Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Yes, Virginia there was a war west of the Mississippi."

Last week, I returned from a vacation with my mom to Antietam, Harpers Ferry, and Manassas. It had been about twenty years since I had visited these places, and I met up with a friend who had never seen them. While on the trip, though, my mom reported that a National Park Service volunteer informed her that not much had happened west of the Mississippi. Grrr. If I had heard the volunteer say that, I would have had a few things to say in response! It’s sad that myths still abound about the trans-Mississippi, but as Dr. Norman D. Brown wrote in his introduction in the 1994 reprint of The Campaigns of Walker’s Texas Division, “Yes, Virginia there was a war west of the Mississippi" (p. xxiv).

In his introduction, Brown also wrote that Confederate “Trans-Mississippi veterans actually begged for recognition” (p. vii). No doubt that was the case for Union veterans as well. Brown quotes Texas veteran W. L. Morrison who wrote the following to the Confederate Veteran magazine in 1895:

“’From reading the Veteran, one would almost conclude we had no war west of the Mississippi, while, in proportion to our numbers, we held as many Federals in check, when protecting Texas and western Louisiana, as any portion of the Confederate forces had to contend with. We also had as brave men, as noble women as ever lived on earth’” (p. viii).

Although historians have increasingly turned their attention to the trans-Mississippi, there is still much work to do. Sadly, I think if veteran Morrison were here today, he would write about the same sentiment concerning most of our contemporary Civil War magazines. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A New Book About The First Kansas Colored Infantry

I’ve been anticipating the publication of this book for several months, and today Ian Michael Spurgeon’s, Soldiers In The Army of Freedom: The 1st Kansas Colored, The Civil War’s First African American Combat Unit, arrived in my mailbox. The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry was indeed the first African American regiment to see combat during the war in spite of what Hollywood has told you. The regiment compiled a fine combat record stretching from Island Mounds (Missouri), First Cabin Creek (Indian Territory), Honey Springs(Indian Territory), and Flat Rock (Indian Territory), to Poison Spring (Arkansas). It is the only regiment that served solely in the trans-Mississippi to be selected as one of Fox’s “300 Fighting Regiments.”

The book, part of the “Campaigns and Commanders” series produced by the University of Oklahoma Press, looks like a high quality production. Writing about African American units is challenging due to the paucity of letters and diaries written by enlisted personnel, but Spurgeon has made good use of newspapers and pension records. An added bonus in the book is a comprehensive roster. Spurgeon is currently working as a historian in the World War II Division of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.