Border Wars: The Civil War in Tennessee and Kentucky ed. by Kent T. Dollar, Larry H. Whiteaker, and W. Calvin Dickinson (review)
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Border Wars: The Civil War in Tennessee and Kentucky. Edited by Kent T. Dollar, Larry H. Whiteaker, and W. Calvin Dickinson. (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2015. Pp. ix, 310. $39.95 cloth)

The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee has justifiably garnered much-needed attention in recent years by quite a few scholars, and this collection of essays reflects that trend. The editors gathered twelve new essays from a wide range of rising and established historians, who have each already contributed to the Civil War historiography of the two states. Dollar and his fellow editors envisioned this collection as a military-focused companion to their earlier collection, Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee (2009), which had a nonmilitary focus. The editors promised to “help fill the gap in the existing scholarship on Kentucky and Tennessee during the Civil War period” (p. vii). For the most part, they sought to avoid refighting the major battles in the states, so they encouraged studies of lesser-known struggles and the military leaders who fought in the two states, although the Battles of Stones River and Franklin each receive their own essay by two of the most eminent scholars in the volume, Earl J. Hess and Wiley Sword, respectively. These diverse essays reveal that, as Dollar and Whiteaker noted in the excellent introduction, “There were several wars taking place simultaneously along the border” (p. 14).

The editors divided the book into two sections based on subject [End Page 81] matter, with Part One, “Battles, Skirmishes, and Soldiers,” featuring guerrilla warfare and its suppression as the predominant subject. For some readers this will be the stronger section of the book as the articles generally typify the new military history turn in historiography, which examines the interplay of war and the larger society in which it occurred. These wars within a war pitted sections within states against each other in a struggle for military resources and protection against the increasingly threatening bands of irregulars, bushwhackers, and bandits. Often civilians’ frustrations led to disaffection for the Union cause in both states, and the authors carefully delineate the many causes of guerrilla warfare in a particular region of each state. Several essays note one root cause of irregular warfare: the larger military campaigns occurring in the Western Theater pulled much-needed Union troops from garrisons, opening space for guerrillas to operate with impunity. The authors in this section survey under-studied geographic areas of Kentucky and Tennessee. From East Tennessee to the Jackson Purchase in Kentucky, readers gain a broad view of how guerrillas shaped the trajectory of the Civil War in the two states. Two other valuable essays in Part One look at the militia origins of Union and Confederate recruiting in Lexington, Kentucky, and Clarksville, Tennessee, and how political goals interfered with pragmatic military decision-making in East Tennessee.

Part Two, “Leaders,” spotlights the top military commanders in the warring states and reflects a more traditional approach to military history, centering on leaders, strategy, and battlefield maneuvers. These essays illustrate that, in the Western Theater, troops were led by a motley group of generals, who often fought among themselves more than they fought the enemy. After finishing these essays, readers will certainly have a deeper understanding of the personalities, leadership styles, and intentions of Don Carlos Buell and Braxton Bragg, as they figure prominently throughout the book and receive fair appraisals of their uninspiring performances during the war. Ulysses Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest also receive coverage in several essays, and scholar Jack Hurst suggests that their successes during the war were [End Page 82] built upon their hardscrabble origins compared with their better-off peers in the Western Theater. Less famous generals receive coverage in the collection as well, including the rarely studied Confederate general Felix Zollicoffer, who appears in several essays, including one focused solely on him by Brian D. McKnight. While none of these essays on military leaders in the region proposes a drastic revision of consensus views about them, the authors deepen our understanding of why these generals performed well, or in several cases, poorly. Overall, this volume...


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