Archive | December, 2018

Review of Calamity in Carolina: The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville, March, 1865, by Daniel T. Davis and Phillip S. Greenwalt

18 Dec

Confederate fortunes in the western theater of the Civil War had mostly been full of lost opportunities and failures. Its armies fought well but were beaten time and time again. By 1865, Union armies had conquered most of the west and William T. Sherman sought to repeat his “March to the Sea” expedition through the Carolinas. For the Confederacy to survive, those same beaten Confederate soldiers had to unite once more to attempt to halt Sherman’s onslaught. Authors Daniel T. Davis and Phillip S. Greenwalt narrate the action in Calamity in Carolina, The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville, March 1865.


Calamity in Carolina is another volume in the Emerging Civil War Series whose goal is to provide “an introductory bridge between the reader’s interest and the deeper scholarship available.” (xii) Davis and Greenwalt have written a sound overview of this campaign for the general reader who might be unfamiliar with this topic. The book sets the stage with Sherman and his plan and discusses the selection of Joseph Johnston to lead the Confederate hodgepodge force gathered to stop him. The authors then trace the movements of the armies, the skirmishes, and eventually the largest battle on North Carolina soil at Bentonville. Johnston was given an impossible task but consolidated his scattered forces to even to assault one of Sherman’s isolated wings, a rare deed for the usually cautious and apprehensive general. However, considering the odds stacked against him and his force, Johnston could not do anything to truly stem the tide of war. His command was truly a wild assortment of various forces with a conglomerate of Confederate generals and leaders, many who were troublesome to say the least. The authors even put a great deal of blame on the failure of the Confederate’s main assault at Bentonville from truly succeeding on Braxton Bragg who had been accompanying the army. Interestingly enough, Sherman had no desire for combat; his concerns were for resupply and to continue to wage war on the populace in hopes of forcing the Confederacy to surrender.

The book contains numerous qualities that make it a worthwhile purchase. The text is matched with adequate maps and images. Modern photographs of the battlefield today are of special value. Several appendices offer additional information such as details on Johnston’s surrender at the Bennett Place, the post-war friendship of Johnston and Sherman and preservation efforts of the battlefield. Two appendices provide battlefield tours of Averasboro and Bentonville. One interesting appendix postulates that the war’s conclusion might have occurred differently had Sherman pressed Joseph Mower’s successful attack at Bentonville during the second day of fighting.

All in all, the book serves its purpose in providing an introductory overview of the campaign in an easy–to-read format. The chapters and appendices are short enough to keep the narrative flowing and not get too bogged down in details. However, at times, the reader searches for more details and exposition. For example, the chapters dealing with battles seem too short and lack the firepower that they need. Most Civil War enthusiasts read to enjoy a moving narrative of the ebb and flow of battle and this book does not fil that need. Those looking for more will need to consult the books listed in the Suggested Reading section.


Review of The Battle of New Orleans: A Bicentennial Tribute, ed. by Gary D. Joiner

11 Dec

On January 8, 1815, the culminating fight in a serious of clashes between the British and American armies occurred along the banks of the Mississippi just outside of New Orleans. It resulted in a stunning victory for American arms, and its tangible and symbolic impacts were both immediate and far reaching. In brief, Andrew Jackson had used a ragtag, culturally diverse army made up of a mixture of career soldiers, frontier volunteers, Native Americans, free blacks, and genuine pirates to turn back what was believed to be the world’s mightiest army at the gates of one of our most important and most vulnerable economic and population centers. The Battle of New Orleans is one of those landmarks in our nation’s history that demands we periodically reassess its significance and interpret it for a new generation. I have a great interest in the subject and have tried to read everything I can on it as books appear over the past decade or so, which is not as daunting as it sounds since relatively few new volumes have been published in that span. I was therefore excited to see The Battle of New Orleans: A Bicentennial Tribute be published by Pelican Press.


A collection of essays originally published in 1965 on the 150th anniversary of the battle, the book (published in 2015) represents the first time these papers have been assembled in a single volume. Some have had better exposure than others over the fifty years since they first appeared, but they have long been out of print and difficult to find. Congratulations are in order to the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial Commission for taking it upon themselves to have these important papers assembled for publication as a major project leading up to the battle’s 200th anniversary, for this book makes a major contribution indeed to our understanding of the events of December and January 1815. Had they enjoyed wider distribution, I have no doubt the essays it contains would have been regarded more widely as foundational texts for the study of the battle.

Contained in the assemblage of essays are studies on the city of New Orleans as it was in 1815; a study of the naval aspects of the battle; studies of the participation of black troops and units from both Louisiana and Tennessee; an investigation of the numerous plantations over which the battle was fought (we sometimes forget the Battle of New Orleans was waged on farms and proverbial backyards, and that many homes figured into the battle for their use by both the contending armies); the pivotal but usually overlooked fighting on the west bank of the river; and even the weapons used by the contending armies.

As with any collection of essays, there are major differences in tone, pace, and structure. Some are well-written narrative pieces and some are basically reference material. It must be noted that there is a surprising number of small typos consisting almost wholly of single letters which appear to have not translated correctly by the text-capturing program they apparently used to assemble the volume from printed copies. That they missed correcting them in the final proof is surprising. This quibble aside, if you have an interest in the battle, you will definitely enjoy this book and it should be on your shelf. The Battle of New Orleans: A Bicentennial Tribute contains the products of a breadth of research and helps us understand the physical reality of the battle in an uncommonly detailed way.


Honoring the “Big Red One”

4 Dec

We have often drawn attention to the commemoration of historical events in college football uniforms in this space. As Army and Navy prepare to renew their storied gridiron rivalry once again this weekend, we feature another unique uniform inspired by our nation’s military heritage.

When Army takes the field Saturday, they will sport special alternate uniforms honoring the “Big Red One,” or the First Infantry Division, the oldest continually serving division in the army. Organized 100 years and playing a key role in WWI, the unit has a distinguished heritage. Congrats to the U.S. Military Academy and the Naval Academy for continuing to find ways to honor our past in collegiate athletics!

Big Red One

More information on the commemoration and photos of the uniforms can be found here: