Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review--Greyhound Commander: John G. Walker's Civil War West of the Mississippi

Lowe, Richard, editor. Greyhound Commander: Confederate General John G. Walker's History of the Civil War West of the Mississippi. Baton Rogue: LSU Press. 2013. Maps, index, bibliography, footnotes. 135 pages, 120 pages of text, ISBN 9780807152508, $36.00.

If the war in the west is overlooked in comparison to the war in the east the fighting done in the trans-Mississippi area is many times buried and forgotten about without a second thought. First hand accounts written by commanders from the area are rare thus making John G. Walker's work a must read for anybody studying the war in the trans-Mississippi theater of the war.

The book opens with an interesting and easily readable treatment by editor Richard Lowe. Lowe is the author of Walker's Texas Division, C.S.A: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War) and The Texas Overland Expedition of 1863 (Civil War Campaigns and Commanders Series) and is the perfect editor to have taken this work from the vaults at the U. S. Army Military History Institute and presented it to a wider readership. Lowe gives readers a nice biographical introduction to John Walker allowing those who do not have a strong background in the trans-Mississippi theater of the war (myself included) to have a better idea of what is going on in Walker's writings.

Walker was an officer in the regular army before resigning in 1861 to join the Confederacy. He began fighting in the east, under Robert E. Lee, earning rapid promotions. He particularly distinguished himself during the Antietam Campaign. By November 1862 however Walker found himself sent westward, a move generally given to those who had failed to meet expectations. Editor Lowe puts forth that this move was probably due to Walker's association with Theophilus H. Holmes, who had served as a mentor and helped Walker receive his promotions. Holmes was a friend of President Jefferson Davis so when Holmes was sent to the trans-Mississippi it is likely that he asked for Walker to be sent west as well. (p. 13) Walker was a division commander in charge of three hard marching brigades of Texans. These men covered hundreds of miles in a short period of time thus earning the nickname "Greyhounds." General Walker was wounded during the Red River Campaign but returned to command later in 1864.

The editing of Walker's text is light with only minor adjustments to the text. First names are added in order to help the reader. It appears that all of Lowe's adjustments are bracketed [ ] for easy spotting. Where Lowe's editorial pen is most evident though are in the large amount of footnotes (yes FOOT notes, no having to flip to the back of the book) that are included. These notes provide readers with further source material, provide information on people and events as need be, and where necessary make corrections and clarifications to Walker's statements.

After having left the United States after the war, due to fear of prosecution, Walker dictated his work to his daughter while they were living in England during 1866-1867. Walker's story begins in 1861 discussing events in Missouri and concludes with the ending of the Red River Campaign in May 1864. The major events covered are the previously mentioned Red River Campaign and the Texas Overland campaign. While the text portion of the book runs 120 pages Walker's narrative is approximately 85 pages long.

A common theme in Walker's writing is a condemning of higher leadership with Edmund Kirby Smith receiving plenty of negative commentary. Walker wrote that had Smith gone after Ulysses Grant's lines between Milliken's Bend and New Carthage Grant would have had to suspend actions against Vicksburg and allow a reinforcement of or an orderly retreat of, Confederate forces. Walker went further in claiming that by John Pemberton not following orders from Joseph Johnston regarding a retreat led to a loss that "was one of the principal links in the chain of misfortune by which the Confederacy was dragged down to failure and ruin." (p. 68). Smith is later condemned during the Red River Campaign for having sent Texas troops to Arkansas instead of leaving them to support Richard Taylor as he followed the retreating Union troops of Nathaniel Banks (p. 101).

While certainly not a complete telling of any of the trans-Mississippi battles this is a resource that should no doubt be consulted. Lowe has included eight maps:  the trans-Mississippi theater, Civil War Missouri, Civil War Arkansas, Civil War Louisiana, Battle of Milliken's Bend, Battle of Mansfield, Battle of Pleasant Hill and Battle of Jenkins' Ferry that are a considerable help. Strongly recommended.

Thank you to LSU Press for sending a complimentary review copy.

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