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Reviewed by:
  • Pennsylvania: A Military History by William A. Pencak, Christian B. Keller, Barbara A. Gannon
  • Joseph R. Fischer
William A. Pencak, Christian B. Keller, and Barbara A. Gannon. Pennsylvania: A Military History. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2016. 303 pp., index. $31.60.

Pennsylvania: A Military History is the fourth book in Westholme State Military History series and is targeted at the general reader. Written by William A. Pencak, Christian B. Keller, and Barbara A. Gannon, the book delivers mixed results. Admittedly, any work written by three authors with different areas of expertise cannot be expected to deliver a uniform examination of the totality of topics; this makes no pretense to try.

The late William Pencak’s accounts of the colonial to early national period of Pennsylvania’s beginnings are by far the best chapters in the work. He makes clear that although William Penn intended Pennsylvania as the peaceable kingdom, the potential riches found in Penn’s Woods drove men to do whatever necessary to acquire them. When Quakers lost control over Pennsylvania’s governance, ethics became increasingly an afterthought. Often using the Iroquois in New York as a means to leverage Pennsylvania’s native [End Page 289] population, Pennsylvania’s political leadership increasingly dispossessed its indigenous peoples first by treaty and finally by war.

Pencak’s chapter on the American Revolution is equally good at presenting the issues leading Pennsylvanians to war with Great Britain, the campaigns and key battles of the conflict, and the internal strife associated with the struggle. Pennsylvania was anything but united in its commitment to independence. Large numbers of Loyalist sympathizers made the war multifaceted in the state. Complicating an already difficult situation was Pennsylvania’s wartime constitution, rendering coordinated efforts toward the goal of independence difficult if not impossible.

The chapters following Pencak’s are more problematic. The first thing the reader notes is that once the narrative moves into the nineteenth century, the focus becomes uneven and the chapter lengths reflect that. Chapter 7, “War of 1812 through the Mexican War,” is less than five pages long. The Mexican War is but a page in length. Given that later chapters will fill space citing the heroism of soldiers or the genius of leaders, one might believe that no Pennsylvanians participated in either conflict. Such is not the case, of course.

The two chapters dedicated to the Civil War, authored by Chris Keller, are much more detailed and coherent. The guns and bugles aspects of his chapters are noteworthy and well done. No spirited defense or audacious charge escape the narrative. Of note is Keller’s account of the German regiments in the Army of the Potomac, an area in which he has published before. These chapters are not without fault, however, as events off the field of battle receive sparse attention. Keller makes passing reference to labor unrest in the anthracite fields. Anthracite was the fuel of choice for the steam-powered ships of the Union navy. Northern industrial and agricultural production exceeded that of the South in nearly every item critical to the war effort. That alone meant little if logisticians could not move supplies to where they were needed. Completely missing is any discussion of Union efforts to coordinate their transportation network to serve the demands of war. Union railroads such as the Pennsylvania or the Reading were permitted to make a profit in the movement of supplies thereby incentivizing efficiency. In theaters of war where the US Military Railroads served operational armies, former railroad executives and engineers such as Herman Haupt and Thomas A. Scott, both of the Pennsylvania Railroad, dominated the key leadership.

Barbara Gannon authors the remaining chapters with exactly the focus that Keller lacks. She ably handles the nuances of military mobilization and of Pennsylvania’s role in producing steel and coal necessary for the building [End Page 290] of an American military. She discusses women, minorities, and labor strife. While shorting the topic, she does note the importance of technological innovations engineered and manufactured by Pennsylvania companies. What she does not do is exactly what Keller did in his chapters; namely, talk about the battlefield. When Pennsylvania’s Twenty-Eighth Infantry Division is mobilized...


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pp. 289-292
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