Longacre, “The Early Morning of War”

24 10 2014





Mini-Review: Hennessy on Porter, in “Corps Commanders in Blue”

22 10 2014

517bM0P30PL._SL500_AA300_As some of you know, Bull Runnings has this Facebook Page on which I post a lot of stuff that I’ve decided not to put up here. Last night I posted a review – of sorts – of John Hennessy’s essay on Fitz John Porter, Conservatism’s Dying Ember, in Corps Commanders in Blue, a collection of essays edited by Ethan Rafuse. I’ve decided to post it here. I may, or may not, post mini-reviews of other essays in the book if it strikes me to do so. And I may, or may not, post them here, on the Facebook page, or both. So, if you want to be sure to see them, I suggest both subscribing to the blog and following the Facebook page.

I just finished John J. Hennessy’s essay on Fitz John Porter. I recommend it to all. As Tom Clemens said, it is fair and balanced. I want to comment on a few passages of note:

1 – Regarding Lincoln’s decision to hold back from the AotP McDowell’s corps: “It was, perhaps, the most cautious strategic decision of the war, establishing Lincoln as a military thinker whose strategic conservatism far exceeded McClellan’s.” Yes! Hennessy also included Lincoln’s later admission of his mistake. I’ll add that Irvin McDowell (who was not much of a tactician, but a pretty shrewd big picture guy) also knew at the time that AL was playing into the rebels’ hands.

2 – Regarding Porter’s (via McClellan’s) policies in Virginia and whether or not they dovetailed with those of the administration: “To some eyes, he [McClellan] had not been aggressive enough with respect to slavery and too kind to Southern civilians, but he had in fact hewed closely to standing policy.” Again, YES!!! I wish this had been further explored, because there was a lot of “Don’t do what I say, do what I mean” coming from the admin in those days. However, that perhaps would have required a bit more exposition than the essay format allows.

3 – “In Porter’s eyes an immobile McDowell symbolized the perfidy of the nation’s leaders.” While Hennessy doesn’t limit the evidence that Porter interpreted as indicative of perfidy, he left out the issue of the closing of northern recruiting offices. But again, it’s a limited essay, and I can’t think of anything that should have been jettisoned in favor of this tidbit.

4 – “The message [sent by Porter's relief and dismissal] was clear: the careers of men who mixed their political views and official duties too freely would not thrive.” I think this perhaps should have been worded differently – the message was clear that those who mixed CONTRARY political views and official duties too freely would not thrive. I don’t think there was an abolitionist in the army who felt constricted by the Porter’s fate.

These are all minor in the grand scheme of things. Mr. Hennessy did a great job with this essay. I’d really like to see him expand on it, and hope he intends to do so.





Preview: Shiels, “The Irish in the American Civil War”

20 10 2014

8768 Civil CVR.inddThere are numerous studies on the Irish in our Civil War, some fairly objective and many laden with sentimentality and myth-building which employ such flowery terms as “Celtic Warriors in Blue/Gray.” Even as second generation on my mom’s side I find the latter tedious. What sets The Irish in the American Civil War apart is that its author Damian Shiels (host of a blog with the same title and a professional conflict archaeologist) is not an Irish-American but an Irishman from Limerick. In addition to his proximity to the homes of many of his subjects, his work on the blog and with local Irish sources give him a unique perspective (Damian works wonders with pension records – if you haven’t visited his site please do, you’ll be glad you did.)

This is not a strict narrative account of the history of Irish-American soldiers. Rather the book’s 229 pages of text is divided into sections: Beginnings; Realities; The Wider War; and Aftermath. Each section includes “six true stories of gallantry, sacrifice and bravery,” including good personal accounts of First Bull Run.

Sources include a lot of well-known secondary sources, but the use of newspapers and pension files is Shiels’s real strength. If you’re interested in a different perspective on a well-worn topic, I think it’s worth your while to give The Irish in the American Civil War a tumble.





Gettysburg Magazine #51

13 10 2014

ScanThe July 2014 (#51) issue of Gettysburg Magazine has by now been delivered to subscribers (I got mine last week.) This appears to be the first issue running fully and unexceptionally under the auspices of new publisher The University of Nebraska Press (go here for subscription info.)

Issue #50 was the first under the new format, and with its delivery many subscribers expressed concerns over what was to come. The publishers address two of those concerns in “A Message from the Publisher” in the back of #51. The physical changes (size of the pages, perfect binding instead of staples) are what they are and to me are inconsequential. Also announced in a little more detail is the naming of Purdue University’s Prof. John Pula as editor. Then some of the issues raised in the wake of #50 are taken on.

First, some folks (including me) mentioned that the magazine is slight in volume compared with that to which subscribers have become accustomed. On the one hand, the publisher notes that this is due to a need to get the issue “out quickly and get the magazine back on schedule.” As the editor builds up and wades through a backlog of submissions, it is expected that “it will be possible for him to put out more substantial issues.” On the other hand, after this seemingly encouraging, but still somewhat ambiguous announcement comes this ominous bit: “And we will continue to monitor the price moving forward, but our current feeling is that the magazine had been a bit too good a value at a single issue price of $10.” My guess is we’ll either continue to see sub-80 page counts, or a price hike, or both. But I could be wrong.

Second, the presence of (IMO very limited) advertising in #50 raised some concerns. The publisher assures us that this advertising will be limited in scope and location. Articles will not be broken up, and the content of the ads “will complement the magazine’s mission of presenting good scholarship about the battle and campaign of Gettysburg.” We won’t see “ads for fictional works, collectibles, reenactors’ gear, or general Gettysburg tourism.”

What was not addressed was what I gathered from my readings to be the biggest concern: the content of the articles. Specifically, many viewed the articles in issue #50 (a Gettysburg 150 themed issue) as indicative of a shift away from military history, a shift that now appears to be intractable in academic publications. While I found this omission curious, I interpret from the contents of #51 that such is not the case. The issue is broken down into three departments: Articles; Documents; and Human Interest Stories. Unlike #50, I think subscribers will feel more at home with these pieces.

The publisher encourages readers to let them know what they think by emailing them at gettysburg.readers@gmail.com. I think they should consider using social media like Facebook for this – I think they’ll get quicker feedback.





Preview: S. C. Gwynne, “Rebel Yell”

7 10 2014

downloadOK, so here we have a new release from mainstream publisher Scribner. This will be brief. The author, S. C. Gwynne previously authored Empire of the Summer Moon, a biography of Quanah Parker which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. So from a literary standpoint, he’s no hack. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson is 575 pages of well-strung-together words. Sources look pretty good, manuscripts, etc. I’ve read selected (by me) passages, and there’s nothing particularly irritating so far. But nothing particularly insightful or surprising, either. For example, go to the section on 2nd Bull Run and look for an explanation of Jackson’s declination to join in/support/or even recognize Longstreet’s assault. You’ll find a paragraph basically putting the onus on Lee. Nothing particularly wrong with that, and most folks who read this, again, well-written biography won’t have a problem with it. But I suspect most folks who read this and similar sites will be looking for more, and probably have read enough on Jackson already (perhaps Robertson’s epic love letter)  that a popular biography is not really something in which they’re interested. If you’re just testing the waters, at the beginning of your studies, or interested in a broad range of biographies (not just Civil War related), this is probably right up your alley. Jaded old folks like me, probably not. This assessment ain’t bad, it ain’t good, it just is.





Preview: Mackowski & White, “That Furious Struggle”

4 10 2014

TFurious_Struggle_photo_lgProlific authors and Emerging Civil War series editors Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White have released through Savas-Beatie the next in their series of compact narratives, That Furious Struggle: Chancellorsville and the High Tide of the Confederacy, May 1-4, 1863.  Chris and Kris have both worked at the battlefield, and offer an insider’s look.. The 155 pages of text are peppered with over 150 illustrations and maps. Also included: an order of battle; appendices on rivers and fords, Stoneman’s raid, Jackson’s Flank Attack, the Chancellor family, and prominent area resident Matthew Fontaine Maury; and a suggested reading list. GPS coordinates and tour stops are keyed to an overall tour map.





Preview: John Michael Priest, “Stand to It and Give Them Hell”

26 09 2014

51uERQsu+lL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_New from Savas-Beatie (from whom you can expect a deluge of new titles in the coming months) is Stand to It and Give Them Hell: Gettysburg as the Soldiers Experienced it From Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top, July 2, 1863. Yep, that’s a mouthful. Mr. Priest has written a number of works featuring first hand soldier accounts, Before Antietam and Antietam being two of the most familiar.

The action covered in this work is described well in the title, so I won’t go into that. Mr. Priest’s stated goal is “to help readers understand and experience, as closely as possible through the written word, the stress and terror of that fateful day.” To do that, he gives you 457 pages of text drawn from the testimony of those who lived the events, with the now-to-be-expected-from-Savas-Beatie footnotes; an order of battle; and a bibliography (oh for the days when one didn’t have to mention that a book actually included a bibliography, but these are the times in which we live.) Also included are 60 (sixty!) maps – enough to light up the eyes of most Gettysburg enthusiasts, and that’s no easy task. Other illustrations (photos, sketches) are sparse, but it’s the words that matter here.








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