Maps of the Wilderness – Bradley M. Gottfried

An atlas of the wilderness campaign, including all Cavalry operations, may 2-6 1864

This is the latest of the Savas-Beatie series of atlases on Civil War campaigns.  Each page has a map on the right page and text on the left explaining the map. In the thick of the battle the time intervals per page can be as short as 15 minutes, but are usually about an hour.  Each part of the field has its own connected set of pages so there is a minimum of mental scene switching.

The text is contains a good amount of tactical detail, but is by its nature more of an overview of the battle than a more in-depth study is.  The strength of the book is that it does give the tactical details and maps that usually are described in a sentence or so with a map every chapter or so.  In that way it is a good counterpoint to those other books.

The battle itself is the start of the Overland Campaign, the first where Grant met Lee in the field.  The Army of the Potomac had been overmatched by Lees’ Army in part due to its own faltering leadership.  This fact was compounded by fact that it had to fight on Lee’s turf, and being so close to the capital it was both under scrutiny and was tempted to play politics itself.  It isn’t a coincidence that the two times Lee invaded the North and there was a clear purpose for the Army it fought much better and turned him back with a drubbing.

The Overland Campaign would be a strategic defeat for Lee, ending with him being pinned against the vital rail lines protecting the capital for the winter, then routed out of them and forced to surrender.  Thus it starts the period where Confederate history starts to lose interest in the battles and shade into vagueness.and excuses.  A recent study shows that by examining the newspapers of the time there is evidence that Lee received more reinforcements and lost more men in all these battles than estimated previously.

The Army of the Potomac had just been reorganized by Meade in the fall because the small corps previously in use were hard to manage and required many commanders, which could not be found due to battlefield losses.  Complicating matters was the fact that Confederate corps were larger than Union due to the way regiments were recruited, so it required multiple Union Corps to contend with a Confederate one.

However, in retrospect the new size of the Union Corps was probably too large, compounded by the propensity of the high command to attach and reattach divisions from place to place in battle.  Repeatedly the Union found its corps commanders unable to handle their large units, most having doubled in size or more since their last battle.  As the campaign went on this tended to be ‘solved’ by losses and veterans going home, thus making the units more in line with what commanders were used to.

The main change in this battle was that at the top, Grant had no reluctance to engage the Confederates when encountered.  Lee, despite what historians claim for him, did not realize this as his usual rush to contact on two widely separated roads put him in an embarrassing position when Grant attacked his forces, pinning them in place.  Meanwhile, an entire Union division was in-between the two, able to pitch into the  flank or rear of either.  Sadly for the union, the high command did not realize this and the forces retired later to the main line.  Later attempts to hit this wide gap from the front never quite managed to strike home.

A second crisis happened at the start of the second day of the battle.  The southern prong of Lee’s army had been hard pressed at nightfall.  Lee refused to pull the men back to another position claiming that his last corps, Longstreet’s, would arrive before the Union would attack.  Since they had marched 32 miles and were still 15 miles off, this shows that he did not consider a dawn attack a possibility.  Longstreet did arrive at 6 AM, but only after Hancock had routed Hill’s corps and driven them back nearly a mile.  Only a stellar performance by Longstreet and the confusion of the attack column allowed the situation to be stabilized and kept his army from being driven west away from the capital.  This would not be the last time in this campaign that Lee avoided disaster by luck and the Army of the Potomac’s fumbling rather than by his own decisions.  By the next spring, the middle leadership of the Union Army had absorbed Grant’s attitude and become much more deft, and the result was a series of crushing defeats and eventual surrender.

Grant, as supervisor of Meade’s army, played a more limited role in tactical issues than he would later.  He loses some points for confusing the command structure by dispatching divisions all over the field outside of their chain of command.  This added to the hesitantness of the remaining troops who lacked reserves, and to the confusion of the arriving troops and the burden of the other corps commander.  While you might expect poor commanders like Burnside to have problems, all the others also did, even veterans like Hancock and Sedgwick.

Historians have been hesitant to call this battle what it was, a decided Union victory. Unlike most other battles in the East, even Union victories, there was no long rebuilding pause and no change in policy by the army commander.  Losses were proportionally even (or by modern research, higher for the South), and losses aren’t the point.  Grant’s objective was to press Lee continually, and he continued to do so.  Lee’s objective was to disrupt this campaign and gain time for the South, and he failed to do so.

Northern Men with Southern Loyalties – Michael Todd Landis

The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis

This book is a great complement to the previous book Slave Power.  That book describes the start of the process, while this book details the final decade as the Democratic Party failed to meet the challenge of how to reconcile the power of the slaveholding bloc in national politics with the increasing reluctance of the northern voter to accept the situation.

The poster child of the 1850s rift is the “doughface”, a term that originated in a diatribe of a southerner over how easy it was to manipulate northern politicians.  When it begins to be a term used by your own voters, you have an image problem.

The book is a short, but detailed look at the inner workings of the 1850s Democratic Party, by then the one national based party.  As the dominant force, it had the fate of the nation in its hand, and the result was continual sectional crisis, division, a virtual civil war in Kansas, and eventually the breakup of its own party and true national warfare.

The inner workings of the Democratic Party were the essential forces causing the problem, not outside agitation or other forces.  This book exposes that in a short and clear way.  No party ever had such a dominating position in history, and yet within a decade it had all crumbed to dust.

I’ll be reading this one again, like I do America in Kenneth views into political collapse.


The Slave Power — Leonard L. Richards

The Free North and Southern Domination 1780-1860

I continue to try and catch up to the pile of books read over the last few years waiting for recap, with a little success.  I find if I wait too long, I get a little vague on my impressions, or am tempted to read it all again.

This is one of the “read again” group, even though it hasn’t sat on the pile for as long as some others.  It is another in the cluster of books I read in sequence on ante-bellum politics.  The American Civil War is a great interest to me, although the blogs here don’t reflect that as much as writing in the field has tapered off slightly.

So the drift to all-out war is of great interest, as any sensible person would need to wonder what failures led to the all out cataclysm of the war.  And failures there were – one side lost its entire basis for political contention and was physically devastated, while the “winners” paid a huge price in wealth and lives.

This short but information packed book describes the continuing huge influence of the slave power bloc in the young country from the very start, and how it distorted politics during the entire time.  Picking up on the term that the young Republican Party used for them at the climax of their influence in the 1850s, he calls it “the Slave Power”.  And rather than dismissing it as a conspiracy theory of the politicians of the time, he takes it as a real and important factor.  It is almost always a good idea to assume that actors in the past actually knew what they were talking about rather than the reverse.

He goes all the way back to the initial “Three Fifths Compromise” debate in the development of the Constitution.  Today, this is usually totally characterized as “those racists saying that blacks were only 3/5 of a person”.  If only.  Actually, blacks were considered no fifths.  Rather, their owners got a political bonus for owning slaves without any cost.

Before this book, I was under the impression that the quid-pro-quo the rest of the nation was supposed to get was additional taxes from the slaveholders under the direct taxation principle.  The government would assess the states based off of the representation, and thus the slaveholding states would pay more per capita.  So at least both sides were honestly intending to exchange something.

As it happens, however, direct taxation never took off and other means that applied evenly per head such as import and export tariffs and assessments dominated, so the South got extra representation for nothing.  This book, however, shows that even at the time there was significant opposition to the deal, because they knew that direct taxes would never fly politically.  So rather than a bargain that went sour, it was instead a power play from the start, with a fig leaf of cover.

The effect of this was huge, as these extra seats were a large lump of political power at the federal level, and the federal spoils system could and did put these men in control of money that affected every corner of the country.  Every postman in the entire country owed his job to the party in power, and more often than not this party depended on the slaveowning bloc for its victory.

To make matters worse, other issues came and went, and thus advocates would in other states get turned out of office more frequently.  Slave holding never went out of style, so the seniority system at the federal, and the political party level all increasingly favored the influence of southern leaders.  Even the most northern politician had to kowtow to them, and if they wandered too far the hammer of political purges could and did destroy them,

This would have a huge distorting effect on the democracy.  The ideal is that a representative, or senator, would owe his job primarily to his own voters in his own district. Even the views of his opponents in his district would be of some interest, as then he could undercut future political battles before they began.

But if men instead owed huge debts to out-of-state power brokers, then at some level they have to pay that back in votes, votes that oppose those of their own region. And as this effect grew, the division of the parties outside the South grew as voters tried to call them to account.  Factions beholden to the South warred with opponents to win control of State parties, again at the cost of their own constituents.

Finally, the use of this power broke loose – first with a sectional party that owed nothing to the South, and then with the northern Democrats having to break with the South in order to survive the wrath of northern voters increasingly angry at the domination.  The Southern bloc then decided that war was preferable to a political solution without them as a dominant force.  It turns out they were wrong.

An excellent book full of new insights on the politics of the US.



Valley Thunder – Charles R. Knight

The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864

This is another short history, this time by Savas-Beattie publishing.  But rather than being an obscure battle, this is a new retelling of a battle and campaign that probably gets written about more than it deserves from a military sense.

In the start of Grant’s 1864 campaign in Virginia, he set the satellite forces about the state to advance to occupy the forces the Confederates had opposing them and keep them from reinforcing Lee.  In the end, these aims all failed for the North, mostly due to these forces being led by high ranked generals shunted off to these unimportant regions to keep them away from the main army,

Here, the man in question was Franz Sigel, a German born officer who fought in the early campaigns in Missouri in 1861 with mixed success, and then was moved east and never had mixed success again.  Grant was hoping that Sigel would watch while the more talented General Ord took command of the advancing forces.  Sigel, however, wanted to lead the attack and his political importance with the German citizens was too much to overrule him.

The military moves were simple.  Sigel moved south.  The rebel general Breckinridge scrambled to collect troops to face him, most notably including the student militia troops of Virginia Military Institute.  The two armies met north of town, in a narrow location that made the best of the inferior numbers of the Confederates.  That, and the inertness of Sigel led to his troops being shot up piece by piece.  Eventually after being worked on the Confederates drove them out and they retreated North.

Even so, at a point of the battle Breckinridge needed to commit the VMI troops to the battle, and in the final charge to win the day they famously took a battery.  Hence the battle being kept alive in VMI, and overall Southern memory,

The writing has the appropriate level of detail for such a battle.  It doesn’t overdwell on it, or skip little incidents.One charming note about the book is the annotation on one map of the location of the author’s house.  I haven’t seen that before.

The battle did get Sigel fired, and Breckinridge and most of his men sent on to join Lee.  Within a month or so, a second attempt by General Hunter overran the Valley, so there was little impact of this battle on “saving the Valley”.   Hunter himself would be driven off in June and July by Early, and finally Grant would send Sheridan and overwhelming force to put paid to the military importance of the Valley by fall.

This is a great updated treatment of the battle and campaign, even if it isn’t that important of one.



The Counterrevolution of Slavery – Manisha Sinha

Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina

This is an excellent book that delves deep into the antebellum South Carolina planters’ continual moves to increase the power of slave owners and defeat democracy both in their state and on the national stage.  By using the slave owner’s own words to define their intent and actions she makes the point even more clear, as they did not mince words. They had their position and they meant it.

After the war, there was a sort of gentleman’s agreement between the sides that the North would not press the point about slavery if the South admitted it was just as well they lost. This might have had its uses in the past, but for the last hundred years historians for the South have polished the image of the rebels that some can contend that the South was fighting for limited government without being instantly being called out for their error.

It is far past time to call things as they were, and state that without slavery and the strident defenders of it who were eager to divide the country, we could have been spared a bloody civil war.  And of all the slave states, the South Carolina planters were the most extreme, most eager to boost and spread slavery, and the most eager to form a slave nation.

South Carolina was the most uniformly ultra section of the country, but that didn’t keep them from repressing unionist opposition by gerrymander, fraud, and violence.  There was a sincere, generally supported resumption of the illegal slave trade in the state in the 1850s.  When slavers were caught, juries refused to convict and the blacks were unlawfully taken out of custody and sold into slavery.

The book ranges across the pre-war decades making a number of points, but even as a student of the period and one that recognizes the ultimate cause of the war, the author concludes with a powerful statement of how we have been blind to the obvious:

“Historians, like contemporaries, have long noted that an overwhelming majority of South Carolinians were for secession.  But a majority of South Carolinians had nothing to do with secession or the glorification of human bondage.  A majority of South Carolinians in 1860 were slaves.”

Confederate Reckoning – Stephanie McCurry

Power and Politics in the Civil War South

I was very afraid of this book when reading the preface.  There was quite a bit of modern buzzwords about feminist theory and gender politics.  I’ve been burned before by books on even Ancient history suddenly being tarred by modern political posturing and trying to fit the more complicated values of the past into a simplistic framework to fit modern theories.  Marxist historians used to be especially prone to this.  Real life is a lot more complex, and a good history needs to remember that.

It did not take long to show that my fears were groundless, and that this is one of the most valuable corrective histories I’ve come across on the Civil War.  The author starts out with a direct expression of the nature of the Confederate Experiment – that the founders of the CSA intended to produce a Republic for White Men, and founded on a bedrock institution of Slavery.  This has been evaded for various reasons by the ex-Confederates after the war and by historians since.

The first case study is an examination of the secession campaigns in 1860.  The speeches of pro-secession speakers was avowedly based on fears of amalgamation between the races, claiming that Lincoln was elected by black votes.  The campaigns, even in South Carolina, featured armed bullies showing up at meetings to intimidate loyalists. Even there tensions between the upper class and lesser folk had to be papered over to gain the point.  Other states, like Georgia, were likely only won by fraud.  Even the official result of 54 percent for secession is hardly a mandate.  One of the first acts of the new independent Georgia was to define a treason statute giving the death penalty for allegiance to the Union.

In theory, women had no part of this political action, as their sphere was defined to be the home.  However, soon imperfections in this view were evident.  When resistance to the Confederate state began, there were serious questions if a woman, as not really a citizen, could be treasonous.  In practice, though, these mothers and wives of disloyal men were routinely harrassed, sometimes to the point of torture to get information.

The separation of women from the state continued to break down as the war continued.  As more and more men were pulled into service, and killed there, the problem of relief for soldiers’ wives became acute.  The CSA government was built as a war-making device, and to suddenly have to divert significant resources to nationwide welfare programs was a constant distraction.  And to lobby to get these claims, women had to group and lobby from a local to national level.

The strain became even worse with the bread riots led by women in the late war period. As prices rose, the food kept by the government or by speculators became a matter of resentment and finally, mobs of women took matters into hand and looted shops and warehouses. While the lawlessness was troubling, the government response was conflicted since the claim that women were not being sheltered from want was undeniable.

The issue of slaves became a problem too, for similar reasons.  The conventional excuse for slavery was that slaves, like children, were not responsible enough on their own.  Thus slave relations were a personal issue between master and slave, and not a government matter.  And again, slaves were purposely not part of the Confederate State.

So the war at once started to disrupt this pattern.  Slaves would flee to, or inform US forces about military matters.  If caught, masters usually resisted severe punishment. As the war continued, more white men left slaveholding regions so actual enforcement became difficult and counterproductive.  Slaves often left and lived off in woods for months at a time.  Owners resisted calls to divert slaves to the military for labor – partly out of fear they might be mistreated, partly out of fear they might lose them entirely.

As the end grew closer, the disjunction between the image of slaves and the reality grew more apparent.  Overt violence was not common, but reports of a kind of watchful waiting that the owners found unsettling were common.  And if the masters fled the plantation, slaves routinely took over and looted them.  This happened to Jefferson Davis and his brother themselves.

The final rock that broke the image was the fight over slave soldiers.  In the end, the overt need for more soldiers to preserve the nation could not quite prevail over the idea that each master could keep control over his own slaves.

Even to someone like me, that has read hundreds to thousands of Civil War books and articles, this book showed me something new and added depth to matters I already knew from the rare mentions in other books.  This will definitely stay on the shelf with the other important books in my collection.

The Chickamauga Campaign Part 2 – David A. Powell

Glory or the Grave:  The Breakthrough, the Union Collapse, and the Defense of Horseshoe Ridge, September 20, 1863

This detailed look at the second (or third depending how you look at it) day of Chickamauga is the best treatment I’ve read yet.  Not only does it give additional detail on parts of the day often glossed over – I don’t think most other books do more than have a few paragraphs on the withdrawal from Kelly Field– but at many points an anecdote will be presented, then confirmed or questioned by appeals to knowledge presented or by other sources.

The scenario for this day of the battle is complicated.  Bragg’s’ Army is being reinforced by Longstreet’s Corps from the Army of Northern Virginia.  Rosecrans’ Union Army has been edging northward to block efforts to cut him off from the recently captured key rail junction of Chattanooga, TN.  Some good moves by the Union and fumbles by the hastily assembled Rebel army have preserved the Union force, now outnumbered.  Most of Longstreet’s troops were on the field for the first day, and at dark Longstreet himself arrives on the scene.

Bragg decides to reorganize the army overnight and give Longstreet half.  Normally, this would be a dubious decision, but given the chaos of the current command structure it probably was the right decision.  Just to complicate things even more, there an immense amount of confusion where various generals in the high command failed to make contact for an early attack.  Possibly this, too, was less of an issue than thought.  With the need for Longstreet to even find his command, and then organize it, a rapid assault by the other wing might just have led to even less unity of action than actually happened.  It is questionable that the Union made good use of the time.

The Union army was drawn up with a very thin, long line.  To the south, a major hospital complex had to be held until evacuated.  To the north, Thomas had a nice, compact position, but not one that protected the route to Chattanooga.  Thus he kept demanding more troops, but there weren’t enough to cover all the needs.

Rosecrans was starting to lose control of the situation.  Despite Thomas hoarding units like a crazy cat lady, he still respected him enough to send him more.  Thus he had virtually the southern third of the army in motion at once, edging northward and changing positions back and forth.  This confusion would cost them at a critical time.

When the Confederates to the north finally get going, they do manage to outflank Thomas on the north and cause some confusion.  Some of the dispatched units help repel this attack.  However, there were other units crammed into Thomas’ front that could and should have been pulled into a reserve for these contingencies.

Near noon, Longstreet gets going and smashes into the center.  In a final confusion of orders, Wood pulled his division out of line just as the attack started and created a hole.  The handling of this controversy is excellent – rather than the usual suspects, Powell gives all the details of both sides and points a finger at a new suspect for blame – the Corps commander McCook,  This chasm tore the army apart, and the lack of command control just made things worse.  Units were driven from the field, but thousands of others left under the orders of their commander without much cause, taking ammunition with them.  The corps commanders with the exception of Thomas went to pieces even more than the dire situation required.

A stand by some fragments was made on Horseshoe Ridge, to protect Thomas’ rear.  Luckily for the Union, a detached Corps to the north came south to add to the defense.  This line held for a time, but before nightfall Thomas had to leave the fleld in some confusion.  Again, the story of these retirements are told in great detail here.  A third volume will cover events after the night of September 30.

This is a great book.  It gives the history as best as we can understand it – it gives the arguments on both sides in controversies so we can decide the likely truth.  It tells the old stories and tries to confirm them, or cast doubt on them if they are post-war fudging.  It is fair to the scapegoats without necessarily exonerating them, and even identifies a few more.  And it is written in an interesting style that tells the stories of men on both sides, from privates to Generals.

Engineering Victory – Justin S. Solonick

The Union Siege of Vicksburg

There are a lot of books on the campaign of Vicksburg, and the battles around Vicksburg.  I even know of one that discusses the geology of the region and its impact on the campaign.  This is the first that concentrates on the Siege as a siege, rather than a battle.

The purpose of a formal siege as understood by a trained 19th century military man, is to get the army close enough to the works to batter down the walls and works, provide a sheltered path for troops to launch an assault that will carry the fort.  In standard military rules, the defenders would then give up and surrender at this point and save the risk of an assault.

In my readings as a young adult, I had always gotten the impression that the defenders gave up a little early to get terms on the 4th of July.  When I visited the place, though, I was impressed to see an approach trench on the north of the town moving straight up a very steep hill to nearly the top, marked by a sign stating that this was the Union position on July 4.  They were close indeed!

The picture below is that same approach trench – you can see the scar going up toward the Confederate line at the top of the hill..

The Union Army really had not intended to besiege the place, and so did not have any prepared tools and guns ready. Also, the Western army had few trained engineers, who normally direct almost every operation – one count says there were four. And this position was miles and miles across.  But one thing Union armies, especially the Western ones could do was improvise.

The first method used to get engineers was to dragoon any civilian engineer in the ranks and put them to work directing operations. Also, West Point officers had some engineering training.  One commissary officer, somewhat overweight complained that he could best be used as a sap roller!  A sap roller was a round mass of branches and reeds used to create a bullet-resistant shield in front of a trench heading forward to a position.

So while at first the knowledge was concentrated in a few, circumstances required training to be spread down to the rank and file.  While this caused some initial problems, later on the engineers found that it made more work possible since they could delegate to the entire army than to just a few engineering troops available. And the troops were willing enough once they got the idea.  There was an incident where General William T. Sherman was riding by and saw a detail of about 100 men idle.  Asking what was up, the officer in charge showed him an order to make 50 gabions and 50 fascines. The officer then said the unit was only a year old and had never been in siege work before.  Sherman got down from his horse, asked for an axe and personally started cutting down small trees and driving them into the earth to make a gabion.  This is like a large bottomless woven basket, which could be carried to a position, hammered into the ground and filled with earth to make a shotproof wall quickly.  Sherman then cut grapevines and began personally weaving them to form the walls.  After this was well begun, the began binding straight cane stems into bundles – fascines. These have a number of uses – bracing dirt walls, or tossing in a trench to fill it in quickly in an attack. By the time Sherman left, those men knew how to make fascines and gabions, if not the French names.

The author’s theory is that this is the last classic siege – the enemy surrounded, parallel trenches set up and approach trenches set up close for a final assault. It was modified somewhat for the changes in military technology and the terrain. Two traditional mines were dug and a part of the defenses blown up.  Other sieges in the Civil War, like Petersburg and Atlanta, did not surround the city at any time, or create approach trenches.

This book puts a new, complementary spin on this important campaign.


The March to the River – Robert G. Schultz

From the Battle of Pea Ridge to Helena, Spring 1862

In early 1862, General Samuel Curtis’ Army of the Southwest defeated Earl Van Dorn at the Battle of Pea Ridge in the northwest corner of Arkansas.  This victory assured that the South could no longer hope to contend for the state of Missouri.  Aside from cavalry raids and endemic violence from guerrillas, Missouri was a northern state for good.

After the battle, Van Dorn collected as much of his demoralized and scattered army as he could locate – he had attacked from the north to be more decisive and the retreat was a matter of scattering in every direction and meeting up later on the other side of the Union Army.  At this point, the point of crisis moved across the Mississippi – the South was looking for any troops to try and drive back Grant’s army at Shiloh.  Van Dorn was called, and took not only his entire army, but every stick and stitch of military equipment with him across the river to defend Mississippi.

Meanwhile the Union forces were in a quandary of their own.  There were not the roads, rails or rivers available to support an advance of the army further into Arkansas towards the capital, Little Rock. A shorter and better way was needed.   A look at the map suggested that perhaps a move to southeast Missouri and over the border would be a better way.  The route was shorter to the nearest railhead, Rolla.  The country was more settled, so the roads might be better and support the army more.  And as you advanced south, the major rivers might allow the Union river navy to add supply and combat power.

But changing the direction of the advance was no easy task, as the rugged Ozark hills needed to be crossed.  And the counterattack at Shiloh led to the recall of much of Curtis’ troops to Tennessee.  While this did ease the supply situation, it can’t have been comforting to General Curtis to have his force lessened just as he began a march deep into enemy territory.

Down the White River

Curtis moved down the White River towards the town of Batesville, AK.  He got there in early May after a difficult 250 mile march.  There he was joined by some additional troops from Missouri under Gen Frederick Steele.  He then sent forward a probe halfway towards Little Rock – reaching less than 50 miles off.

Then things started to go wrong.  The weather continued to be rainy, making roads difficult and river crossings impassible. The South had collected some irregular cavalry from Texas, who were actively raiding the supply trains and foraging parties needed to supply the army.  And the descent of a large army on a small settlement soon exhausted nearby supplies.

But the flooded rivers did allow steamboats to reach the army.  If the navy could set up an alternate supply line the occupation might continue and be used as a base for a move to Little Rock.  And during the march the Navy did manage to drive down past Memphis and thus could reach the mouth of the White River.

Relief Expedition

The Navy was willing, but circumstances began to change at once.  While the South struggled to put together a defense of the White River, the river levels began to rapidly fall. Soon steamboats wouldn’t be able to reach the army.  And at St. Charles, the batteries managed to score a critical hit on the boiler of the ship “Mound City” and most of the crew was killed or scalded by the steam.  And in addition, the Texas Cavalrymen fired on swimmers in the water, raising the ire of the Union forces.  The expedition had to fall back ahead of the falling river levels.

Advance on Helena

This defeat made the occupation of Batesville untenable.  Rather than retire, though, Curtis decided to advance south and east towards the town of Helena, on the Mississippi. This still ceded the middle of the state to the Confederates, but advancing rather than retiring salved the pride of the army somewhat.

The advance was well conducted, and the conditions in the boggy riverlands were difficult. Supplies were short, and if the Confederates managed to block the advance things might have been difficult.  However, the Union troops were veterans and the South had no serious blocking force, so eventually the army reached its destination and obtained much needed supplies.

The mission given this force was just more than a small army could tackle at this time in the war.  Still, the ability to march over 600 miles through enemy country, defeating any attempt to bring it to bay, was a foreshadowing of the later long marches by Grant and Sherman through the hollow core of the Confederacy.  It would take another year before Little Rock fell to the Union, from forces advancing from near the Pea Ridge battlefield.

The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged – David W. Reed

This thin book is a short but curiously complete description of the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.  It has often been used as a jumping off point for other historians writing about the Civil War, and is only being published recently to the general public.

The author was a veteran of the battle, and worked at the park in the 19th Century collecting other veteran reports to complete this book.  It is the kind of thing that nobody can repeat now.

It also comes with some maps of the battle on CD-ROM.

A nice little book, if better limited to the enthusiast than someone starting out.