- Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi: Essays on America’s Civil War ed. by Lawrence Lee Hewitt with Arthur W. Bergeron Jr. and Thomas E. Schott
In recent years, historians have examined the significance of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the Civil War. As such, their research has correctly revealed that events west of the Mississippi River proved vital to the outcome of the war. However, scholarship on the Trans-Mississippi Theater has not focused on leadership within the region. Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi attempts to correct this gap in Civil War historiography by providing new analyses of eight Confederate generals serving west of the Mississippi River: Thomas Hindman, Theophilus Holmes, Edmund Kirby Smith, Mosby Monroe Parsons, John Marmaduke, Thomas James Churchill, Thomas Green, and Joseph Orville Shelby.
Generally speaking, traditional scholars have claimed that Confederate high command in the Trans-Mississippi was incompetent and ineffective, costing the Confederacy valuable resources and support in the region. With a few noted exceptions, including Hindman, Holmes, and Churchill, Confederate Generals argues that the traditional assessment of Confederate commanders in the Trans-Mississippi is undeserved in some cases and misleading in others. The essays in this volume suggest that many of Confederate generals resided in Trans-Mississippi states before the outbreak of the war and were dedicated to the protection of their home region. Additionally, the contributors to this volume argue that many of the Confederate generals serving in the Trans-Mississippi were just as competent as their peers fighting in the eastern theater. In fact, given the limited resources available to them, the contributors suggest that only the most gifted of leaders could have effectively led troops in the unforgiving environment of the region.
Based on the contributors’ assessment of the three high-ranking generals who served as department commanders, one might believe that the traditional assessment of Confederate command in the Trans-Mississippi was correct. As departmental commanders, Thomas Hindman and Theophilus Holmes are described as incompetent, and both were deemed as failures by the civilians living in Trans-Mississippi states, especially those in Arkansas and Louisiana. Edmund Kirby Smith proved more effective as a departmental commander, but he still had his own personal flaws that affected his decisions as a commander and prevented him from carrying out his plans to launch an offensive against federal troops in Arkansas [End Page 322] and Missouri. In Smith’s defense, however, Union activity during the Red River Campaign in Louisiana and the Camden Expedition in Arkansas forced him to divert troops toward those regions, thereby preventing him from initiating his plans to move into Missouri.
Of the five lower-ranking generals, there were some commanders who served with distinction. Brig. Gen. Mosby M. Parsons gallantly led a brigade of Missouri infantry at the battles of Prairie Grove and Helena, despite Confederate defeats in both engagements. Likewise, Maj. Gen. John S. Marmaduke led a cavalry division in numerous battles and campaigns in Arkansas and Missouri until his career came to an end when Union troops took him prisoner during the Battle of Mine Creek, Kansas. Additionally, Thomas Green and Joseph O. Shelby proved their value as Confederate commanders. After taking part in the failed New Mexico expedition of Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley, Green led a brigade of Texas cavalrymen in Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor’s army in Louisiana. In 1863, Green, serving as a division commander, bravely and effectively led his men in three major engagements, proving himself to be one of Taylor’s most reliable subordinates. Joseph Shelby proved equally effective in Arkansas. While many subordinate commanders served with distinction, some failed miserably. Such was the case of Maj. Gen. Thomas James Churchill, who performed poorly at the Battles of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, and Jenkin’s Ferry, Arkansas.
The chapters in Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi are well researched and provide a valuable contribution to Civil War historiography by...