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Review: Embattled Arkansas

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  • Brett Schulte
    http://www.brettschulte.net/ACWBooks/Books/ACWWest/prairiegrove.htm Embattled Arkansas: The Prairie Grove Campaign of 1862. Michael E. Banasik. Wilmington, NC:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 14, 2006
      http://www.brettschulte.net/ACWBooks/Books/ACWWest/prairiegrove.htm

      Embattled Arkansas: The Prairie Grove Campaign of 1862. Michael E.
      Banasik. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Company (1998). 580 pp.
      30 maps.

      The extended title of Michael Banasik's <em>Embattled Arkansas: The
      Prairie Grove Campaign of 1862</em> is misleading, but in a very good
      way. The author does not just cover the Prairie Grove Campaign,
      instead extending his coverage to the entire war in Trans-Mississippi
      Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and the Indian Territory from just after
      the Battle of Pea Ridge through the end of 1862. And he covers this
      long neglected topic in great detail, supported by numerous maps and
      illustrations. Banasik makes clear in his forward that the book is
      mainly a military history, and he further states that the book is
      first and foremost a retelling of the military events that occurred in
      this area and time. He goes on to point out that the book is not
      meant to analyze these events so much as it is to describe them,
      saying "with few exceptions, [I] have left the speculation and
      analysis to others who might follow." In this and several other ways,
      Banasik's book reminds me of Ed Bearss' masterful 3-volume work The
      Vicksburg Campaign.

      Banasik starts out by describing the attempted Federal movement on
      Little Rock, Arkansas in the summer of 1862. Earl Van Dorn and
      Sterling Price had moved east of the Mississippi River, leaving
      Arkansas virtually undefended. Into the void stepped Maj. Gen. Thomas
      C. Hindman, who through various methods of dubious legality quickly
      raised a new "First Corps, Department of the Trans-Mississippi" from
      almost nothing. Banasik does praise Hindman for this achievement. In
      the end however, the Federal move on Little Rock was foiled more by
      supply issues than by any military moves on the part of Hindman's
      force. In the wake of this movement, Union Brig. General James G.
      Blunt organized a force out of Kansas to invade the Indian Territory.
      The force was led in the field by Colonel William Weer. Weer kept
      his troops in the Indian Territory despite a severe drought, and
      eventually a mutiny of sorts was organized by Col. (later Brig. Gen.)
      Frederick Salomon. Banasik does not condemn Salomon for this action,
      and seems to think that the move was necessary in light of the supply
      situation. Another Federal move had been defeated by the elements
      rather than by any Confederate force. During the summer of 1862,
      Hindman was determined to procure new recruits in Missouri, and he
      sent several Colonels who were Missouri men into that state to raise
      new manpower for the Confederacy. Despite Federal efforts to
      eliminate these recruitment camps and the eventual destruction of
      several of these regiments, thousands of men headed south to fight
      with Hindman's Army. Banasik shifts gears to cover the "Fall Campaign
      of 1862" in the next chapter. Hindman had sent some of his cavalry
      force north into the southwest corner of Missouri, and they
      successfully beat back an attack by several Federal brigades in a
      sharp fight at Newtonia. Despite the victory, the Confederates pulled
      back into northwestern Arkansas. The Federals under John Schofield
      felt that the campaign season was over, and two of the three divisions
      under Generals Herron and Totten settled in for the coming winter in
      south central Missouri. James Blunt's Kansas Division was sent into
      northwestern Arkansas to keep the Confederates on their toes. Blunt
      exceeded orders and attacked the Confederate cavalry at Cane Hill,
      driving them south. Hindman here saw an excellent opportunity to
      crush the exposed Blunt before help could arrive. That general had
      orders not to risk a general engagement, and was told to fall back on
      Herron, then starting a forced march to save him. Blunt ignored or
      misunderstood these orders, and chose to stand firm at Cane Hill
      against Hindman's entire force. Herron, with his Second Division and
      part of Totten's Third, made an almost unparalleled forced march
      southwest to come to Blunt's rescue. He almost stumbled into a
      disaster of his own when he encountered Hindman's force at Prairie
      Grove Church, arrayed on a formidable plateau well suited to the
      defense. Hindman had gotten in between Herron and Blunt, who was to
      the southwest, still sitting at Cane Hill. Herron, worried about
      Blunt, immediately launched several attacks, but these were bloodily
      repulsed. Just when the day seemed lost, Blunt appeared on the
      northwestern edge of the battlefield after taking a circuitous route
      north from Cane Hill and then back southeast to the sounds of battle.
      Blunt's men forced the Confederates to resume a defensive posture,
      and the rest of the fighting was hard but inconclusive. Both sides
      claimed victory, but Hindman's force was the one to retreat. In
      reality, the battle was a bloody draw. The strategic victory,
      however, was the Federals. In really his only major analysis in the
      book, Banasik calls Blunt "extremely lucky" and asserts that he was
      fortunate not to be destroyed. Only Herron's miraculous march saved
      him from a sure defeat.

      I read Banasik's rather large book in only several days. This is
      another set of campaigns with which I was only vaguely familiar before
      the battle, so the detailed discussion of events was much appreciated
      by this reader. I enjoyed the book and feel that I have a much better
      knowledge of the war in Arkansas and surrounding areas in 1862. The
      detailed orders of battle with unit strengths going down to the
      regimental level are a major plus. I have rarely seen better orders
      of battle, and wargamers will want this one if they plan to do any
      scenarios on Prairie Grove, Newtonia, or Cane Hill. Despite the large
      number of detailed maps, I felt the book could have contained a few
      more area maps depicting where certain forces were located. The
      absence of Cane Hill on several maps had me momentarily confused as
      well, though HPS Simulations' computer game Campaign Ozark (designed
      by fellow blogger Drew Wagenhoffer) cleared up that confusion quickly.
      I believe Drew based his map of the Prairie Grove / Cane Hill area at
      least partially on the maps in this book. Another oddity was the
      repeated use of the term "Feds" by the author to describe Northern
      troops. I kept thinking of Agents Mulder and Skully or a 1920's
      Chicago shootout, Al Capone style. This was a rather minor thing, and
      it didn't detract from the quality of the book. Despite the author's
      mention of little "speculation and analysis", I would have liked to
      have seen more discussion of the faults and qualities of the various
      commanders. With that said, this might have pushed the book into the
      "unprintable range" if the author wanted the book to be printed in one
      volume. Speaking of publishing, as far as I know only a hardback
      volume has ever been produced, making the book rather scarce and
      expensive. I managed to pick up my copy at the Shiloh National
      Battlefield Bookstore for its listed price of $40. This was several
      summers ago, so the book may no longer be available even there. I
      would recommend this book without reservation to anyone interested in
      the Trans-Mississippi Theater in particular or good Civil War campaign
      studies in general. If you can find it, that is.
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