Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Reviewed on H-War/H-Net: A Field Guide to Gettysburg

Carol Reardon, Tom Vossler. A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. Illustrations, maps. 464 pp. $22.00 (paper).
Reviewed by Jeffery S. Prushankin (Millersville University of Pennsylvania)  Published on H-War (November, 2016)  Review published on Sunday, November 27, 2016
"According to recent estimates, there are over sixty-five thousand books written about Gettysburg, with subjects ranging from the memory of Pickett’s Charge to the menu at General Pickett’s Buffet. None of these books accomplish what Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler have achieved with A Field Guild to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its Historical Places and People. As its title indicates, the book allows the reader to reconstruct, interpret, and essentially understand the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of those who fought. Although A Field Guide to Gettysburg generally follows the Park Service auto tour, there are several additional opportunities that make this anything but a standard excursion.
"The book is divided into three main sections, one for each day of the battle, and each section is subdivided into chapters that follow that day’s events. Each chapter is broken into subsections that correspond with one of thirty-five tour stops. Tour stops begin with an orientation that allows the reader to pinpoint the location on one of the corresponding forty-seven maps and to begin to understand the significance of the battlefield itself as a primary source.
"Next, the authors ask “What Happened Here?” and provide a few paragraphs of powerful prose describing events that took place at that location. The authors often use the words of soldiers, from officers to enlisted men, to develop the narrative and accordingly, put the reader into the action. The clearly drawn maps depict troop movements, some down to the company level, facilitating an understanding of the battle from the soldier’s point of view. To further explore the action from this perspective, Reardon and Vossler then ask “Who Fought Here?” and “Who Commanded Here?” These areas of investigation describe the troops engaged as well as the personalities involved. All of this makes the following heading “Who Fell Here?” that much more powerful. The use of individual vignettes helps illustrate that each number in a casualty report was an individual, a real human being, not merely a statistic or a name in a history book tucked away on some dusty bookshelf. Indeed, the authors often examine the impact of death upon a soldier’s family, thus personalizing the battlefield. For several tour stops, the authors include the heading “Who Lived Here?” that considers the civilians of Gettysburg whose lives were disrupted and in some cases destroyed by the carnage of battle and its lingering aftermath. The study of each tour stop concludes with the heading “What Did They Say about It Later?” offering the reader a consideration of how Gettysburg began its evolution in historical memory.
"It is not uncommon to see visitors to Gettysburg traipsing across the battlefield with the Official Records in one hand, a map in the other, and a backpack loaded with the complete works of Harry Pfanz. To a great extent, A Field Guide to Gettysburg eliminates the need to carry that weight. Reardon and Vossler have provided an instant classic in a single volume that is both eminently readable and exceptionally useable, ideal for those participating in staff rides, educational tours, or a self-guided exploration of the battlefield. Even if one lives nowhere near the battlefield, A Field Guide to Gettysburg is a perfect companion book to supplement traditional Gettysburg monographs.
Text Source: N-Net Reviews

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Federal Victory at The Battle of South Mountain, Maryland: Why Was It a Strategic Diaster for McClellan ?

McClellan's Big Miss, Ronald Soodalter, MHQ: Military History Quarterly.29:2, Winter, 2017, pp. 76-80.

Excerpts from the article:

 Union commander George B. McClellcm won the Battle of South Mountain in 1862. So why was it such a strategic disaster?

"In the annals of warfare, it is beyond rare that the commander of an army is given the enemy's battle plans. Yet that is precisely what happened in September 1862, when a copy of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's Special Orders No. 191 fell into the hands of the commander of the Union's Army of the Potomac, Major General George B. McClellan. It was, in the words of historian Bruce Catton, "the greatest security leak in American military history," and for a moment it gave McClellan the opportunity to end the Civil War--an opportunity that was, tragically, squandered."

"Ultimately, though, the responsibility rests with McClellan. With superior forces and the intelligence in hand to bring the war to an end, he failed to take advantage of the opportunity. Catton, in his timeless Army of the Potomac Trilogy, faults McClellan for a fatal lack of urgency: "With everything in the world at stake, both for the country and for McClellan personally, why couldn't the man have taken fire just once?"
"Although the Battle of South Mountain caused Lee to rethink his strategy, a far bloodier confrontation lay just ahead before Lee would abandon his Maryland Campaign. By failing to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia after South Mountain, McClellan gave Lee enough time to solidify his position and ready his forces for the major battle that would follow within days."
"The Rebels would remember it as the Battle of Sharpsburg; to the people of the North, it was Antietam, and it would claim some 23,000 casualties, making it the bloodiest single day of combat in the nation's history. And once again, despite possessing superior numbers, McClellan--through an excess of caution bordering on timidity--would fail to seize a second opportunity to destroy Lee's army. The war was destined to last another two and a half years, and to tally a butcher's bill of three-quarters of a million lives. "

 "The Battle of South Mountain is generally viewed as a tactical Union victory. Late on September 14, Lee himself stated matter-of-factly, "The day has gone against us." It was, however, a strategic disaster for McClellan. Through a series of inexcusable delays, the Army of the Potomac's commanders--having squandered so much precious time--failed to follow up their success in the South Mountain passes with a decisive move against Lee"

 "When Lee was first informed that Crampton's Gap had fallen, he ordered Fox's and Turner's Gaps abandoned, intending to lead his men back into Virginia. But word soon reached him of the surrender of Harpers Ferry, and--with the reunification of his army--he instead determined to confront the Army of the Potomac in open battle a short distance from South Mountain"

Full Text Source:   MHQ: Military History Quarterly.29:2, Winter, 2017, 

Image Source:  Battle of South Mountain, Civil War Trust

Friday, October 07, 2016

Forthcoming: Military Intelligence During the Gettysburg Campaign: Confederate Failures, Federal Successes

Much Embarrassed: American Civil War Intelligence and the Gettysburg Campaign, George Donne, Helion and Company, 172 pages, 4 maps, 50 b/w illustrations, 3 color illustrations, $49.95.

From the Publisher:  Before the first shots were fired at Gettysburg - for many, the most significant engagement of the American Civil War - a private battle had been raging for weeks. As the Confederate Army marched into Union territory, the Federal Forces desperately sought to hunt them down before they struck at any of the great cities of the North. Whoever could secure accurate information on their opponent would have a decisive advantage once the fighting started.

When the two armies finally met on the morning of 1 July 1863 their understanding of the prevailing situation could not have been more different. While the Rebel Third Corps was expecting to brush away a group of local militia guarding the town, the Federal I Corps was preparing itself for a major battle. For three brutal days, the Rebel Army smashed at the Union troops, without success. The illustrious Confederate General Robert E. Lee would lose a third of his army and the tide of the rebellion would begin its retreat. Robert Lee himself would begin the argument on the contribution of military intelligence to his defeat by seeking to blame his cavalry.

Generations of historians would debate into what factors played a decisive role, but no one has sought to explore the root of how the most able General of his era could have left himself so vulnerable at the climax of such a vital operation.  Much Embarrassed investigates how the Confederate and Union military intelligence systems had been sculpted by the preceding events of the war and how this led to the final outcome of the Gettysburg Campaign. While the success of the Confederate strategy nurtured a fundamental flaw in their appreciation of intelligence, recurrent defeat led the Federal Army to develop one of the most advanced intelligence structures in history. Lee was right to highlight the importance of military intelligence to his failure at Gettysburg, but he would never appreciate that the seeds of his defeat had been sown long before.

 George Donne was born in Guildford, Surrey and was educated at the Royal Grammar School before completing a Batchelor of Arts in Classics at the University of Durham.

CWL: Much Embarrassed is from a UK publisher.   Helion & Company has it ready to ship from the UK. Casemate Publishing, a US distributor of Helion & Company books states that copies will ship in November. lists a December release date.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

New and Noteworthy--- The Savage Civil War: A Military History

A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War, Williamson Murray and Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh Princeton University Press; 616 pages; maps, $35.

Brief: Combines scholarly and military perspectives in a study that emphasizes the distinct martial cultures of North and South, and the conflict's role in the rise of modern warfare.

From the Publisher: 
The Civil War represented a momentous change in the character of war. It combined the projection of military might across a continent on a scale never before seen with an unprecedented mass mobilization of peoples. Yet despite the revolutionizing aspects of the Civil War, its leaders faced the same uncertainties and vagaries of chance that have vexed combatants since the days of Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War. A Savage War sheds critical new light on this defining chapter in military history.

In a masterful narrative that propels readers from the first shots fired at Fort Sumter to the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s army at Appomattox, Williamson Murray and Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh bring every aspect of the battlefield vividly to life. They show how this new way of waging war was made possible by the powerful historical forces unleashed by the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, yet how the war was far from being simply a story of the triumph of superior machines. Despite the Union’s material superiority, a Union victory remained in doubt for most of the war. Murray and Hsieh paint indelible portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and other major figures whose leadership, judgment, and personal character played such decisive roles in the fate of a nation. They also examine how the Army of the Potomac, the Army of Northern Virginia, and the other major armies developed entirely different cultures that influenced the war’s outcome.

A military history of breathtaking sweep and scope, A Savage War reveals how the Civil War ushered in the age of modern warfare.

Williamson Murray is professor emeritus of history at Ohio State University. His many books include The Iran-Iraq War.  
Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh is associate professor of history at the United States Naval Academy. He is the author of West Pointers and the Civil War. They both live in Fairfax, Virginia.

"[An] outstanding account of the American Civil War. . . . This expertly written narrative will draw in anyone with an interest in the Civil War at any knowledge level."--Library Journal, starred review

"A genuinely fresh, persuasive perspective on the Civil War. . . . [A Savage War] will make even readers with a strong knowledge of the war think about how it was fought and why it ended as it did. A winner for Civil War history buffs."--Kirkus, starred review

"[A] very important new history of the American Civil War by two important historians."--Newt Gingrich

"[A] new and interesting military history of the American Civil War."--Francis P. Sempa, New York Journal of Books

"The best, clearest, and most instructive military history of the Civil War I have ever read. . . . [A Savage War] hit a home run."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"If you think that there is nothing new to write about the Civil War, this book will prove you wrong."--H. R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam

"More than just another narrative of the Civil War, this thoughtful and often provocative book is an engaging analysis of the leadership, personalities, and strategies of both sides during America’s great nineteenth-century trauma."--Craig L. Symonds, author of Lincoln and His Admirals

"A Savage War is not just a riveting military narrative of the American Civil War written by two military historians with singular pragmatic experience, but a rare and much needed strategic assessment of the aims and methods of the Union and the Confederacy--highlighted with incisive, blunt--and persuasive-- appraisals of all the major generals and supreme commanders."--Victor Davis Hanson, author of Carnage and Culture and The Savior Generals

Table of Contents:  List of Maps ix, Preface xi, Introduction 1
1 The Origins
2 The War’s Strategic Framework
3 “And the War Came”
4 First Battles and the Making of Armies
5 Stillborn between Earth and Water: The Unfulfilled Promise of Joint Operations
6 The Confederacy Recovers, 1862
7 The Confederate Counter-Offensives, 1862
8 The War in the East, 1863
9 The War in the West, 1863
10 The Killing Time: The War in the East, 1864
11 Victory in the West, 1864
12 The Collapse of the Confederacy
13 The Civil War in History
Acknowledgments , Notes , Further Reading, Index

Text Source: Princeton University Press

Saturday, September 10, 2016

In The News: Looking at the Secession Winter, Looking at Lincoln's Writs, Looking at an Hermaphrodite

Civil War History, Volumn 62, No. 3  September 2016, published by Kent State University

Civil War History is the oldest continuously in print scholarly journal  which is focused on the American Civil War. In issue 62:3  you will find:

Did the Tug Have to Come?  A Critique of the New Revisionism of the Secession Winter   by: James L. Huston
Several historians have made the case that the actions of Abraham Lincoln and antislavery Republicans brought on the Civil War because of a refusal to compromise on the issue of slavery’s expansion.  This interpretation has questionable foundations.  The new revisionists do not consider the problems surrounding the act of separate state secession; southerners had a multitude of warnings that northerners did not accept secession without the consent of the other states.  The revisionists claim that a compromise in 1860-1861 could have avoided the loss of four border slave states to the Cotton Confederacy, but fail to acknowledge that the same conditions that produced secession then could have produced secession later.  The new revisionists also maintain that Jefferson Davis and his cabinet had no recourse but to fire on Fort Sumter when Lincoln attempted provisioning; they omit the other options that the Confederate leaders did not even consider.  Finally, the new revisionists have an over-reliance on contingency and fail to weigh the forces bringing about separation and war.

Public Necessity or Military Convenience?  Reevaluating Lincoln’s Suspensions of the Writ of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War   by: Robert O. Faith
Few historians have explored subsequent habeas cases during the crucial period leading up to the Habeas Corpus Act of 1863, in which Congress finally sanctioned Lincoln’s earlier suspensions of habeas corpus nearly two years after his initial suspension, of April 27, 1861.  This article uses other high-profile cases to reveal a pattern in which military arrests under Lincoln occurred as a matter of routine military convenience rather than public necessity.  All of these cases involved the interference of at least one member of the Lincoln administration in areas often far removed form the battlefield, prompting observers in both the United States and England, as well as modern historians, to question the necessity of certain military arrests and consider the practical consequences of executive suspension on civil liberties during the nation’s greatest trial.

A Civil War Hermaphrodite   by:  Jonathan W. White
This primary source exploration pertains to the life of Ellen/Edgar Burnham, a striking northern woman who transitioned to a male identity in the midst of the Civil War.  Through an examination of a letter in the records of the Adjutant General’s Office, combined with a deeper research into various newspapers, White sheds light on a story widely reported in the newspapers but absent in the larger scope of the cultural history of the Civil War.

along with book reviews of the newest offering by James B. McPherson, and recent works on William T Sherman, Southern civilian women in the path of Sherman's armies, the military campaigns of April 1865, Union veterans, the natural environment during the Civil War and other topics.

Web Source: Civil War Journal ,  Kent State University

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

News---Masterpiece: The Intimacy of a Sharpshooter On Picket Duty

We are in the tree with the soldier, complicit with the violence that is about to occur.Masterpiece: Aiming for Intimacy---In Winslow Homer’s ‘The Army of the Potomac—A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty,’ the artist, as newsman, makes us silent witnesses, Brian Allem, The Wall Street Journal, April 9-10, 2016, Section C, page 20,

We are in the tree with the soldier, complicit with the violence that is about to occur. Photo: Davis Museum at Wellesley College / Art Resource, NY.                                                                     Winslow Homer (1836-1910) was one of America’s great painters but also a great illustrator. “The Army of the Potomac—A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty” appeared on the cover of Harper’s Weekly on Nov. 15, 1862, as part of a series of illustrations depicting the everyday lives of Union soldiers. Homer was only 26 years old, without formal training, moving from Boston jobs illustrating local magazines, sheet music and business ads to a career in New York supplying art to America’s leading news and lifestyle magazine. magazine.                                                                                         Known by its abbreviated title, “The Sharpshooter” is a work of masterly economy, conveying a moment of ruthlessness and randomness. It has little if any precedent in American art. It brilliantly aligns message—someone is about to kill and someone is about to die—and medium, a publication whose storytelling needs to grip the reader quickly and tightly.                                                  Mid-19th-century newspapers and magazines almost never used color illustrations. The technology was too primitive, leaving artists like Homer the task of orchestrating images and story lines using lights, darks and half tones. Homer worked for 20 years as an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly. By the early 1870s, he was one of the country’s most famous illustrators. Until then, his career as a painter was sporadic. As an illustrator before periodicals showed photographs, Homer was a precursor to the great newspaper photographers or the cameramen who accompany television or Internet reporters. He was a newsman. Much of Homer’s work portrays events occurring in an instant—a gust of wind, say, unsettling big things like land or sea, or small things like a lady’s dress on a stormy day. In the case of our sharpshooter, we see the moment he is about to pull the trigger.
Sharpshooters were uncommon in America until the Civil War, when they became useful but reviled in both the Union and Confederate armies. Sharpshooters drained the valor from war. Often hidden in trees, they stalked their victims and reduced them to hunted animals. With sharpshooters in the neighborhood, no one felt safe. When captured, they were usually treated as murderers and immediately executed.
Homer zooms in telescope-style, eliminating clutter to give us just the facts. His sharpshooter is big, his foot sticking in our space. We are in the tree with him—uncomfortably complicit and silent witnesses. Diagonals lead from the sharpshooter’s feet, up his legs and arms, to his hand. We can get there quickly, as it’s the whitest, brightest passage. Graphically, the hand’s simple palette and contours focus us, as does the sharpshooter’s bright, beady eye. The image is about killing but also about looking, finding and stalking. To emphasize the point, the canteen hanging near the soldier suggests a target.
The Civil War figured hugely in American illustration, much of it concerning battlefield heroics, deathbed scenes, the romance of separated lovers, or homecomings. Homer’s Civil War work treats different subjects: the indiscriminate violence of war, the confusion of battle, and the boredom of camp life.
In 1863, Homer finished a small painted version, now owned by the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, that closely follows the Harper’s illustration. Its jewel-box size suggests a preciousness that seems at variance with the violence at hand, yet its scale promotes a sense of intimacy. The subject works better in black and white and on the printed page. Paint and color soften the narrative. To convey ruthlessness, a simple palette and the graphic line work best.
“The Sharpshooter” likely began as a drawing and was then produced as a wood engraving suitable to mechanical mass-production. Since the print was so widely produced, most museums own it. It is often displayed in Civil War anniversary shows. And, as the 2014 film “American Sniper” demonstrates, this particular practice of war still exists and still fascinates.
Death often appears in Homer’s work. In the dramatic rescue pictures from the mid-1880s, where women are pulled from the sea, we don’t know whether they are dead or alive. Homer’s hunting scenes from the 1880s and 1890s are about stalking.
One of Homer’s last pictures is “Right and Left” (1909), in the National Gallery. Two ducks fly above the ocean. The blast and smoke from a faraway hunter’s gun signal the moment when one bird has just died, its neck collapsed as it plummets toward the water. The other convulses, its eye wide as a plate. It’s the moment of death. “The Sharpshooter” and “Right and Left”—almost 50 years apart—are as condensed, as moving, and as powerful as the best of news stories.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

News---Left Handed Penmanship Contests for Civil War Amputees

How Left-Handed Penmanship Contests Tried To Help Civil War Vets After Amputation, Robert Davis,, August 3, 2016
This eight-page handwritten letter by Private Franklin H. Durrah describes his service as a private in the Union Army during the Civil War, which ended with the loss of his right arm. The letter’s neat cursive—and the story it tells—is part of a collection of entries into left-handed penmanship contests for disabled veterans, recently digitized by the Library of Congress.  The William Oland Bourne Papers holds nearly 300 letters, photographs, and various recollections, offering an unprecedented look at the stories of heavily wounded soldiers.

Bourne, a chaplain at New York’s Central Park Hospital, used his newspaper The Soldier’s Friend to conduct a penmanship contest for veterans who had lost their right (writing) arm in the Civil War. Bourne offered prize money for the best writing ($1,000 total for the 1866 competition); he hoped that showcasing the winner’s penmanship despite their disability would lead to their future employment. “Penmanship,” The Soldier’s Friend wrote, “is a necessary requisite to any man who wants a situation under the government, or in almost any business establishment.” To enter, contestants were asked to write a letter using their left hand that detailed their service and injury, and, if possible, include a photograph. All told, the collection holds entries for two years of Bourne’s contests, which provide a rare soldier’s-eye-view of combat and recovery.

In his letter, Durrah, who enlisted at the age of 18 in 1861, paints a particularly grim picture of Army life. Picturesque anecdotes such as finding—and hunting—a stray pig in the Virginia wilderness or encountering abandoned Confederate barricades are outweighed by unsettling experiences, such as the Army setting fire to a “woods” during a night retreat or finding a “negro pen” by a Virginia court house. While Durrah remembers having been eager for action, he complains that many aspects of Army life were “not agreeable.” Long marches in poor weather and bivouacs in muddy fields were sometimes interrupted by intense combat before resuming again, with little rest in between.
Durrah recounts that the troops suddenly heard musket fire on a late May morning in 1862 and then got into battle formation in what became known as the Battle of Seven Pines.  Eight hours later, a musket ball entered Durrah’s right arm at the elbow and traveled straight through the bone to the shoulder, where it exited. Afterwards, he plainly states, he “walked about a mile to the rear of the battlefield, and there my arm was amputated.”

Some contestants adjusted to society well.  Sgt. Seth Sutherland  (the contest’s first entrant) was elected to two terms as a county auditor in Ohio, where he seems to have earned a great deal of respect, despite what he refers to as almost constant inquiries about his missing arm. Durrah was not so lucky. Although $200 richer from the contest, he was declared insane and eventually committed to an asylum, for an affliction that most likely was what we would not call post-traumatic stress disorder.

Text and Image Source: August 2, 2016
Image's Original Source: Library of Congress