- The Maltby Brothers’ Civil War by Norman C. Delaney
In setting out to chronicle the story of three brothers torn apart by the American Civil War, Norman C. Delaney has also produced a rich history of Texas’s Gulf Coast, particularly the region between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, during the mid-nineteenth century. The title of the book refers to brothers Jasper A. Maltby (1826–1867), William H. Maltby (1837–1880), and Henry A. Maltby (1830–1906), originally from Ohio. Jasper, the eldest of the three, volunteered to fight in the war with Mexico (1846–1848) when his youngest brother was only ten. This decision split the family geographically even before the Civil War. When the sectional conflict began in 1861, Jasper, then living in Galena, Illinois, volunteered for the Union cause. He rose through the ranks to become a brigadier general by war’s end, earning the respect and praise of his superiors in the Western Theater of the conflict along the way.
William and Henry moved to the Texas Gulf Coast before the war and started publishing the Ranchero newspaper in 1859. William joined the Confederate forces when the fighting commenced while Henry continued to publish his paper on the home front. Delaney narrates a poignant meeting between brothers Jasper and William after the latter’s capture and uses this to describe the personal [End Page 323] nature of the war. After the conflict ended, the Ranchero, forced to move operations several times, continued its anti-Union publications, much to the ire of military commanders placed in charge of Reconstruction Texas. The Ranchero, with Henry Maltby at the helm, continued to push the boundaries of press freedom during and after the war.
Although Delaney’s work on the brothers is commendable, his greater contribution lies in what his research has uncovered about life along Texas’s Gulf Coast. Delaney describes the early attempts to develop the area around Corpus Christi while also illustrating the uncertainties and cruelties of the Confederate home front. He depicts, for example, the agony of Unionist families targeted by rebel authorities and the retaliation faced by rebels when Corpus Christi fell into Union hands. The story of the Maltby brothers and wartime Gulf Coast Texas, Delaney insists, “provide a timeless story of how war can affect families and communities” (192).
In painting a vivid picture of life in Corpus Christi during the Civil War Era, Delaney also introduces readers to some of the most fascinating characters in American and Mexican history. Henry L. Kinney, whom Delaney describes as “a braggart, a schemer, and a liar” (17) leaps from the pages as a great charmer and scoundrel. The success of the outlaw Juan Cortina’s raids, meanwhile, illustrates the porous nature of the border between the United States and Mexico. Readers interested in the concept of borderlands will find the movements of the Maltby brothers across national lines and their shifting allegiances a thought-provoking study of identity.
While the Maltby family saga makes a compelling narrative, Delaney might have been better served by simply focusing on the residents of Corpus Christi and South Texas in the war. Jasper’s storyline is all too often absent and many times Delaney must resort to educated guesses as to an individual’s beliefs or actions. His employment of speculative phrases can be somewhat distracting. Some chapters are also inexplicable short—only four pages in two instances. Overall, this is a readable volume that tells the story of a family and community torn apart by the war.