Category Archives: Battlefield Interpretation

Acquisitions, 03/14/10

Debby Applegate The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher (Three Leaves, 2007).

Anne J. Bailey, Invisible Southerners: Ethnicity in the Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2006).

George C. Bradley and Richard L. Dahlen, From Conquest to Conciliation: The Sack of Athens and the Court-Martial of Colonel John B. Turchin (University of Alabama Press, 2006).

Ronald Coddington, Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

Wilma A. Dunaway, Slavery in the American Mountain South (Cambridge University Press, 2003).

William Freehling and Craig M. Simpson, eds. Showdown In Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union (University of Virginia Press, 2010).

Elizabeth-Fox Genovese and Eugene Genoves, Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders’ New World Order (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Rod Gragg, Covered With Glory: The 26th North Carolina Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg (University of North Carolina Press, 2010 [originally published by Harper Collins in 2000]).

Jennifer R. Green, Military Education and the Emerging Middle Class in the Old South (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Gary R. Matthews, Basil Wilson Duke, CSA: The Right Man in the Right Place (University of Kentucky Press, 2005).

Alexander Mendoza, Confederate Struggle For Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West (Texas A&M Press, 2007).

Susan E. O’Donovan, Becoming Free in the Cotton South (Harvard University Press, 2007).

Ethan Rafuse, Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide (Bison Books, 2008).

Duane E. Shaffer, Men of Granite: New Hampshire’s Soldiers in the Civil War (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

Have Unit Histories Hit a Brick Wall?

I just finished reading Scott Mingus’s book on the Louisiana Tigers for a review in the journal, Louisiana History.  Mingus’s focus is specifically the Gettysburg Campaign (June-July 1863)  Let me just say at the outset that I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  Mingus has a command of the relevant primary sources and the book is well written and should be read by those interested in military history, Louisiana History and, of course, Gettysburg.  I will post the review when it is published, but I wanted to share a few thoughts that will not make it in the review owing to space issues.

It seems to me that unit histories fall into one of two camps.  The first one, and by far the most prominent, is the standard/traditional unit history, which emphasizes the campaigns/battles in which the unit participated.  This should come as no surprise given that this is what most Civil War enthusiasts are interested in.  The focus may be on a unit’s experience in a particular campaign or the war as a whole.  By focusing on one unit the historian is able to provide a level of tactical detail that is usually absent from broader studies.  The best of the bunch may even be able to point out crucial aspects of a particular battle that work to revise our understanding of its outcome and significance.  Mingus’s book fits neatly into this first camp.  He offers the reader a brief history of the unit, beginning with the raising of Company B under the command of Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat in New Orleans in 1861.  Mingus briefly touches on the unit’s early history before the battalion was assigned to the First Louisiana Brigade under the command of brigadier general Harry T. Hays in 1862.  From there it is a quick jump to the spring of 1863 following the decisive Confederate victory at Chancellorsville.  Mingus does an outstanding job of following the unit on its march north toward Maryland and Pennsylvania and covers the unit’s involvement in the battle of Second Winchester in great detail.  It goes without saying that Mingus’s coverage of the “Louisiana Tigers” at Gettysburg will satisfy even the most voracious appetites for tactical detail. Continue reading

My You Have a Pretty Toe

Battlefield-GettysburgSome of you know that the cover story for the April issue of Civil War Times will feature my article on Confederate military executions.  This is a project that I’ve had in the works for a couple of years, and although I am not finished thinking about the subject, I thought it might be worthwhile to share some of my findings with a general audience.  In addition to the article I am also finishing up a 500 word sidebar on an execution that took place in “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps in August 1862 for the same issue.  December has been incredibly productive for me without the pressure of having to churn out daily blog posts.

In the course of my research I came across an interesting account that I am hoping to follow up on in the near future.  The account comes from the Charles Thurston Papers which are housed at the University of Virginia.  Writing from Centreville, Virginia in November 1861, Thurston promised his family to send home a souvenir from the battlefield and hoped to include the following:

I am only pleased to hear from Mother that you are such a good boy and Edwin, too.  Fine lads both of you, and I shall certainly bring you home something good for sore eyes in the shape of a bomb shell, Yankee toe, a Stone Bridge, or Bull Run Walking Cane.  I cut one out the other day, a soldier on the end of it, and I believe I will send it to Mr. Cooks.

You can see that I am interested in Thurston’s desire to send home a body part.  This is the only such account that I’ve come across, but I am sure there are plenty more.  I would very much appreciate any references (Union and Confederate) that you’ve come across in the course of your reading/research.  It seems to me that this would make for a very interesting essay.  I would also like to know if there are any secondary sources on the subject.  I know that it was quite common during the Jim Crow Era to remove bones from lynching sites to keep as souvenirs.  At first glance it seems to touch on the fascination that soldiers attached to battlefields and their struggle to come to terms with the brutality of war.  That Thurston hoped to send a body part home suggests a need to impress upon loved ones of just what he and others experienced in battle.  Thanks in advance for your assistance.

“The Mythology of Hard War”

This is the final week of my survey course on the American Civil War.  One of the subjects we’ve been looking at is the introduction of what Mark Grimsley describes as “Hard War” policy by the United States in 1864.  The class was assigned a section of Grimsley’s book, Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865 (Cambridge University Press, 1995), which allowed us to take a much closer look at Sherman’s “March to the Sea”.  Rather than see the campaign as a foreshadowing of warfare in the twentieth century, Grimsley provides a framework that situates it within the history of warfare stretching back to the Middle Ages.  [It's always nice to be able to read and discuss the best in Civil War scholarship with my high school students.]  He also speculates that this may account for why Grant, Sherman and the rest of the Union army did not regard the campaign as inaugurating a new kind of warfare.  I’m not sure I agree with that, but nevertheless, Grimsley’s analysis does provide students of the war with a framework with which to analyze as opposed to our popular memory of Sherman and the campaign that is bogged down in strong emotions that tell us very little about the scale of violence and overall strategy.  Continue reading

Richard Slotkin’s Crater

cemeteryridge_evm00001255The following review of Richard Slotkin’s new book, No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864 is now available in the latest edition of Civil War Book Review.

With the publication of three books on the battle of the Crater in the past two years, one might reasonably ask if there is a need for yet another. These previous treatments (written mainly by non-academic historians) have collectively addressed the tactical complexity of the battle, including the early morning explosion of 8,000 pounds of black powder under a Confederate salient and they have provided an exhaustive account of the close-quarter combat and blood-letting that ensued for close to eight hours on a battlefield that was ripped open by the initial blast. Such a focus is a staple of traditional military history. But as much as we have learned about the nature of combat in the trenches around Petersburg in the summer of 1864 there are key aspects of this battle that have not been sufficiently addressed by the previous literature.

Continue reading