Friday, July 15, 2016

New and Noteworthy--At Gettysburg Was Barksdale's Charge The Real High Water Mark of the Confederacy?

Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, Phillip Thomas Tucker, Casemate Publishi8ng, 2013. Pp. 313.
  
Review by CiarĂ¡n Dean-Jones For Michigan War Studies Review, July 1, 2016.
Portions of Dean-Jones review:
....In Barksdale’s Charge, Phillip Tucker (PhD, St. Louis Univ.), a former historian for the US Air Force, reexamines the Battle of Gettysburg (1–3 July 1863). Southern mythology has traditionally given Gen. George Pickett’s Charge (3 July) pride of place in its remembrance of the pivotal battle of the Civil War. Tucker offers a different view:
In truth, Gettysburg was decided not on the famous third day of the battle, but on the previous after-noon…. [T]he charge of General William Barksdale and his 1,600-man Mississippi Brigade … came closer to toppling the Army of the Potomac than any other Rebel offensive effort of the war…. [I]n one of the great inequities of American history, Barksdale’s Charge has long remained in the shadow of “Pickett’s Charge,” thanks largely to the dominance of the Virginia School of history. (1, 3)
....
 Tucker indicts Longstreet and Lee for not supporting Barksdale’s troops. “Longstreet, who had never wanted to launch the tactical offensive this afternoon, was not only more pessimistic but out-right defeatist. He ordered no troops to follow up behind Barksdale” (176). Lee’s overconfidence in his corps commanders compounded the problem, since he “failed to closely supervise and manage the offensive effort, especially in supporting Barksdale’s dramatic breakthrough…. Lee possessed no strategic reserve to follow-up [sic] on Barksdale’s success, or any other that might be achieved that day” (176). By contrast, Meade and his artillery chief Henry Hunt made good use of their reserves during the Second Corps’ retreat up Cemetery Ridge. “Unfortunately for the Mississippi Brigade, the Army of the Potomac … benefited from the availability of a powerful artillery reserve, unlike Lee’s Army, which had made the fatal error of abolishing its artillery reserve corps just before invading the North” (213).
....  
Barksdale’s Charge tells a tale of immense valor at the brigade level frustrated by the ill-coordinated tactical decisions of division and corps commanders: “while the army’s commander and his top lieutenant had been badly outgeneraled on July 2, the Mississippi Brigade had not been out-fought by any unit on either side” (244). Hood wrote after the war, “Thus it was that the 21st Mississippi Regiment bore the Stars and Bars to the very farthest point reached in the enemy’s line on the bloody field of Gettysburg” (243). Meade wrote in his after-battle report that “Sickles’ unauthorized advance to the Peach Orchard was ‘an error which nearly proved fatal in the battle’” (259). Phillip Tucker has demonstrated in detail the truth of these judgments.
The entire book review is at:   Michigan War Studies Review, July 1, 2016

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

News---Gettysburg NPS Begins Rehabilitation On Ziegler's Grove, Ziegler's Ravine and Re-Construction Hancock Avenue Gates

The 1923 Hancock Avenue gateway at Taneytown Road, then and now

Rehabbing Cemetery Ridge, The Fields of Gettysburg Weblog, May 21, 2015

Construction is beginning in mid-July 2016 on $1.5 million dollar project to rehabilitate Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg National Military Park.  The nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation  will provide a grant of $900,000 to match National Park Service funding of $600,000 for this stewardship project.  

Then and Now: The 1923 Hancock Avenue gateway at Taneytown Road
 
This photo was taken on May 20, 2015 at the site of the Hancock Avenue gate at Taneytown Road.  The footing of the old stone gate is clearly visible today. The Hancock Avenue entrance gates that were built in 1923 will be rebuilt .  There were earlier gates of different designs.  In 1882, the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association created an opening in the stone wall on the west side of Taneytown Road for access to Hancock Avenue.  The first version, in 1889, was a wood and wire gate.  A later version, in 1896, included iron fencing (see photo) from the original fence that had surrounded Lafayette Square Park in Washington, D.C. – the same iron fencing that now forms the boundary between Evergreen Cemetery and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. The park’s monument specialists have the majority of the historic stones need to rebuild the 1923 gateway. The 1896 version of the Hancock Avenue gate at Taneytown Road used pieces of the old Lafayette Square fence from Washington, D.C. which is closely associated with Daniel Sickles.

The 1896 version of the Hancock Avenue gate at Taneytown Road used pieces of the old Lafayette Square fence from Washington D.C.Ziegler’s Grove and Ziegler's Ravine

During Pickett’s Charge, the left flank of General Pettigrew’s division engaged Union forces in Ziegler’s Grove.  Because Battery I, 1st U.S. Artillery was located in Ziegler’s Grove it was heavily shelled during the pre-assault bombardment, inflicting numerous casualties on the battery’s infantry support, the 108th New York, and other nearby infantry units. This project will allow us to replant the missing portion of Ziegler’s Grove.  We plan to plant approximately 125 trees including Black Cherry, Shagbark Hickory, Black Gum, White Oak, Red Oak, Tulip Poplar and Honey Locust.

Documentation for reestablishing this ravine comes from a number of sources, including a grading plan in the National Park Service files showing the area before the Cyclorama building parking lot was developed. In addition, archaeology helped establish the exact location of a portion of the original Hancock Avenue during testing completed by the park when we replaced a water line extension in 2006.

Looking toward the the National Cemetery along the old commemorative walkway, this shows the dip known as Ziegler's Ravine.  Hancock Avenue cuts across the far side of the ravine.  The 88th Pa. Marker, in its original location is on the left.Looking toward the National Cemetery along the old commemorative walkway, the photograph shows the dip known as Ziegler's Ravine.  Hancock Avenue cuts across the far side of the ravine. The 88th Pennsylvania Marker, in its original location, is on the left.  The profile of Ziegler's Ravine will be especially noticeable to those driving on Hancock Avenue as the road will proceed down a dramatic dip and then come back up for an approximately six foot change in elevation. The NPS will also rebuild some stone walls near Hancock Avenue and along commemorative walkway that was surfaced with crushed stone.

This posted has been edited from the Text Source: From The Fields of Gettysburg




Monday, July 11, 2016

New and Noteworthy---Bushwacking the Bushwackers and Stealing from the Cotton Smugglers

The Notorious Isaac Earl and His Scouts: Union Soldiers, Prisoners, Spies, Gordon L.Olson, Eerdmans Publishing, 300 pp., 74 illustrations and maps, bibliographic notes, index 2014, $22.00 (paper),
reviewed by Paul Springer for HNet
Gordon L. Olson served as the city historian in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for decades, and in that capacity, he produced several well-received works of local history. With his most recent work, Olson is tackling a subject beyond his normal stomping grounds, but he has done an enormous amount of meticulous research in his effort to examine Isaac Earl, a Union soldier who earned a notorious reputation in Louisiana during the Civil War. Earl and his small, independent command operated as a rudimentary form of special forces, acting alternately as cavalry regulars, armed partisans, spies, and scouts; they had an outsized influence over the course of events in the region during the Union occupation of the southern portion of the state. 
Olson does an admirable job investigating all of the myriad forms of warfare practiced by these daring pioneers and placing it into the context of the vicious backcountry war raging through the area.  Earl and the three dozen men under his command offer a fascinating subject for study; his story is proof that there are still limitless stories to tell from a subject, the American Civil War, that some scholars considered exhausted decades ago. His special scouts unit was formed primarily to conduct economic warfare against Confederate partisans operating in the region. 
In particular, Earl’s men were empowered to seize contraband; to eliminate, or at least seriously curtail, smuggling across the Mississippi River; and to hunt the bushwhackers guilty of attacks against both Union forces and Southern collaborators who sought to cooperate with the occupiers. In this regard, Earl’s forces were remarkably successful, capturing more than one million dollars in contraband, including nearly one thousand bales of cotton, as well as dozens of Confederate prisoners. They also proved extremely effective at developing useful intelligence regarding Confederate movements in the area and ferreting out spies within the Union lines. Earl is portrayed as a larger-than-life Civil War hero, who terrorized his enemies; repeatedly escaped from captivity; and in the end was gunned down by a cowardly enemy who refused to follow the basic concepts of chivalry, or even common decency. 
There is a certain degree of sensationalism in the account, but Olson does an admirable job of parsing the fact from fiction to portray Olson in a clear and convincing fashion.Olson has a very easy, smooth writing style, the product of decades of effort within the profession. It is bolstered by a clear organization and a wealth of sources. This work is clearly the product of decades of effort, a labor of love performed when official duties would allow. The result has very believable conclusions, based largely on excellent primary sources. 
It is clear that Olson is enamored with the subject of his study. Unfortunately, however, a certain tinge of hero-worship intrudes upon the narrative from time to time, which leads to a certain overstatement of the importance of Earl’s effect on the outcome of the war. In particular, Olson tends to argue that Earl acted entirely out of professionalism and a sense of duty, as did all of the men under his command. The alternate explanation is that some, perhaps most, of Earl’s scouts acted largely out of a desire for plunder, as their official sanction essentially allowed them to operate as free agents, confiscating any private property that they might deem contraband of war. Olson’s armchair generalship can be a bit cloying at times, and a broader examination of the secondary literature might have clarified some of his discussions regarding the overall influence of Earl’s unit on the war in Louisiana. 
In the end, though, Olson resists the urge to push his views too forcefully on the reader and seems content to present the case as he sees it, leaving room for some dissent. Olson’s narrative touches on a number of important subjects. Perhaps most notably, it reminds the reader that guerrilla warfare was the norm in many areas behind the formal lines of battle, not just in Missouri where it has been most thoroughly covered. This study demonstrates the importance of the economic aspects of the conflict, a concept that often disappears into the operational histories of the war, but that might have been just as important as battlefield activities in determining the eventual outcome of the conflict. 
In particular, the effort to control and patrol the entire length of the Mississippi River, a goal that Earl’s scouts pursued relentlessly, is a fundamental part of the story. In addition, the key roles that can be played by small, independent units, particularly those armed with the latest forms of technology, is a recurring theme that has only become more important in modern warfare. The nature of the “shadow war” fought by Earl and his antagonists, when contrasted with the large-scale battles more commonly covered in Civil War works, reminds the reader of the wide variety of violence practiced during the conflict. Further, the roles played by spies, informants, sympathizers, and collaborators, as well as the ability of African American slaves to affect the outcome of the war, are major elements of this narrative.
Overall, this is an excellent biography of a man who had largely fallen into obscurity. At times, Olson includes a bit of redundancy in his narrative, as if determined to show every fact he encountered in years of research, but in a study of this type, a certain degree of reemphasis can be forgiven. This study is an excellent work and would be a worthy addition to the shelf of any individual interested in the Civil War, particularly in Louisiana; the antecedents of special forces; or the irregular aspects of the Civil War. Olson is to be commended for his work in putting Earl back into the discussion of Civil War heroes.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

News---Lend A Hand at Cracking the U.S. Military Telegraph's Encoded Messages Sent During the Civil War

Here’s Your Chance to Decode President Lincoln’s Secret Messages, Edward Rothstein, the Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2016.

A crowd sourced initiative in which anyone can help decipher Civil War telegrams, including messages from Lincoln himself is begin offered by the Huntington Library. The trove of nearly 16,000 Civil War telegrams, formerly belonging to Thomas T. Eckert, are being transcribed and decoded with the help of crowdsourcing platform Zooniverse.org. 

On April 12, 1865—three days after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox and two days before President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated—the president sent a telegram to Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, whose Union forces were occupying Richmond, Va., the former Confederate capital. The message alluded to some of the issues faced by the conquerors. Would churches in the defeated city be permitted to open that Sunday?

Would they be required to offer the customary prayer for the president—now of a newly reunited nation? Lincoln’s telegram begins: “Whats next news I the prayers I to while coming star what you you mean dispatch zebra I you spirit there understanding any if the piloted your offer there such of any and have was I to Emma never seen of of no toby Zodiac…”

The message was written in code. During the war, a large number of such messages had been intercepted by the Confederacy but never deciphered. The Confederacy even took out advertisements in newspapers futilely seeking assistance.

Now, the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens is requesting similar aid in its project “Decoding the Civil War,” collaborating with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, North Carolina State University’s Digital History and Pedagogy Project, and Zooniverse.org., a “crowdsourcing” platform associated with several academic and research institutions. Scans of 15,971 telegrams handled by the U.S. Military Telegraph office during the Civil War have just been put online.


About a hundred were sent by Lincoln; about 5,400 are enciphered. A selection of the pocket-sized code books used to translate the ciphers have also been scanned.During the first phase of this multiyear project, the transcriptions of these handwritten pages will be “crowd sourced”: anybody can register with Zooniverse—some 75,000 participants are expected—and be guided through the process. Collaborative deciphering will begin in the fall—a process that may have its difficulties since some code books did not survive. A combination of software and human scrutiny will evaluate and combine the public contributions. This method is expected to be more efficient than what could be accomplished by the institutions alone.

Before 2009, no one knew these telegrams still existed. The Military Telegraph office at the War Department was one of the crucial links in the Union Army. Lincoln often peered over operators’ shoulders as the messages were sent and received. When the director of that office, Thomas T. Eckert (1825-1910), retired in 1867, there were no laws governing ownership of public documents. He took with him some 35 ledger books along with code books and records of correspondence.

These records were believed lost, making a reappearance only when they were acquired from Eckert’s descendants and sold at auction in 2009 for $36,000. When they were again put up for sale in 2012, their historical value was better recognized. After the government decided it could not afford the Eckert papers, the Huntington, which has one of the most important Lincoln collections in the country, purchased them for an undisclosed sum.

Coding a Union message was laborious. It would first be written out in a grid with dimensions specified by the code, one word per box. The code book would also list two possible substitutes for each important word or person. In the Weitzel telegram, for example, “President of the United States” could have been replaced by either “Bologna” or “Bolivia.” In the text the time “9 AM” is coded as “Emma,” “Richmond” as “Galway” and “Rebel as “Walnut.” Punctuation is also replaced: a period becomes “Zodiac.” This new grid of words—all of them real (thus minimizing typos)—would then be reordered by moving along columns and rows according to rules in the code book.

As long as you had that book, you could work out the message. Six of some 10 code books now survive, with four in the Huntington and others in the possession of the George C. Marshall Foundation; one of the great cryptographers of the 20th century, William F. Friedman (1891-1969), had rescued them as they were about to be incinerated as trash. In some cases, missing code books will make the project’s deciphering particularly challenging.

And what of Lincoln’s message to Weitzel? What was to happen with Richmond’s Sunday prayers? Lincoln may have had his Second Inaugural message in mind, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” He had visited Richmond’s ruins and instructed Weitzel to “let ’em up easy.” Weitzel decided the churches would open that Sunday; no loyalty prayer would be required, but no prayers asserting contrary loyalties would be permitted. War Secretary Edwin Stanton objected to the apparent leniency, but in his coded telegram, Lincoln did not. Decrypted and freed of references to a zebra, Zodiac and Emma, one sentence reads: “I have no doubt you have acted in what appeared to you to be the spirit and temper manifested by me while there.”

Text Source: The Wall Street Journal  
Top Image Source: Plaque commemorating members of the U.S. Military Telegraph Corps from Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Location: Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

Second Image Source: Library of Congress

News: A Hollywood Film With Footnotes and Viewers Guide--The Free State of Jones

Aiming For Accuracy: Free State of Jones, Contingency, and the Meaning of Freedom, Journal of The Civil War Era, June 29, 2016.                                                                                                        The following is an excerpt from the online website of the Journal of The Civil War Era:

"Early in Free State of Jones a Confederate soldier proclaims he is not fighting for slavery but rather “for honor.” His comrades, including poor Mississippi farmer Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), needle him. Considering the “Twenty Negro Law,” Conscription Act, and tax-in-kind law, they point out that their blood only helps slaveholders get richer. After deserting, Knight leads poor farmers and former slaves against conscription, taxation, and re-enslavement. Against a shared enemy, the Confederacy, he brings black and white fugitives together. But when Knight and his black comrades-in-arms attempt to move from the bullet to the ballot box, white allies fade away and white supremacists rise up."


"Beginning at the Battle of Corinth in 1862, Free State of Jones is about a long Reconstruction. It uniquely explores African Americans’ struggle for political and economic rights in the face of white power. Here, emancipation has an asterisk. Slavery ends with the war, but freedom does not follow. After former Confederates return to power and reassert slavery’s white hierarchy, political organizer and ex-slave Moses (Mahershala Ali) captures the reality for black Americans: “We free and we ain’t free.” Unlike other films, Free State of Jones illuminates the contingency of black freedom in the South after the Civil War in the face of white supremacist violence, northern Republican abandonment, and insufficient federal troops. After the battle scenes, the Federal troops are entirely absent."

Jones4"Throughout the film, class, race, and gender overlap and challenge the assumptions of viewers and characters. Women and men, black and white, resist, fight, and survive together. When a white member of Knight’s company tries to deny Moses food because he is black and a fugitive, Moses responds, “How you ain’t?” How, if both are fugitives from compulsory service to slaveholders in a cotton field or on a battlefield, are they different? Through spirituality and experience, Knight considers this equality of the oppressed to be self-evident."

"McConaughey’s portrayal of Knight suggests Nathaniel Bacon and John Brown: a natural leader wild-eyed for solidarity and justice in the face of economic and racial oppression. Director Gary Ross highlights the many methods of resistance employed by fugitive slaves and enslaved people: fleeing to the wilderness, like Moses; remaining on plantations but assisting runaways, like Rachel (Gugu-Mbatha-Raw); remembering, like Moses’ wife (Kesha Bullard Lewis) and son Isaiah (LaJessie Smith). White characters resist Confederate authority similarly, but Ross also delineates the differences in experience. Rachel’s and Moses’s bodies bear witness to their physical and psychological torture, scars that mark the limits of white abilities to fathom black experiences."

Article continued at Aiming For Accuracy: Free State of Jones, Contingency, and the Meaning of Freedom, Journal of The Civil War Era, June 29, 2016:

Text Source:  Muster--Reflections on Popular Culture by the Journal of the Civil War Era

Director Gary Ross' Scene Guide With Footnotes

Gary Ross:  "We felt it was important in an historical movie, especially a movie about such a crucial time in history, for the audience to know what was true and what was fictionalized, even if it was based on underlying source material."

"In this site you will be able to navigate through the entire movie, click the areas that interest you, and see a brief explanation of the historical facts that informed the screenplay. If you are more curious about that part of the movie, we have footnoted the paragraph to see sources on which it is based. But footnotes themselves can be misleading, so if you want to see the entire primary source, you can click again and be transported to the original document. We hope this is helpful, maybe even fun. Some things need to be invented in a movie, but most things in Jones were not. I think it’s only right that you be able to tell which was which." states Gary Ross, Director
 
 At a meeting of the Union League, Moses (Mahershala Ali) and Newt (Matthew McConaughey) tell the Freedman that all citizens shall have the right to vote.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

News--Publisher's Four Titles Receive Awards

Savas Beatie LLC is the Recipient of Four Book Awards for 2015       Savas Beatie, independent book publisher focusing upon military history and maters, has been notified that three of its titles and one of its book series are the recipients of prestigious awards. Significantly, for the first time in the award's history, every finalist title was from a single publisher, Savas Beatie.  The titles are:

 1. Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted the Outcome of Lee's Invasion of the North, June - July 1863, by Thomas J. Ryan, is the recipient of the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award for the best book published on Gettysburg (awarded by the Robert E. Lee Civil War Round Table of Central New Jersey).

2. Fighting for General Lee: Confederate General Rufus Barringer and the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade, by Sheridan R. Barringer, is the recipient of the Douglas Southall Freeman History Award "for the best published book of high merit in the field of Southern history" (awarded by the Military Order of the Stars and Bars).
3. The Chickamauga Campaign-Glory or the Grave, by David A. Powell, is the recipient of the Richard Barksdale Harwell Book Award for the best Civil War book of the year (awarded by the Atlanta Civil War Round Table). Mr. Powell is the first author to win the award twice.

4. The Emerging Civil War Series, Chris Mackowski (series editor) and Kris White (series historian), is the recipient of Army Historical Foundation's Lt. Gen. Richard G. Trefry Award, which honors books or a series of books that deserve special recognition for their contribution to the literature on the U.S. Army.

The authors are: 
1. Thomas J. Ryan served three years in the Army and decades in intelligence operations-related capacities. He is now retired; 
 
2. Sheridan R. Barringer worked decades with NASA and has two other books under contract with Savas Beatie;  
 
3. David A. Powell is a graduate of VMI and works in Chicago. He is the author of two previous award-winning books;  
 
4. Chris Mackowski and Kristopher White are both prolific authors. The former is a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, New York and works as a historian with the National Park Service at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, while Kris works as a historian for the Penn-Trafford Recreation Board and a continuing education instructor for the Community College of Allegheny County near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
 
"I cannot tell you haw pleased and humbled we arll are by these awards," explained Managing Director Theodore P. Savas.  "These authors all work hard, labor in solitude, and hope others will read and enjoy their work. This is a confirmation of their individual excellence and dedication to shcolarship."   Savas Beatie is a leading independent military and general history publishing company with distribution worldwide.  Savas Beatie's online presence and the source of the text is this post is found at www.SavasBeatie.com

Friday, June 24, 2016

News---The Free State of Jones Film: How Much Of That Is True?

 News---The Free State of Jones Film: How Much Of That Is True?  15 Questions Answered

Free State of Jones is a  inspired by the life of  Newton Knight and the anti-Confederacy rebellion in Jones County, Mississippi. Victoria E. Bynum's The Free State of Jones [2001] served as the basis of the film and the historian served as a script consultant.


1.  Why did Newton Knight initially join the Confederate Army?When the state of Mississippi seceded from the Union in January 1861, many Mississippians were opposed to the decision. Mississippi's Declaration of Secession did not reflect the views of many of the small family-owned farms and cattle herders living in Jones County. It was a decision that primarily reflected the planters' interests. When the American Civil War began in April 1861, anyone who opposed the state's new Confederate government was deemed a traitor and a coward. Immediate death was often the penalty for those who refused to join the Confederate Army. The Free State of Jones true story reveals that Newton Knight enlisted in the army in the early fall of 1861. The Free State of Jones book author Victoria E. Bynum believes that Knight did not necessarily enlist out of fear of conscription but rather because he just wanted to be a soldier. -Mississippi History Now

14 More Questions Answered at Text Source: History Versus Hollywood


Also, Smithsonian Magazine [March 2016] has a superb article on a recent visit to Jones County, the current residents' understanding of Newton Knight and the successful rebellion.  His descendants and those who believe that he is not a hero are interviewed.

Smithsonian Magazine: The True Story of the Free State of Jones

News---The Free State of Jones Film: How Much Of That Is True?

 News---The Free State of Jones Film: How Much Of That Is True?  15 Questions Answered

Free State of Jones is a  inspired by the life of  Newton Knight and the anti-Confederacy rebellion in Jones County, Mississippi. Victoria E. Bynum's The Free State of Jones [2001] served as the basis of the film and the historian served as a script consultant.


1.  Why did Newton Knight initially join the Confederate Army?When the state of Mississippi seceded from the Union in January 1861, many Mississippians were opposed to the decision. Mississippi's Declaration of Secession did not reflect the views of many of the small family-owned farms and cattle herders living in Jones County. It was a decision that primarily reflected the planters' interests. When the American Civil War began in April 1861, anyone who opposed the state's new Confederate government was deemed a traitor and a coward. Immediate death was often the penalty for those who refused to join the Confederate Army. The Free State of Jones true story reveals that Newton Knight enlisted in the army in the early fall of 1861. The Free State of Jones book author Victoria E. Bynum believes that Knight did not necessarily enlist out of fear of conscription but rather because he just wanted to be a soldier. -Mississippi History Now

14 More Questions Answered at Text Source: History Versus Hollywood


Also, Smithsonian Magazine [March 2016] has a superb article on a recent visit to Jones County, the current residents' understanding of Newton Knight and the successful rebellion.  His descendants and those who believe that he is not a hero are interviewed.

Smithsonian Magazine: The True Story of the Free State of Jones

Friday, May 27, 2016

New And Noteworthy: When Did The Best Chance for Confederate Independence Occur?

The Confederacy at Flood Tide: The Political and Military Ascension, June to December 1862, Philip Leigh, Westholme Publishing, 288 pp., $28.00.
 

From The Publisher: 
The Fleeting Moment When the Confederate States of America Had the Best Opportunity to Achieve Independence and Why Their Efforts Failed.

The first six months of 1862 provided a string of Federal victories in the West at Mill Springs, Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, and Shiloh. In May, New Orleans fell, and Union General George McClellan’s army was so close to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, that the troops could set their watches by the city’s church bells. But then the unexpected happened. 
In June, Robert E. Lee’s Army of Virginia pushed McClellan’s much larger army back to the James River. In Europe, Confederate diplomats sought international recognition for the Confederate States of America, which was made even more attractive now that a shortage of cotton made the powerful textile interests anxious to end the war. 
Further tipping the balance, in July, the Confederacy secretly ordered two of the latest ironclad ships from England’s famous Laird Shipyard—the same yard that built the commerce raider Alabama. These steam-powered ironclads would be far superior to anything in the Federal navy.

While the “high tide” of the Confederacy is often identifed as Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the most opportune time for the Confederacy vanished seven months earlier, coinciding with President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in December 1862 and the failure of the secessionist states to be recognized as a sovereign nation. 
As Philip Leigh explains in his engrossing new book, The Confederacy at Flood Tide: The Political and Military Ascension, June to December 1862, on every battlefront and in the governmental halls of Europe, the Confederate effort reached its furthest extent during the second half of 1862. But with the president’s proclamation, the possibility of slave revolts and decline in the production of the very products that were sustaining the Southern economy became real; coupled with Europe’s decision to reject Confederate overtures and halt the sale of the ironclads, the opportunity for Confederate success ended. The Confederacy would recede, and the great battles of 1863 and 1864 only marked the Southerners’ tenacity and stubborn belief in a lost cause.