- The Civil War and the West: The Frontier Transformed by Carol L. Higham
There appears little doubt that when Stephen F. Austin rode into San Antonio de Béxar with a slave named Richmond on December 23, 1820, a series of events, including an expansionist war with Mexico, quickly followed that exacerbated difficult relations between North and South over the expansion of slavery into the western territories. As has often been said, the last shot of the Mexican-American War became the opening shot of the Civil War. The sectional differences in the western states and territories in the decade that followed the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo undoubtedly led to the catastrophic Civil War. In particular, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opened new lands for settlement, and repealed the slavery prohibition clause of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, was the spark that lit the fuse at Fort Sumter. In The Civil War and the West, Carol L. Higham, who teaches at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, not only examines the background and fallout of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but traces the origins of the Civil War all the way back to the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Higham’s interesting and enlightening study has traditional thematic chapters centered on the changing frontier, the army in the West, Indian frontiers, statehood, and how events from east of the Mississippi River came to influence the course of events west of the river. Higham is particularly effective when examining the interaction of the various people [End Page 618] in the West and the role the federal government played in shaping the history of this vast and varied region. A ten-page bibliographical essay is a valuable addition to this very succinct study.
Despite the accolades on the jacket of the book, much is missing in The Civil War and the West. To keep her narrative at just 136 pages, Higham ends the story in 1862—a decision that leaves out many important events. Although the role of the Cherokee in the antebellum era is ably and thoughtfully discussed, it would have been appropriate to include Colonel John M. Chivington and the Sand Creek Massacre, although there has been considerable scholarship on this unimaginable bloody event in recent years. A discussion of Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson’s 1864 expedition onto the Llano Estacado against the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache, which came close to being an early version of the Little Bighorn, would have been nice. General James H. Carleton and his 2,600-man “California Column” that came east across the upper reaches of the Sonoran Desert in 1862 to drive the rebel Texans out of New Mexico Territory, a remarkable event in itself, is also missing. There is also no discussion of the Civil War on the Texas-Mexico border. Lincoln’s attempt to cut the flow of cotton into Mexico, provide a safe haven for Unionists, especially German Texans who were being persecuted and driven from the state, and his waving of the Stars and Stripes at the French imperialists in Mexico would have been suitable for Higham’s study.
Although Higham’s discussion of the Civil War in the Southwest makes up a small part of an otherwise readable and enjoyable book, several factual errors creep into the text, resulting perhaps from the author being too dependent in some instances on unreliable secondary sources. The statement that the “Hispanic population resented the U.S. forts, because they felt the army failed to provide protection from raiding Indians and Mexican bandits,” is questionable (103). In fact, the majority of the Mexican population throughout the region was grateful for the protection the army provided. The army did a much better job of providing protection than either the Spanish or Mexicans. On the eve of the war, the army had fully onehalf of its forces on the southwestern frontier, and the economic residuals often benefited the Hispanic population. The Battle of...