Friday, July 31, 2015

Gateway to the Confederacy review

Gateway to the Confederacy: New Perspectives on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1862-1863. Edited by Evan C. Jones and Wiley Sword. Illustrated, photos, maps, notes, index, 336 pp., 2014, LSU,, $39.95.
The battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga are rapidly becoming the most written about Western theater battles in recent years.Our understanding of these battles is becoming greater and our perspectives of what happened, plus the how and why, are growing as well.Adding to this greater, and varied, view of these battles is a new collection of ten essays that tries to shed light on lesser known aspects of the campaigns and challenge the common story in other areas.
One area that has been long overlooked is the 1862 campaign for Chattanooga led by Union General Don Carlos Buell that came up short when Confederates led by Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith launched an offensive into Kentucky.That missed opportunity gets treatment here under the well known Army of the Ohio scholar Gerald Prokopowicz.
Rising Chickamauga historian David Powell adds two essays, one on Nathan Bedford Forrest’s lackluster, yet typically acclaimed, role in the campaign that has also been the subject of one of his books, and another on the growth of the Army of the Cumberland.This focuses on some changes being made at the staff level and also how the army was structured to fight.Generally overlooked areas but provides great insight into how William Rosecrans prepared his army.
One of my favorite essays was “A Tale of Two Orders” by William Glenn Robertson.This covers the well known order from Rosecrans to Wood that created the hole in the Union line, but also the order that was to bring on the Confederate dawn attack on September 20th.Both have their myths and, as far as I recall, this is the most through rehash of how the Confederates failed to get the orders through in time as I can recall.Commanders and their orderlies barely missed each other in the fog shrouded forest on the evening of September 19th, then later the finger pointing would begin.
Another essay I especially liked was the one detailing the Grant-Rosecrans feud.This is something that battle histories don’t have the space to delve into as deeply as here, and magazines articles lack enough space.Evan Jones explains masterfully the feud in all its complexities.
Overall this is a very nice collection of essays from many preeminent modern Chickamauga historians.I would highly recommend adding this volume to the growing Chickamauga shelf.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Embattled Captial: Frankfort, Kentucky in the Civil War review

Embattled Capital: Frankfort, Kentucky in the Civil War. By James M. Prichard. Illustrated, photos, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index, 296 pp., 2014, Frankfort Heritage Press,, $39.95.
This is an interesting story of the Kentucky capital during the war.Like much of Kentucky it was controlled by both sides at different times.In fact the author points out that since Kentucky did not secede it was the only loyal state capital captured by the Confederates during the war.
Kentucky’s attempt to remain neutral was more the symptom of the underlying issue than the cause of the strife.There were too many supporters of both sides for Kentucky to have unilaterally declared allegiance to either faction.This led to attempts at neutrality but eventually brought the state into open conflict.
Frankfort was a very small town during the Civil War, just over 3000 people and a third of them were slaves.Like much of Kentucky when the war was over the discharged soldiers returned home with neighbors they may have fought against. This led to a very uneasy peace in Kentucky and the author points out many cases where guerilla warfare still smoldered through the fall of 1865.
This book is very detailed in examining the lives of Frankfort’s citizens, some who became soldiers, as well as soldiers sent to garrison the town.One thing it is lacking though is a good map of the city so one could see where all these places where in relation to each other, as well as use it now to see what remains.Oddly the interior cover has a bit of a map, and there are a few other pieces of maps in the book, but it lacks one cohesive map to bring it all together.As someone who likes to visit the places where the events happened a good map would have been greatly appreciated.
I especially liked the roster at the end of the book that covered all soldiers from Frankfort, and Franklin County; both Union and Confederate.For some the listing is pretty basic, what company and regiment they were in, and when the mustered in and out.For others though there is a good more detail about the man, such as his life before and after the war.Some even have a picture, although these pictures leave a bit to be desired as they are only thumb sized; however some had a larger picture in the main text so it’s not as large an issue.
This is a very beautiful book that is put together more like a coffee table book than a history book with its large glossy pages.It has many wonderful pictures and illustrations; in fact it is rare to have more than a page or two in a row without some sort of illustration. Overall I would recommend this book as one that helps illuminate the struggles that Frankfort, and Kentucky in general, experienced during and after the war due to its border state status.

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.