign for Corinth

I just had my latest H-Net review published. I usually only post the link to give H-Net the traffic. I reviewed the book Campaign for Corinth by Steven Dossman for H-CivWar.

Click here to read the review.

I hope you enjoy the review.

Review of James McPherson’s Abraham Lincoln

abe-lincoln-coverJames M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2009). 96 pp. $12.95. ISBN13:  9780195374520.

In honor of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, renowned Civil War scholar James M. McPherson has written a wonderful brief biography of our 16th President. This book will be a wonderful source for beginners to study Lincoln and will serve as a good framework for larger works, like David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln.

This book covered the important aspects of Lincoln’s life from his birth and childhood in Kentucky and Indiana to his coming to Illinois, to his administration and death. McPherson discussed Lincoln’s tarnished relationship with his father and his wonderful relationship with his step-mother, which presented a more personal side of the man.

Though short, this book does a great job of discussing Lincoln’s life in the larger context of American history. McPherson summarized the important moments and events during his life and provided a wonderful look at the war and its effect on him.

True to his scholarly reputation, McPherson used great sources for this little biography, including the Collected Works of Lincoln and Lincoln at Cooper Union to name a couple. In addition to using great primary and secondary sources, McPherson provided a bibliographic essay that provided a great synthesis of the historiography of Lincoln and where it may be heading in the coming year.

There are many things to like about this book. It is a well-researched, but brief biography that will reach a wide audience. The reputation of James McPherson as a scholar lends great weight to the legitimacy of this biography. Abraham Lincoln is a wonderful beginning to the scholarly celebration of the Lincoln bicentennial.

Review of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War

pig-to-cw2H. W. Crocker, III wrote an interesting take on the bloodiest conflict in our history. The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War attempted to present the war that is often left out of classrooms today. His book will resonate with those who have interests and sympathy to the Confederacy, but may make pro-Union persons a little uncomfortable. There were some things with this work that I liked and some things I did not like.

I enjoyed the chapters devoted to important battles of the war and leaders of the war, as they were relatively balanced between Union and Confederate sides. The book discussed several of the major battles and campaigns of the war and the important items to remember surrounding them, which is good for those unfamiliar with the war.

Despite being overwhelmingly pro-Southern, I found Crocker’s treatment of Grant and Sherman to be quite fair and loved his view of McClellan as the wrong leader for a field army. The biographical sketches were very good, albeit a little slanted towards the South.

That said, there were a number of things that troubled me about this work. Most significant is its heavy emphasis on supposed positive aspects of the South. The attempt at justifying secession is especially odd, as while one can legitimize secession through the Declaration of Independence, the fact is that the Southern states either ratified or entered into the Union under the terms of the Constitution, which trumps the Declaration as supreme law of the land. Searching through the Constitution, I could find no reference to secession. In fact, even if Southerners objected to Lincoln’s call for troops to suppress the rebellion via Article IV, Section 4, they would have no ground to stand upon. That part of the Constitution states:

The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.

This section clearly applied to states within the United States, which did not include the Confederacy, as they had left the Union, despite Lincoln’s government not recognizing the legitimacy of secession.

The second issue I had with this book was how Crocker viewed the Confederacy and their leaders. He characterized the South and its military and political leaders as the epitome of chivalry and honor, seeming to take the issue of slavery out of the equation. While there were some noble characteristics to the antebellum South, the sin of slavery completely negated the perceived good. He stressed the view of slavery and treatment towards African Americans held by generals like Jackson, Lee, and even Forrest, which while it may have been true, it seems to sugar coat that they fought for a country that retained slavery.

In continuation with his positive view of the Confederacy, Crocker went as far as to conjecture that the CSA would have eventually outlawed slavery, as had other Western nations. While some saw slavery fading away to extinction by 1900, a separate Confederacy established with slavery intact would have been less likely to abolish it, as the African American population was such a significant portion of its population that the risk of a Haitian-like insurrection would have been too great for many white Southerners to risk emancipation. Further, he claimed a few times that Southerners had and would have had better race relations than the North. Yes, because African Americans would have dropped the matter of slavery and gotten along with their fellow Southerners.

He continued his counter factual examination by offering the possibility of a Confederate Cuba and the two nations helping win World War I earlier, thanks to Southern eagerness to jump in with Britain. He argued that eventual reunification would have occurred after World War II.  This is too far-fetched even for me, who enjoys counter factual scenarios, as I would see such a sharp divide between the two nations, given the vast differences between the regions during the war, which would eventually create such a difference in culture that a reunification may have been likened to the German reunification, where the former East Germany has more economic problems than the West.

Another aspect of this book that I raise issue with was the sections in the book entitled “Books Yankees Don’t Want You to Read.” These sections include works by Richard Weaver and Jefferson Davis. The issue is that “Yankees” are not against such works, but want them placed within their context. Many of the works listed in these blurbs are of a more pro-Confederate sentiment and some reflect the Lost Cause mentality, which does not make them illegitimate, but merely means that the works must be both understood for what they are and balanced against other sources.

Crocker’s scholarship was another area of concern, as while he cited some hard hitting authors, including James McPherson, Shelby Foote, and Gary Gallagher, he did not analyze these scholars. Further, his notations were few and far between, which left the reader questioning where he came up with some of his conclusions. This is coupled with some dubious claims made against historians, which included that professors compare the Confederacy to Nazi Germany and Lee to Erwin Rommel. I have sat in two Civil War courses with two different professors with vastly different world views and never heard this. Had Crocker cited examples of this in college classrooms, I would have been convinced, but since no such evidence was provided, I await examples.

Overall, the idea behind the book is a noble one, to present the Civil War that may be left out of the classroom today. However, the result was a book that is in need of some improvement. The positive of this book is that it hopefully will encourage people to do more reading on the war, as there are many wonderful books out there to provide a balanced look at the war without political correctness. The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War is certainly politically incorrect, but it is not the Civil War that my father or I learned about.

Review of Two Brothers, One North, One South

two-brothersJones, David H.  Two Brothers, One North, One South.  Encino, CA:  Staghorn Press, 2008.  320pp, ISBN 13:  978-0-9796898-5-7, $24.95.

David H. Jones has provided one of the latest additions to the genre of historical fiction on the Civil War, a genre that includes such works as Killer Angels, Gods and Generals, and the Civil War trilogy written by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen to name a few.  The novel intertwines real individuals, including Walt Whitman, and members of the Prentiss family, into a story that illustrated the brother against brother nature of the war.

The story began at a Union hospital, where Whitman befriends a young Confederate soldier from Maryland, who is dying from wounds suffered at Petersburg.  When the young man, William Prentiss passes, Whitman meets his older brothers, including Clifton, who was also wounded and served in the Union army.  Whitman began to tell the brothers what he learned from his conversations with William, in an attempt to help them learn about their brother and his experience during the war, as they had become estranged due to different opinions on the war.

Together, Whitman and the Prentiss brothers presented a story of the war that is rich and lively.  The reader shifts from Armory Square Hospital in Washington, in 1865, back to pre-war Baltimore and countless other places in the Eastern Theater of the war.  William Prentiss, the youngest son of a staunch Union abolitionist father and educator, owing to strong influence of pro-Southern peers, especially the Cary sisters, decides to join Confederate forces when hostilities commence.  His brother Clifton, who attempted to dissuade William, takes up arms for the Union.  William’s father, John, takes his son’s decision to fight for the Confederacy especially hard, calling William a “damned traitor”.(81)  Throughout the war, the brothers experienced such battles as Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Petersburg.  The chapters weave a wonderful tale that discusses daily life in the army, as well as the involvement of women in the war.

The goal of Jones’ book was to present the war in the manner that Whitman hoped, as he (Whitman) feared that the real war would be lost to succeeding generations.  While this is a noble ideal, given the vast number of books on the war from a non-fiction standpoint, the real nature of the war has not been lost, as Whitman feared.  However, Jones does provide, through his story, a good example of the nature of the war.

While the story was good, there were some problems.  First, the book has an air of Confederate bias.  While the story is attempting to help the brothers understand William’s service in the war, there is too much focus on characters, like the Cary sisters and other Southern sympathizers.  This focus on Southerners, coupled with some dialogue that seems haughty for normal conversation, even for the nineteenth century, could turn off some readers too early. The back story surrounding them added intrigue to the story, but detracted from understanding the experience of the men in battle.  Further, more focus on Clifton’s service in the Federal army would have better illustrated the brother against brother nature of the conflict.  The back and forth shift in time of the story is a good concept, but more detail on the Prentiss family would have helped.  While the immediate pre-war events in Baltimore are discussed and others hinted at, a fuller explanation of how the family, especially with adult children in other locales, reacted to events like John Brown’s raid, the election of Lincoln, and secession would have better explained the split that occurred between the family members.

David Jones crafted a unique piece of Civil War historical fiction.  Intertwining real people and real places with fictional characters provides a great story about the war that, hopefully, will lead readers to explore the vast non-fiction literature on the conflict.  Though there are some issues with the book, readers should delight in Jones masterful storytelling.

Author’s Note: I would like to encourage you all that have read the book to pose questions and comments, as David Jones will be visiting here as part of the TLC Book Tour.

Review of Mr. Lincoln’s Brown Water Navy by Gary D. Joiner

Joiner, Gary D. Mr. Lincoln’s Brown Water Navy: The Mississippi Squadron. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007. 224 pp. Photographs, maps. ISBN 10: 0-7425-5098-2 $24.95

History professor Gary Joiner has written a wonderful work discussing the role played by the navy in securing the Mississippi River for the Union during the Civil War. Joiner has added to the historiography on both the Civil War and naval history in general through this detailed account that leaves the reader with knowledge on a relatively unknown subject of Civil War history.

Joiner notes in his preface that the Union navy on the Mississippi River is one of the least studied aspects of the war. He argues for the importance of studying this topic by claiming that the Union may have lost the war in the West and possibly the East if not for the actions of the navy in supporting the land campaign in the West.(p. xi) Throughout the book, Joiner does an excellent job of providing a vast amount of information on this overlooked area, as well as proving the validity of his thesis.

He begins his examination by presenting a background history on the initial Union strategy, the Anaconda Plan, and the major players involved (Gideon Welles, Gustavas Fox, and Winfield Scott), including brief biographies, as well as a brief history of the American navy. He then describes, with incredible detail, the creation of the first vessels that made up the gunboat fleet and the men behind them. Joiner not only discusses the specifications of the vessels, but also delves into the personal squabbles among various persons involved in the creation of these first crafts.

Joiner then tackles the navy’s role in the rivers as the war heats up in the West. He devotes chapters to the major events of the Western Theater of the war. He first focuses on the early stage of the war in the West, with Forts Henry and Donelson, and Shiloh, the capture of New Orleans and the lower valley, as well as failed early attempts at seizing Vicksburg. He then discusses in great detail the role of the brown water navy during the Vicksburg Campaign and later Red River Valley Campaign, finally culminating in the end of the war. Along the journey, Joiner introduces several important figures (including Admirals Andrew Foote and David Dixon Porter) and vessels mostly forgotten by history. Readers will enjoy the vivid detail provided for naval battles, as heroic officers lead their vessels into many battles on the rivers, sometimes with disastrous results.

Joiner’s scholarship is very solid, with notes appearing at the end of each chapter. His bibliography is solid, with many primary sources used in his research, including The War of the Rebellion: the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies and the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. His secondary sources are a good collection, with many being recent works, which provide his book with a solid historiography to draw upon on Civil War naval history. His use of photographs is quite helpful, as they illustrate the many ships that he mentions in his work. The only area that he seems to lack in is newspapers, citing only four newspapers in his bibliography. While this is not a major problem and may result from most newspapers not covering the story, it would be interesting to read what Northern papers and more Southern papers wrote about the brown water navy.

Overall, Gary Joiner has greatly added to the historiography of Civil War naval history and has hopefully shed enough light on the subject to motivate other scholars to research the subject further. This book is worth reading by many audiences, including professional historians, Civil War buffs, naval history enthusiasts, and those interested in early examples of joint force operations. This books is also recommended for use by educators for classes dealing with the Civil War, as it provides a new angle for students studying the war and is an easy read. Mr. Lincoln’s Brown Water Navy is one book that readers will find hard to put down.

Review of Sheridan’s Lieutenants

I wrote this review for the July 2006 issue of The Journal of Military History, which is put out by the Society for Military History.

book cover

Sheridan’s Lieutenants: Phil Sheridan, His Generals, and the Final Year of the Civil War. By David Coffey. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. ISBN 0-7425-4306-4. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliographical essay. Index. Pp. xxx, 173. $22.95.

In Sheridan’s Lieutenants, historian David Coffey tells the story of Phil Sheridan, commander of the Cavalry Corps under Ulysses S. Grant, and his subordinates during the final year of the Civil War. Coffey gives detailed biographical sketches of the generals who comprised Sheridan’s staff, men like George A. Custer, George Crook, and others, who aided Sheridan in his command greatly.

Coffey examines Sheridan’s command in a chronological as well as geographical manner. After devoting the first two chapters to the composition of the command itself as well as the disastrous battles of the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, and Spotsylvania Courthouse, he examines the formation of the Army of the Shenandoah, which Sheridan commands, and the ensuing Valley Campaign. Within this examination, Coffey focuses on the Battles of Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek and the scorched earth policy pursued by Sheridan in the valley. Coffey notes acts of brutality on both sides in addition to the destruction of barns, farm implements, livestock, and crops throughout the area.

The focus then shifts to central Virginia and Sheridan’s staff’’s involvement in the siege of Petersburg and attempting to defeat Lee‚’s army including the Appomattox Campaign. Coffey mentions the Battles of Five Forks and Sayler’s Creek, and, Sheridan’’s blocking of Lee’’s escape route at Appomattox. The epilogue deals with the post-war careers of Sheridan and his “lieutenants”, and how many went on to great fame. In addition, Coffey notes the future demise of one of Sheridan’s favorite subordinates, George A. Custer, who would later meet disaster at Little Big Horn in 1876.

Coffey‚’s scholarship is quite good, as he uses memoirs, biographies, and the 128 volumes of The War of the Rebellion, or ““OR“”. His use of good notes as well as a solid bibliographic essay lend to his work the credibility needed for academic use. In addition, the work is further aided by maps, both battlefield and regional, and photographs of Sheridan, Grant, Sheridan‚’s ‚“lieutenants‚”, and his Confederate opponents, which provide a more vivid picture of the command and campaigns discussed within Coffey’s work.

While not long on pagination, Coffey packs each page with detail allowing for great acquisition of knowledge of a man, his command, and the places they were. Sheridan’s Lieutenants is worth more in historical value than the actual price, as it provides great scholarship and information into a less known piece of Civil War history. Historians and general readers would be wise to consider placing this work on their reading list.

Review of A Civil War Soldier’s Diary: Valentine C. Randolph, 39th Illinois Regiment.

This review of mine will appear in an upcoming issue of On Point, the quarterly publication of the Army Historical Foundation.

book coverA Civil War Soldier’s Diary: Valentine C. Randolph, 39th Illinois Regiment. Edited by David D. Roe. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006. 290pp. Maps. ISBN-10: 0-87580-343-1. Cloth $35.00

This is one of the best-written accounts of the Civil War from a soldier for a diary or memoir. Valentine C. Randolph takes the reader on a journey from the small town of Lincoln, Illinois to the eastern theater of the war. Along the way, Randolph served in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina with the 39th Illinois Infantry Regiment until his discharge in September 1864. The reader will find himself or herself feeling as if they are with Randolph both in camp and on the battlefield.

Randolph’s diary reads like most soldier diaries. Most entries involve commenting on the weather, battles, sickness (Randolph notes this quite often, as he ends up in the hospital for several months with apparent malaria), and daily happenings in the camps. However, Randolph’s diary has certain unique qualities that set it apart from other published sources and unpublished sources. Besides being a common soldier, Randolph is an educated soldier. The biographical section provided by Roe notes that Randolph attended the preparatory school at Illinois College (the alma mater of this reviewer), which gave him training in Classics. Randolph occasionally using Latin phrases in his entries evidences this.

Another interesting characteristic is Randolph’s religious devotion, which is interspersed throughout the diary. He typically mentions when it is the Sabbath and often mentions the church services and other religious events occurring while he is in the Army. The biography notes that he attended college after the war, earning his Bachelor of Divinity degree. He then became a Methodist preacher and eventually professor of Greek and Latin at a Methodist college in Illinois. This all supports Dr. Steven Woodworth’s assertion on the back cover of Randolph being “the most educated and articulate private soldier I’ve ever encountered by way of a diary or memoirs.”

Randolph’s entries are very much worth reading, as it gives a first-hand account of the journey of not only him, but also his regiment through much of the war. However, the commentary by Stephen Wise allows the reader to gain an understanding of the work well. This is a double-edged sword, as the reader is tempted to just read the commentary and skip the entries, which warrants reminding the reader that they are reading a diary from a soldier and not a regimental history.

This book adds to the overall scholarship available to historians and general readers on Civil War soldiers, which is a growing field in history. In addition to Randolph’s entries, the book possesses other good qualities. The book is well researched, containing many informative content footnotes as well as maps and an index, which aid readers in locating places Randolph notes, and, finding specific topics to use the diary for research. David Roe, the editor and Stephen Wise, the commentator, have done an excellent job of presenting Randolph’s diary to today’s readers. Randolph’s diary stands out as a wonderful source for readers to begin learning about the enlisted man. Military readers will connect with Randolph, as he notes things that many soldiers face in the field, like weather and battle. Overall, this book is necessary reading for Civil War enthusiasts.