Sunday, September 27, 2009

Excellent Book about the Battle of Wilson's Creek

William Garrett Piston and Richard W. Hatcher III’s book, Wilson’s Creek: The Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000) rates as another outstanding book about a Trans-Mississippi battle. The battle of Wilson's Creek occurred on 10 August 1861 just a few miles southwest of Springfield, Missouri. Although the battle was a Confederate victory, the Confederates were unable to capitalize on their triumph. Not only was it an important battle in the struggle for control of Missouri, but the fiery Union commander, Nathaniel Lyons, was killed during the battle. The smaller scale of battles in the Trans-Mississippi allows historians to write of battles in great detail and give increased coverage of related topics. In this book, the authors carefully explain the entire campaign and the ensuing battle; the eight maps are a well done enhancement to the text. The authors give an unusual amount of coverage to the backgrounds of some of the regiments and the geographical areas that they hailed from. It is unusual in a campaign history to gain such a strong sense of the soldiers’ civilian backgrounds and the important ties between soldiers and their hometowns. Since reading this book, I have been unable to visit Wilson’s Creek without also thinking about St. Louis, Missouri; Marshall, Texas; Davenport, Iowa; Lawrence, Kansas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Winn Parish, Louisiana, and other communities that provided the soldiers that fought at Wilson’s Creek.

“Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Recent Reading

For the last few years I have researched the history of the Adams-Gibson Louisiana brigade that served in the Army of Tennessee. Another scholar is preparing to submit a manuscript on the history of the Adams-Gibson brigade, and it was at that point that I calculated that I have been continuously working on research projects since about 1990. This led to a decision to take a much needed break and catch up on my long neglected reading about the Trans-Mississippi.

A few weeks ago I read Wiley Britton’s Memoirs of the Rebellion on the Border, 1863. First published in 1882, Britton writes of his experiences serving in the 6th Kansas Cavalry. I enjoyed reading his comments about the countryside, particularly since he campaigned in areas close to where I live. In addition, his comments about campaigning and civilians in the Indian Territory, southwestern Missouri, and northwestern Arkansas are interesting. Britton's book is considered one of the better primary sources about the border war, but it should be read with some caution because he had a tendency to depict Union soldiers as a little too perfect. These soldiers seem to have done no looting; instead it was all “foraging,” and the enemy committed virtually all the heinous crimes in the area. I am skeptical...

I also read The Civil War In The American West by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. in recent weeks. Published in 1991, this is a look at the big picture. Josephy made no attempt to write a complete or definitive history of the war in the West, instead he focused on five different episodes of the western war. The New Mexico campaign of 1862, the Sioux Indian uprising in Minnesota, the Red River campaign, the “war on the western trails,” and the Indian Territory/Arkansas/Missouri border war are highlighted in the book. One gets a good sense of the tremendous diversity and scope of the war in the Trans-Mississippi in this well-written book. Before I read this book I had almost no knowledge of the Sioux Indian uprising, events in wartime California, or the war along the western trails. Josephy’s book is a good introduction to these topics, and I am looking forward to now reading more detailed books about these events.

A closing thought from The Civil War In The American West:

“Throughout the Civil War, the military campaigns in the West were generally viewed by both Washington and Richmond as if through the reducing end of a telescope” (p. 157).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

And The Winner Is...

Last month I mentioned in a post that “The only Confederate division comprised entirely of units from one state was Walker’s Texas Division.” Alert readers (and fellow historians) Jim McGhee and Dr. Bill Gurley pointed out to me that Brigadier General Mosby M. Parsons commanded an all Missouri division, and Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill commanded an all Arkansas division. Both, according to Dr. Bill Gurley, were established in March 1864 and continued as single state divisions until the end of the conflict.

Walker’s Texas Division is awarded first prize for having the distinction of being a single state division for the longest period of time having been established in November 1862 and disbanding in May 1865. Parsons’ Missouri Division and Churchill’s Arkansas Division receive runner-up awards for being the single state divisions with the next longest tenures. Interestingly, Walker’s Texas Division, Parsons’ Missouri Division, and Churchill’s Arkansas Division served together at the battles of Pleasant Hill and Jenkins’ Ferry during the Red River Campaign.

There are other examples of single state divisions in the Trans-Mississippi such as the all Missouri divisions commanded by Major General Sterling Price at Wilson’s Creek and at Pea Ridge and the Arkansas division commanded by Brigadier General Francis A. Shoup at Prairie Grove.

A “close but no cigar” award goes to Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s division of the Army of Tennessee that was made up predominantly (but not entirely) of Tennessee units. The other “close but no cigar” award goes to Major General George Pickett’s division of the Army of Northern Virginia that had three Virginia brigades that fought at Gettysburg; however there were two brigades detached from Pickett’s division that did not serve at Gettysburg—one was a South Carolina brigade commanded by Micah Jenkins.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Splendid Opportunity!

This is it folks! A splendid opportunity to meet people who are just as enthused as you are about the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi. The event is the Beyond Campaigns and Commanders seminar on October 9 and 10 in Springfield, Missouri. The event kicks off on October 9th with a dinner followed by a presentation by Richard W. Hatcher III. The following day will feature talks by several authorities on the Trans-Mississippi. The members of the Civil War Round Table of the Ozarks have put together a very attractive and affordable seminar. And it gets better--if you sign up by September 23rd, you will receive a pre-registration discount. Click on the link above for further information about registration, the speakers, and other details.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Interview with Dr. Donald S. Frazier, Part Two

This post marks the conclusion of my interview with Dr. Donald Frazier (pictured to the left) about his new book, Fire in the Cane Field: The Federal Invasion of Louisiana and Texas, January 1861 – January 1863 published by State House Press earlier this year. I hope that you have enjoyed reading the interview, and I’m looking forward to reading your comments on it. Thank you Don for sharing your thoughts with the readers of this blog!

His book may be ordered from or the Texas A&M University Press Consortium.

Next month I am planning to present another interview with a prominent historian of the Trans-Mississippi.

Your book features a number of your own maps. What advice do you have for aspiring mapmakers?

Learn Adobe Illustrator. It’s not a real mystery on how to make maps, you just have to be prepared for a bit of a learning curve. I have drawn more than 2,000 maps for various clients world-wide. I discovered it is easier to turn a historian into a map drawer than an artist into a historian.

Geography and landforms are the canvas upon which history is painted. You understand how humans interact with terrain, and you will have an instinct for what is important to show on a map.

Also, if the place appears in your index, try to make sure at least one map in your book has it located.

You might, if you are working for others, require at least half payment up front. I have really cut down on the number of customers I am working for because of non-payment, partial payment, or other customer-vendor related issues!

Your book also features an unusual number of illustrations such as photographs, period newspaper engravings, etc. Do you have a particular philosophy that you use to help you select illustrations?

Here is one reason I published with State House Press. Since I have a say in how that operation is run, I could have a much more liberal hand in how the book would physically look and feel. I am very proud of the "heft" and weight of the book, the paper quality, design, etc. Typical university presses don't like so many images because it adds to proofing and design costs. My philosophy is, pictures help create a mood and tone for your work, just like in magazine and other print media. You may write brilliantly, but so often you can convey a "feel" better visually, and often slide in additional ancillary information in a good caption that expands on the story without interrupting the narrative. My work will be on shelves (or on Kindles or Sony Book Readers) for a very long time. I want it to be a good representation of what people (sources) are saying about the topic in addition to what I am saying about the topic; illustrations can provide a visual survey of how people were portraying the time and place in question.

I am also happy with the price, which of course is a product of design and editing costs, among other factors. I have had a few retailers and individuals squawk about the $40 price tag. Take a look at They are selling it for $26.00. So, if you are paying full price, you aren't looking very hard! The $40 price allows Amazon to deep discount the book. They look like heroes while protecting their margin. Local retailers could do likewise, they just can't take that leap of faith. In the end, with a typical local retailer only stocking two or three copies of the book, we are just quibbling over a few dollars difference.

The kiss of death is when a university press "short lists" your book. They only offer a 20% discount to retailers as opposed to the typical 43-50%. That means your book won't be on any shelves. State House Press will never do that. They'll pass on a manuscript before they do that.

A student comes to you and wants to know what Civil War Trans-Mississippi related research project they should tackle; what would you advise?

Well . . . I would focus on the nuts and bolts of how these armies are raised, provisioned, how local conditions evolve at the county level, issues relating to desertion and recruitment, etc., etc. I am very curious, for instance, how many beeves were driven from Texas to feed Confederate troops. Most Civil War scholars today think that supplies from the Trans-Mississippi are overstated in their importance. The Federals on the scene suggest otherwise.

Gary Gallagher once told me that the only thing worth studying in the Civil War pertains to Virginia. The Trans-Mississippi was, according to him, "needless violence." Maybe, maybe not. I don't think he's looked hard enough at the evidence to say definitively. It may be that all of the work to really get at a response to this claim is yet to be done!

At any rate, I will let the Gettysburg and Antietam posse continue to shine lights into well-lighted rooms. Meanwhile, you will find me bushwhacking around in the Trans-Mississippi.

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.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Bit of Postal History

Several years ago I edited a collection of letters written between Theophilus Perry of the 28th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) and his wife, Harriet, who lived in the Marshall, Texas, area. Widows by the Thousand: The Civil War Correspondence of Theophilus and Harriet Perry, 1862-1864 was published in 2000 by the University of Arkansas Press. Theophilus and Harriet were faithful correspondents who wrote nicely detailed letters recounting their daily lives; much is revealed about their personalities and their marriage in these well crafted missives. Captain Perry served in Walker’s Texas Division throughout his soldier life, and, tragically, he was mortally wounded at the battle of Pleasant Hill (Louisiana) on 9 April 1864. His letters recount much marching but little fighting—the only letter that discusses battle action is a letter where he writes of being held in reserve at the battle of Milliken’s Bend. Harriet’s letters offer a fascinating portrayal of the life of an upper-class woman on the home front. She had an interesting personality with some of my readers feeling much sympathy for her while others think she was a whiner. After the book was published I “googled” Theophilus Perry and came up with a hit on a website run by Dr. John Kimbrough who buys and sells Confederate philately. Surprisingly, he had a “turned cover” actually used by Theophilus and Harriet in their correspondence. Talk about serendipity! Of course, I had to purchase it…. Dr. Kimbrough believes that Theophilus first used the cover. Here is the side addressed by Theophilus to Harriet who was living with her in-laws at the time:

Harriet then turned the cover and reused it in a letter to her husband.

She addresses him as “Captain,” a rank that he achieved in July 1863. So the cover was used sometime between then and the spring of 1864 when Theophilus died during the Red River campaign.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Website That You Will Enjoy

Recently, I was told about the Community & Conflict: The Impact of the Civil War in the Ozarks website. Community & Conflict is an effort by several different Ozark organizations to digitize documents relating to the Civil War in the Ozarks so they will be readily available to researchers. The range of collections already available on the website is quite impressive, and I have spent a fair amount of time perusing them. The collections may be accessed either thematically, by county, or by battle. The collections are arranged around the following themes: agriculture, economics, guerrilla warfare, home front, refugees, medicine, military life, minorities, politics and government, reconstruction, slavery, and urbanization. Sometimes it is good to have surprises in life so rather than detail the collections for you here, I’ll just say go to the website and see for yourself. What was I most intrigued by? The papers relating to Sarah Jane Smith, a guerrilla who destroyed sections of telegraph line between Rolla and Springfield, Missouri.

In my previous post, I issued a challenge to readers. I would like to publish the results soon so send in your answers forthwith.