Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book Review--The Vicksburg Campaign March 29-May 18, 1863

Woodworth, Steven E. and Charles D. Grear, series editors. The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863 (Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 2013. Index, end notes, 9 maps, b/w photos. 239 total pages, 228 pages of text. ISBN 9780809332694, $32.50.

Here in the first of a planned five volume series of essays editors Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear have gathered a strong, interesting, and for the most part easily read series of pieces. For somebody, such as myself, who has read more on the eastern theater of the war this is a breath of fresh air. I am already eagerly awaiting the second volume and in the mean time will have to search for some of the standard works such as those by Edwin Bearss and Michael Ballard.

Eleven chapters are included in this volume: Gary Joiner writes about the relationship of Ulysses S. Grant and naval commander David Dixon Porter, Charles Grear covers Grierson's cavalry raid, Jason Frawley tells the story of Grant's march along the western side of the Mississippi River and the Battle of Port Gibson, J. Parker Hills covers the May 12 Battle of Raymond, lead editor Steven E. Woodworth tells the story of the battle and first Union occupation of the capital of Mississippi, Jackson, John Lundenberg gives a stinging critique of Joseph Johnston, noted Vicksburg scholar Michael Ballard discusses the relationship of Grant with John McClernand, William B. Feis delves into the subject of intelligence and what did Grant know and how did he obtain that knowledge, Timothy B. Smith (the western theater scholar not the Gettysburg scholar) tells of the Union rout of Confederate forces at Big Black River Bridge, Steven Nathaniel Dossmon tells the story of "hard war" and the interaction of Union troops with locals and the volume wraps up with Paul L. Schmelzer discussing Grant's action at Vicksburg with an eye toward Carl von Clausewitz.

For me the low-light of the book was the closing chapter by Schmelzer. For me it just didn't add anything and I really found myself not caring. As with any anthology like this there will be some writers who grab you more than others and that is certainly the case here. For me however learning as much as I did from this volume pretty well negated my concern about writing styles.

One of the chapters I found most interesting was John Lundenberg and his highly negative view of Joe Johnston. Having read this it seems hard to imagine his being in such a high command position. Any general that would so casually throw a subordinate general and his troops to the wolves as Johnston is said to have done to John Pemberton at Jackson and Champion Hill is not worth his stars.

I also enjoyed Steven Nathaniel Dossmon's story of Grant ordering what is called a "hard war", or having his troops live off the land. In this case it went further than that and it led to all out looting and destruction of much of central Mississippi. This area would no longer be able to supply food, clothing, and other needed items to Confederate troops. Dossman states: "...few other decisions would have a greater impact on the war-making methods employed and the eventual outcome of the conflict." I would add however that total war, making war on citizens and non military areas (the argument would certainly be valid that burning Jackson, a large producer of items for the Confederate war effort, could be called a necessity) leads to a lasting hatred and mistrust of the invader. When soldiers are given carte-blanche to do as they please there are lasting effects that rightly or wrongly do not go away easily. There can be little doubt that Grant's living off the land deflated morale of those in Mississippi and helped keep his troops fed and clothed.

One interesting item I did note while reviewing the Contributors list was that editor Woodworth is a professor at Texas Christian University. Of the eleven contributors six have ties to TCU. I imagine this is due to Dr. Woodworth being familiar with these scholars. They all seemed to have solid credentials and publishing histories so this isn't a knock more just an observation.

Most chapters are around twenty pages so they can easily be read in a single sitting. Many of the chapters include a map which is a must in a book like this. I would have liked to see the maps all be full page however. There are not so many included that this would have added much to the page count. In addition, not all maps list a scale so it is difficult to determine the size of area being displayed or that troops marched.

These are really minor complaints in what is an excellent guide to the start of the Vicksburg campaign. As I said I am looking forward to what Woodworth and Grear put together for future volumes in the series. For those without an in-depth knowledge of the Vicksburg campaign this is highly recommended. If you have read widely on the subject there may not be a lot new for you but I still think it is worth checking out. The individual topics may provide you with new insights.

Thank you to Southern Illinois University Press for sending a complimentary review copy.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Review--Watauga County North Carolina in the Civil War

Hardy, Michael C. Watauga County, North Carolina in the Civil War.  Charleston, The History Press. 2013. 123 pages, 114 pages of text, index, notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9781609498887, $19.99.

When it comes to Civil War North Carolina it is hard to find someone more knowledgeable than Michael C. Hardy. He has currently published 18 books and has another scheduled for early this year. Not all are Civil War related but the majority are. He knows his subject.

His most recent book deals with Watauga County and the Civil War. Located in the upper northwest portion of North Carolina, Watauga County shares a border with eastern Tennessee, an area known for Union sympathies. In fact Hardy outlines that some "Union" men went over the mountain to either join Union forces or avoid service in the Confederate army.

The book has nine chapters along with two appendices. Chapters include: 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865, The Life of Watauga County's Johnny Rebs, Reconstruction, Remembering Watauga County's Civil War and Watauga County's Unionists. Appendices include Looking for Watauga County's Civil War Soldiers Today and The Song of the Home Guard.

By tracing the history of the county chronologically Hardy allows us to see how the Civil War affected an average Confederate county. We see men joining the Confederate army either by volunteering or being conscripted. For those who were not able to serve on the front lines many were put into the Home Guard. One of the main goals for these troops was to coral and return deserters. As the war continued a lack of goods began to take its toll on families left behind. 1864 brought the re-election of Governor Zebulon Vance showing there was still strong war support in the county. Vance polled 272 votes to only 95 for his challenger William Holden in Watauga County. In 1865 cavalry under the command of George Stoneman stormed through Watauga County. The brief encounter ended with all men of the area being arrested by Stoneman's men. Several Union field hospitals were established.

In the chapter on Watauga County's Johnny Rebs author Michael Hardy provides an excellent overview of the war including explaining different types of guns and how they were loaded. Artillery is covered as well. The changing nature of war from long lines to troops to trench warfare is explained. In some ways this chapter is reminiscent of the classic The Life of Johnny Reb by Bell Irvin Wiley.

I am a big fan of works on reunions and monuments along with current commemorations of Civil War events and soldiers. This book does not disappoint. The chapter Remembering Watauga County's Civil War is loaded with information on various reunions and efforts to place monuments on battlefields where men from Watauga County fought. The appendix discussing soldiers today is in many ways a brief bibliographic essay mentioning several of the most vital resources.

This is a standard work from The History Press. There are many photos, both vintage and modern. If you are interested in the Civil War, North Carolina, or want to see an excellent local history this is a book you should purchase. Highly recommended!

Thanks to The History Press for sending  a complimentary review copy.

Book Review--Revolutionary Cooking

Elverson, Virginia T., Mary Ann McLanahan and Betty T. Duson. Revolutionary Cooking: Over 200 Recipes Inspired by Colonial Meals. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2013. Index, bibliography, glossary, color and b/w illustrations. 180 pages, 169 pages text, ISBN 9781626364165, $16.95.

Reprinted from the original printing done in 1975 this cookbook slash history book has both pros and cons. The authors stated goal is " entertain the reader with highlights of American culinary heritage and to provide a collection of recipes, adapted from early sources, which are both delicious and practical."

The book is divided into six chapters: The Way it Was, Breakfast, Dinner, Supper and Tea, Drinking, Entertainment. The last five all begin with some history and descriptions before showcasing a multitude of recipes. This history aspect is where I had my biggest issues. The terms "colonial" and "revolutionary" are not defined and the authors tend to use a broader time frame than I might have preferred with recipes being noted from as late as 1860. Also, while there is a bibliography, there are no notes so statements are made with little way to validate what has been written. For example in the chapters on Drinking and Entertainment a reader might be left with the impression that the colonies were one large drinking party. The idea of wealth and what might be considered the norm for the time is somewhat blurred as well. There is considerable mention of "niceties" that could lead a reader to think life was easier than it really was.

   I did however find some interesting history included. There is a nice discussion on the distinction between dinner and supper. The saying "mind your p's and q's" is also discussed and defined. For those wondering the authors claim it comes from closing time at local taverns. The patrons finished off their pint or quarts (p's and q's) and headed out into the night. The problem being there are no notes to see where the authors picked this story up from.

   The heart of the book however are the recipes. Most recipes are less than a full page with a full listing of ingredients and instructions. These recipes are adapted to more modern times (remember it's the mid 1970s so there are still some oddities here like using canned salmon rather than a fresh or frozen filet).  Some recipes contain limited information on where they came from and some do not. The directions appear to be pretty straightforward though it might have been interesting to see the original recipe as well as the adapted version.

This piece is stronger as a cookbook than a historical work on cooking of the era. If you are interested in trying adaptions of early American recipes this is a book you should consider. If you are interested in a true culinary history of colonial America you should look elsewhere.

Thank you to Skyhorse Publishing for providing a complimentary review copy.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Fellow Blogger Hangs it Up

Corey Meyer at the Kindred Blood blog has decided to hang it up after a Confederate flag and a bag of coal with a note are said to have been tied to a flag pole near the school he teaches at. He says the flag and coal were then left in his school mailbox and as such he has decided to stop blogging due to the intimidation. Was this flag flown (not at his school if I understood his now deleted post) in reaction to him? At this point we only have his word to go on since we do not know the details in the note.

Mr. Meyer was never one to let potential controversy go by without comment so I find this reaction a bit puzzling. If you are going to continually to point out and laugh at almost every action or word of a fringe group there is always the potential for some type of comeback. Again, not knowing the details of the note I can't say what might have prompted him to shutter his blog. Of course trying to get in the last word by saying you will be allowing students to wipe their feet on the flag and then burn it will not endear you to a portion of the population. That tends to have been his way on the blog however.

So far, overall sympathies don't seem to be running in Mr. Meyer's favor. I think he tended to come off as abrasive at times on his blog and while there were times he may have had valid points they were not presented as well as could be. If I remember correctly he had stopped blogging before but had not taken his blog down. It has even been suggested in the comments section on another blog that he will be back blogging soon enough and even suggested he may have staged the stunt himself (again please remember this was somebody making a comment and not the blog writer himself). Maybe, but that seems quite a stretch that he would risk his reputation and potentially his job over such.

I would question however whether those he is against, such as Connie Chastain, will really care. They will comment on it, probably laugh about it, but in the grand scheme neither really did any harm to the others cause. They just bickered back and forth. For those truly interested in preserving the heritage of their ancestors any use of the Confederate flag for intimidating another person should be wrong. Unfortunately the flag has been hijacked by many on the fringes, those who just think it is cool to wear on a shirt or use as a bumper sticker and by those who want to still continue fighting the war. Of course the same might be said about the use of the United States flag in some instances; flag waving politicians come to mind immediately.

As I have said above my blog name is mostly due to living in a Confederate state. I have ancestors who fought in both the Union and Confederate armies. I don't however get wrapped up in the controversy around the Confederate flag. For those who want to fly it go right ahead. It is not however the flag of the United States. As such there are limits to where it should be flown and over governmental buildings is not the place. Why we have to continue fighting that battle in courts is beyond my comprehension.

Well, all that being said I do hope that whatever was in the note Corey received was just a bag of wind. Differences aside, a good solid respectful debate is healthy. Name calling, threats, taunting, bullying and intimidation have no place in a civilized discussion. It is too bad that it appears the actions of a reckless person or persons have shut down an avenue of discussion as unlikely as it was to change any minds.