- Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi: Essays on America’s Civil War ed. by Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Thomas E. Schott
In the second volume of Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi: Essays on America’s Civil War, the University of Tennessee Press continues its important work on the western theater of the war. Editors Lawrence Lee Hewitt and Thomas E. Schott have assembled a diverse group of authors who in eight essays examine another set of Confederate generals who toiled away in the relative obscurity of the trans-Mississippi during the war. The editors gather these essays together both to challenge the long-standing belief that the West was “the Confederate dumping ground for men who had failed to perform well east of the river” and to “come closer to determining how the South lost the Civil War” (pp. xv, xix).
Ironically, the first two essays examine two of the theater’s most famous failures. Thomas W. Cutrer examines how the dysfunctional relationship between Ben McCulloch and Sterling Price lost Missouri for the Confederacy. Cutrer is sympathetic to the practical McCulloch, who was caught between contradictory messages from Richmond, about invading states that had not joined the Confederacy and protecting its allies in Indian Territory, and the unrealistic and bumbling Price, who was eager to free his state from Union forces. Price, however, was not the worst Confederate general west of the river. That distinction, according to Thomas E. Schott, belonged to Henry Hopkins Sibley. Schott successfully shows how Sibley’s character flaws, combined with a complete failure to consider the logistical obstacles, doomed the ill-advised New Mexico campaign.
Robert I. Girardi discredits the notion that John Bankhead Magruder was a failed eastern general by examining Magruder’s effective work after his transfer to Texas in 1862. His success in retaking Galveston and Sabine Pass, despite alienating his troops with his ostentatiousness, “did make a difference, [End Page 682] keeping that state and its resources in the Confederacy for two years” (p. 95). Jeffery S. Prushankin and Jeff Kinard look at two of the division commanders, Alfred Mouton and Camille Armand Jules Marie Prince de Polignac, whose service intersected during the Red River campaign. Prushankin characterizes Mouton as a modest, determined soldier, who “was among [General Richard] Taylor’s most able and trusted subordinates” (p. 121). In contrast, Kinard shows that Polignac possessed a shaky mental state and had a weakness for socializing instead of tending to his men during the first three years of his service. However, he “emerged from the [Red River] campaign as an undisputed Confederate hero” (p. 156).
Charles D. Grear focuses on transplanted Texan Richard M. Gano’s service, primarily in Indian Territory and Arkansas in 1864, where he played an important role in keeping the Union military from establishing control of the region. However, also addressing Gano’s activities during the war’s first two years would have given a fuller picture of the hard-riding general. Bill J. Gurley’s excellent sketch argues that Mosby Monroe Parsons was one of the trans-Mississippi’s best generals. Gurley reviews Parsons’s very active service during 1864. When the war ended Parsons fled to Mexico, where he and his companions were murdered by Juarista forces along the San Juan River, an ignominious end unbefitting someone who had “a martial record unsurpassed by any Missourian in the Trans-Mississippi save perhaps Sterling Price” (p. 212).
Steven M. Mayeux’s overview of Joseph Lancaster Brent is an interesting inclusion as the final essay in the collection. Mayeux presents Brent as a military visionary who spent most of the war as a valuable ordnance officer in both the eastern and western theaters before serving as one of Edmund Kirby Smith’s brigadiers during the last months of the war. While Mayeux brings an interesting character to light, it is...