Review of The Last Siege: The Mobile Campaign, Alabama 1865, by Paul Brueske

23 Apr

It has unfortunately been all too easy for generations of historians to dismiss the Mobile Campaign—the last major combined-forces operation of the Civil War, involving over 55,000 troops and over two dozen warships—as some sort of inconsequential mopping up operation largely due to the simple fact that it occurred in 1865. While it certainly cannot be said to be as pivotal to the overall course of the war as events at places such as Gettysburg or Vicksburg, the months-long campaign which led to the ultimate capture of the last remaining major port and city in Confederate hands is nonetheless a significant event which has long deserved more attention than it has received. In the past few years, I have reviewed most of the small, but thankfully growing, body of literature on this intriguing but relatively little-understood campaign in this space. Today I am pleased to offer my thoughts on one of the most comprehensive and interesting yet published, The Last Siege: The Mobile Campaign, Alabama 1865, by Paul Brueske.

Brueske

This is the first book for Brueske, track coach at University of South Alabama and amateur historian who has spent many years intensively researching the details of the campaign. In Last Siege he chronicles in its totality the fighting on land and water which led to the capture of Mobile, including cavalry skirmishes along the Florida-Alabama line, sieges at Spanish Fort and Blakeley, and naval actions in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. With a keen eye for unique details, Brueske brings to light many personalities and occurrences otherwise lost to history, such as the fact that future governors of both northern and southern states fought in the campaign; the story of a female soldier who participated in it disguised as a man; the tale of the Union army’s attempt to bombard Confederate lines with mortars fashioned from the trunks of sweet gum trees, the use of land mines and underwater torpedoes by outnumbered Confederates; the actions of one of the largest contingents of African-American soldiers to fight in any battle of the Civil War; and numerous other colorful details that have rarely, if ever, been discussed in books on the Mobile Campaign.

Last Siege is a great addition to historiography of its subject that is distinctly different from other volumes, presenting the campaign in a comprehensive fashion and unearthing minutia never before discussed. At its core is an overt effort to have the campaign understood as more strategically important at the time than is generally understood. As evidenced by the manpower and material the Union army and navy committed to the effort to capture perhaps the best-defended city in North America at the time and the casualties they and the Confederate defenders endured in the course of the effort, the Campaign for Mobile was far from a negligible afterthought. Brueske makes a convincing plea for its relevance in the pages of Last Siege as he fashions a sentimental but insightful overview of the definitive campaign of the war in the Gulf Coast region. Detailed, persuasive, and fast-moving, the book is chock full of new information on an understudied subject and thus a rarity in Civil War literature. It is well worth your time if you have a casual interest in the subject, and a must-have if you are a serious student of Alabama and Gulf Coast history.

JMB

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