Monday, July 27, 2015

Guerrilla Hunters in Civil War Missouri review

Guerrilla Hunters in Civil War Missouri. By James W. Erwin. Illustrated, photos, maps, bibliography, index, 144 pp., 2013, History Press,, $19.99 softcover.
Most of the books on the guerrilla warfare in Missouri focus on the Southern partisans, men like William Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson.This book attempts to even the playing field a bit and reveal more about the men who fought the more well known Confederate guerrillas.
The author does a good job of explaining the different types of units operating in Missouri.From the beginning Missouri Governor Hamilton Gamble saw that units from other states were not quite suited to the task.There were many slave owning Unionists in Missouri but soldiers from other states tended to treat them roughly because of that.Gamble thought locally raised troops would be more sensitive to that demographic.He sought permission from Lincoln to raise the Missouri State Militia which would replace the poorly equipped Home Guards.The Missouri State Militia would be mostly run by Gamble, and used only for the defense of the state.These units would make up the bulk of the guerrilla hunters.Lincoln also stipulated though that the Union army department commander would also be the commander of the MSM.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Shiloh: Conquer or Perish review

Shiloh: Conquer or Perish. By Timothy B. Smith. Illustrated, photos, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index, 583 pp., 2014, University Press of Kansas,, $34.95.
The lament of most Western theater students is that there are not enough books published on the theater they deem the most important.There will likely be more books published on Gettysburg this year than Shiloh has had in the last 40 years.One thing Shiloh enthusiasts have going for them now though is that there is a new large history of the battle.Excusing the 2007 printing of an older dissertation this is the first Shiloh history since Larry Daniel’s in 1997.
One thing that stands out right away in Smith’s book is that each day of the battle is examined in the same detail.Most books devote the lion’s share to the first day of battle, treating the second like an after thought.Smith instead devotes nearly as many pages to the second day of battle as he does to the first.
Terrain played a big part in how the battle unfolded and it was interesting to see it described as an hour glass.This hour glass of high ground would affect each day’s fighting.On day one it allowed the Union to withdraw into a secure compact position while on the second day as the Confederates retreat they have to defend a larger area. I don’t believe I’d heard the terrain described this way but it makes sense.
Although there has not been many large battle histories published the study of Shiloh has been helped with many smaller books and articles.Smith has been able to convert all of this scholarship into a more modern view point on the battle than was previously available.
This is a great book that will soon become to the go to source for Shiloh.As a student of the battle I hope we do not have to wait another 17 years for someone to further our insight into this complex battle.Until then though this book deserves a place on the shelves of everyone interested in how and why the battle of Shiloh was fought.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Confederate Generals in the Trans Mississippi review

Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi: Essays on America's Civil War. Vol. 1. Edited by Lawrence Lee Hewitt with Arthur W. Bergeron Jr. and Thomas E. Schott. Illustrated, photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 328 pp., 2013, Tennessee,, $54.95.
General students of the Civil War think of the Trans-Mississippi theater as the dumping ground for failed generals from the other theaters.This series of essays though attempts to show that there were quite a few really good Trans-Mississippi generals.It follows in the steps of the three volumes previously done on Western theater Confederate generals which helped illuminate some of the lesser known characters of the war.
The Confederate generals covered in this volume are a mixture of the well known, such as Thomas C Hindman, Theophilus H Holmes, Edmund Kirby Smith, Joseph Orville Shelby, and John S Marmaduke. And then covers others that are only familiar to more serious students of this far flung theater, commanders like Mosby Monroe Parsons, Thomas James Churchill, and Tom Green.
One of my favorite essays was the one on Parsons, a general I knew little about beforehand.Parsons comes off as one of the better combat brigadier generals in the entire Trans-Mississippi.My only complaint with the essay is that it is only the first half of the story. Parsons’ career as a division commander in 1864 is promised to be one of the essays whenever volume two comes out. I enjoyed this essay so much that I will probably go straight to the second half of the story when the next volume comes out, no matter if its chapter one or eight.
Another essay I enjoyed was Churchill’s, primarily because he is another general I was not well acquainted with.His generalship comes off as a mixed bag.He had some bright moments but also made his share of mistakes.He also had the bad luck of being in command at Arkansas Post when a much larger Union force attacked him.There was little he could have done to win the battle but the surrender was still a stain on his reputation.
I personally would have enjoyed more essays on the lesser known generals but also appreciate that having a mixture of spectrum makes the overall book a more balanced contribution to the theater’s literature.
One strength of the collection is that all the essays are recent contributions to the field.None of the essays are reprints of something done 40 years ago. This does not always mean its 100% original as some of these authors have covered similar ground in other books and articles but its at least recent scholarship.For the price I’m glad that none of the essays is from a book I could have read decades ago.
I think this would be a very worthy addition to anyone’s Trans-Mississippi bookshelf or could be the starting point for someone to begin their journey into this previously neglected theater.

Monday, July 20, 2015

return to blogging

I'm getting my feet wet again at blogging.  I used to have two blogs, Battlefield Wanderings and the Battle of Shiloh.  I've now merged the two into one.  Partly to have it all centralized but also because I had a rough time getting the original Battlefield Wanderings site to cooperate properly.  Please update (or add again) your favorites to follow the blog at battleshiloh.blogspot.

I've had a few trips since this blog went dark that I'll be adding over the coming months; Vicksburg, Seattle, and Illinois, as well as adding some older trips in as well. 

Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale review

Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale: The Battle of Chickamauga, September 18-20, 1863. By William Lee White. Illustrated, photos, maps, orders of battle, 192 pp., 2013, Savas Beatie,, $12.95 softcover.
There has never been a better time to a Western theater enthusiast. There will always be more books on Gettysburg than on any other battle but in recent years the pure volume of books on Western theater battles has steadily increased. The latest offering in this theater comes from a Chickamauga park ranger, and local, William Lee White. This is an excellent book that walks the fine line between being a general overview but gives enough detail for a more knowledgeable audience.
The book’s format is that in each chapter White explains a phase of the battle then has a driving tour that takes you to that spot. Although many of the photos are small there are period and modern photos are on nearly every page to help show the terrain, monuments or the commanders involved. I read it from the comfort of my home a thousand miles from Chickamauga but felt that the directions were easy to follow. Also having been to Chickamauga many times the directions and modern photos helped jog my memory of what is at each tour stop. If you read the book while on the battlefield it would only enhance the experience.
I’m tempted to compare it to the other Chickamauga tour guide, the War College Version, Guide to the Battle of Chickamauga, written by Matt Spruill roughly 16 years ago. The main difference between the two is that Spruill’s version uses the primary sources, mainly the official reports from the commanders to explain the battle while White’s version is a narrative account he distilled from the primary and secondary sources. White’s book is probably an easier read but Spruill’s puts you in the commanders’ shoes more as they make their decisions. I don’t think I could pick owning just one. For someone just entering the study of Chickamauga though White’s book is a more accessible read.
I also enjoyed the appendices, especially the one of the civilians who lived on the battlefield at the time. They are always mentioned in battle histories but for some of them this was the most detail I’ve previously seen, at least in one short chapter.
The one complaint I do have with Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale is that the driving tour stays within the national park. There is a wealth of other sites outside the park but the book does not take you to those. For the times it discusses actions outside the park it would not have been difficult to take the visitor there. This is a relatively minor complaint though for an overall great book.

Friday, November 15, 2013

march to Raymond

Day one of the trip ended with us oin the Grand Gulf area.  The next morning instead of back tracking all the way down to Grand Gulf to follow the army to Raymond we took a more direct route and meet up with the army halfway there, near Old Auburn.  Then we followed the army on its march toward the battle of Raymond.  Its a nice drive with state historical markers peppered along the way.  Here are just a few.
From this spot a portion of the XIII Corps moved north along the road on the left and secured Whitaker's Ford, helping to secure Grant's left flank.

When Grant reached here on May 12 the bridge was burning.  Union cavalry then fought with Confederate cavalry under Wirt Adams and by 11 AM had secured a bridgehead over Fourteenmile Creek and could then move forward.

Not far from the bridge is the Dillon Farm.  Grant spent the evening of the 12th here and learned of the battle earlier that day at Raymond.  He changed his plans here and decided to go to Jackson instead of his earlier plan of a more march more to the north.

Nearby is the family cemetery.

And next to the cemetery is the Natchez Trace.  Although it feels remote the Dillon Farm was near the intersection of two pretty important roads.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Port Gibson

We had a little problem at Port Gibson.  We got turned around and a bit lost.  Then once we did find out the right roads we were discourged by the locals on driving down to the Shaifer House as they were worried about the coming rain.  In retrospect the rain wasn't bad and we probably could have made it but better safe than sorry.
The thing these pictures do not do justice to is just how rough the country is.  Deep ravines and roads along the spines of the high ground.  You get a good impression of how hard it would be coordinate a battle when you can't move anywhere near line of sight.

In the town of Port Gibson was this nice Confederate monument.  Grant reportedly called the town too beautiful to burn.  I think though that he wanted the town as a supply base and didn't want it as a burned out ruin.  We tend to forget but Grant wasn't really living off the land during this portion of the Vicksburg campaign.  He had a long wagon train that was following him.

This was a common scene as we'd pile out of cars near a marker.  We'd all take our pictures, then discuss where we were in the battle, and how it fit into the larger picture of what was happening.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


 According to some brochures the Windsor Ruins is one of the most photographed places in Mississippi.  We did our part to keep it among the top.
Windsor was a big plantation at the time of the battle of Port Gibson.  It wasn't involved in the fighting but served as a field hospital.  These pictures don't do it justice for its size and beauty.  There is a marker that shows what it would have looked like but all that's left is these columns.

The lady at the chamber of commerce told us that this tree was here at the time of the battle and is where the amputated limbs were piled up.  No idea if its true but took a picture of the witness tree just to be safe.

I got a new camera before the trip so I played with the zoom function a bit.  This was a good playground for that.