Friday, September 11, 2009

Interview with Dr. Donald S. Frazier, Part One

A few weeks ago, I purchased a copy of Dr. Donald S. Frazier’s new book, Fire in the Cane Field: The Federal Invasion of Louisiana and Texas, January 1861 – January 1863 published by State House Press. Soon, I started reading it and found that I could hardly put it down. Written in an engaging style, this well-illustrated book discusses operations along the Louisiana and Texas Gulf coasts. After spending some time absorbing what I had read, I contacted Dr. Frazier at McMurry University and asked him if he would be willing to participate in a question and answer session for the benefit of readers of this blog. He responded with an enthusiastic “yes.” Part I of the interview follows below, and part II will be posted in several days. If you would like to purchase this well-crafted book, you may order online from as well as from the Texas A&M University Press Consortium.

Why did you decide to write a book about, and I'm quoting from the subtitle, “the Federal Invasion of Louisiana and Texas, January 1861 -January 1863”?:

I wanted to write about a corner of the Civil War I thought was fascinating, poorly understood, and underrepresented in the literature. Plus, it is a darn fine story! It has all the elements of great human drama. Have been amazed when I have been out speaking—from Connecticut, to Illinois, from Louisiana to Houston—how few people were aware of events that took place in Louisiana and Texas.

Too, it has been an ongoing quest of mine to discover why the Trans-Mississippi mattered in the war, what part Texas played, and how it all fit into the larger national story.

Were there any unique features to the campaigns featured in Fire in the Cane Field?

There were tons of interesting facets to these campaigns. In essence, both sides were trying to convince the citizens of both states to back their cause. The Union needed to prove that it would and could protect its citizens in the region, and that support for Washington would be rewarded. It played out a little differently on the ground, however. The Confederates had to prove their legitimacy as a government. They fell short as well. In the meantime, military leaders on both side scored impressive victories that, instead of being decisive for one cause or another, merely prolonged the agony. If the Federals were going to win with minimal disruption to the nation, they needed to do so by July 1862. For the Rebs to win their independence, they needed to do so by October 1862. Neither side pulled it off. Option three was the abyss of war. Louisiana and Texas are but a microcosm of the larger picture.

Were there any soldiers that you wrote about who seemed to have a particular talent for adapting to the challenges presented by campaigning in the Trans-Mississippi? Were there any who seemed unable to adapt?

Richard Taylor emerges as a brilliant adapter, as does his staff. John Bankhead Magruder comes off as a pretty clever innovator as well. Of course, it’s easier for them—they had the biggest chore and if they succeeded, it looked brilliant! My other favorite, surprisingly, is Benjamin Butler. Here is a fellow who understood how to work the levers of politics as well as judicious application of military policy. He, I believe, is greatly underappreciated as an intellect. General Alfred Mouton seemed a little over his head to me, so I would put him in the “failed to adapt” category.

My understanding is that this is the first volume in a planned four volume set called the Louisiana Quadrille. What will be the coverage of the next three volumes? When will the next volume be published?

This is book one of a four part series that will cover the war from secession to collapse in Louisiana and Texas. All are more or less sequels to my first book, Blood and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest.

Book one, Fire in the Cane Field, covers the secession drama in Louisiana (I covered Texas in Blood and Treasure) and ends with the Battle of Galveston as a major turning point in Federal efforts to reassert control in the region.

Book two, Thunder Across the Swamps, covers the fight for control of the West Bank of the Mississippi. Date wise, this is February through May 1863. It begins with General N. P. Banks probing for a way up the Mississippi by either bypassing Port Hudson or by some other means, and settling for a campaign up Bayou Teche. The remarkable thing, to me, is he had no real idea of what he was supposed to accomplish in this campaign, and his objectives kept changing. He did settle for an attempt at destroying Richard Taylor's Confederate force, and then moved on to a siege at Port Hudson as a last resort. A little different interpretation than is out there now.

And, by the way, Taylor had a bold offensive in the works. He had hoped to launch it in May 1863, Banks fired first in mid-April 1863, wrecking the agenda. Should be available end of next year, official publication date should be January 2011.

Book three will deal with Taylor's counteroffensive into the Bayou Lafourche country, his retreat, and the nasty brutal partisan warfare that erupts in Western Louisiana, along with Union attempts to insert a force into Texas in the fall. Dates should run June 1863-February 1864. Release, tentative, is 2012. I have a lot of work left to do on it.

Book four will cover the Red River Campaign and its aftermath, and then the "rest of the story" in Louisiana and Texas. March 1864-June 1865. Got a long way to go on it, so perhaps 2013, but no promises.

IN THE MEANTIME, I am finishing up a collection of edited letters from a soldier in the 23rd Texas Cavalry, and later McMahan's Battery. Start in February 1863, go through June 1868, so you get a little glimpse of war AND Reconstruction as it affected one family in Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia. This book, Love and War, should be available this fall, official release in early 2010.

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