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 Post subject: civil war on the western frontier
PostPosted: Tue Aug 01, 2017 8:17 pm 
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Something about the writing style of Civil War on the Western Border struck me as a little strange; it took a while to figure it out. I had assumed the book was recently published; I eventually examined the cataloging data and discovered it was a reprint of a 1955 book. That explains author Jay Monaghan’s lack of political correctness; his blacks are Negroes and speak in dialect while entertaining around bivouac campfires, and his Sand Creek is a “battle”, not a “massacre”. Nevertheless, this is interesting. Monaghan’s “western border” is Kansas and Missouri, with excursions into Arkansas and Indian Territory. He starts in 1854, not in 1860, with the reasonable presumption that the Civil War started with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, not Fort Sumpter.

I had to dredge up misty memories from high school American History covering the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. There had been trouble between the slave states and the free states almost since the founding of the Republic; the South saw with dismay that population expansion would leave them outnumbered by the North – and thus unable to control the House of Representatives – and territorial expansion would leave them outnumbered by Northern states – and thus unable to control the Senate. The first attempt to address this was the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which admitted Missouri as a slave state but fixed a boundary at 36°30’, with new states north of that line to be free and states south of it to be slave. Since the territory subject to this was the Louisiana Purchase, the North bought into it, assuming that there would be more free than slave states carved out of that. The admission of Texas and the Mexican War changed all that; now there was a big lump of new territory for potential slave states (the Missouri Compromise explicitly applied only to the Louisiana Purchase). That resulted in the Compromise of 1850, which admitted California as a free state – despite the fact that some of the state was south of the 36°30’ line – and allowed the territories of Utah and New Mexico (which include modern Nevada and Arizona) to vote on slavery, despite the fact that some of that territory was north of the 36°30’ line. In 1854, both the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850 were replaced by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed all future states to vote on slavery. This is where Monaghan picks things up; both New England abolitionists and Southern slavocrats sent settler parties to Kansas to ensure the vote would go their way. The slavers won; voter fraud was widespread (one precinct with 8 residences returned 1612 votes) and it was easier for slave voters to cross from Missouri than free soil voters to make their way all the way from Massachusetts. Lecompton became the capital of the slave state of Kansas; a rival free soil legislature and governor set up in Topeka. Both sides took up arms, but once again the slavers had the better of it; the town of Lawrence was besieged and sacked in 1856 (the Wakarusa War) and the free state officials were forbidden to meet (with the US Army assisting the local sheriff). Some prominent free soil men were assassinated; antislavery advocate John Brown slaughtered some pro-slavery settlers. What finally quieted things down was the discovery of gold along the South Platte River (at the time the western Kansas border was the Continental Divide); people became more interested in gold than murder and headed west.

That changed again a few years later with the establishment of the Confederate States of America. St. Louis was the largest city in Missouri, had a large proportion of recent German immigrants, and was solidly pro-Union; all the rural parts of the state were pro-Confederacy. The Regular Army commander at St. Louis was Nathaniel Lyon; he acted quickly (while his superior was away) to seize the US Arsenal and send the weapons stored there to safety in Illinois; break up a Confederate training camp; and march on the pro-Confederate government in Jefferson City. The Confederates retreated south and Lyon pursued, getting a draw (and getting killed) at Wilson’s Creek. The Federal army retreated north and Missouri and Kansas settled down while both sides organized.

I’m of the baby boomer generation who grew up with World War II stories, so when I became interested in the American Civil War the course of campaigns always seemed odd. There were no continuous front lines; instead one side or the other would concentrate an army, advance into enemy territory, and fight with the opposition. If successful it would settle down for a while and regroup; if unsuccessful it would retreat to its depot area and start over. In the meantime, cavalry units – for the Confederacy, often guerrillas – would advance deep “behind the lines” (a misnomer, because there were no continuous lines) and raise havoc. It took a while and years of history reading before I realized that this had been the normal pattern through all prior history – up until World War I, when universal conscription enabled the belligerents to maintain continuous fronts (in my defense, I note the WWI combatants usually hadn’t figured this out either). At any rate, this pattern was what went on in Missouri – one side or the other would build up an army, usually around Little Rock or St. Louis, and march on the enemy. There would be a battle – Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, Elkhorn Tavern – and both the winners and losers would retreat and regroup. In the meantime, the “border ruffians” – exclusively Confederate – would raid north; William Quantrill sacked Lawrence, Kansas – seen as the local center of Yankee abolitionists – in 1863, summarily executing any male older than 13 and burning all buildings. (The raiders had the usual perverted notions of chivalry and all women were left unmolested, unless having their husbands and sons cold-bloodedly murdered in front of them counts as molestation). In 1864, “Bloody Bill” Anderson conducted a similar raid against Centralia, Missouri, killing 24 unarmed Federal soldiers on furlough and reportedly taking their scalps.

To a certain extent, the Union closure of the Mississippi with the capture of Vicksburg benefited the western Confederates. The Union could, and did, pull troops out to fight in the east; the Confederates no longer had this option. Thus, when Confederate General Sterling Price led a grand offensive into Missouri (this is usually described as a “raid”, although Price’s stated intention at the start was to retake the state for the Confederacy) in 1864 he had numerical superiority. Price was successful at first, against depleted Union forces, but was gradually hemmed in by converging units under Samuel Curtis and Alfred Pleasanton and defeated at Westport (the largest battle west of the Mississippi) and Mine Run in Kansas.

The Confederates made considerable efforts to enlist Native Americans (whom Monaghan always calls “Indians”). They were generally successful; the more “civilized” nations emulated the Southern planter lifestyle, complete with mansions and slaves. The pro-Union Indians retreated north to Kansas, sometimes with success and sometimes hunted down by their ostensible compatriots; Indian-on-Indian warfare was pretty bloody and usually left out of history books. Monaghan covers it well, perhaps aided by the attitudes of his time; his explanation of Cherokee politics seems clearer and perhaps less patronizing than another recently reviewed book, American Indians and the Civil War. Cherokee leader Stand Watie eventually became a Confederate general, and his command was the last organized Confederate unit to surrender, in June 1865.

Monaghan has some interesting comments on some of the participants (the book is more of a chain of inter-meshed biographies than a straightforward history, but this approach works fairly well). He praises Nathaniel Lyon for energy and initiative, and speculates that if Lyon hadn’t been killed at Wilson’s Creek he might have gone on to greater things. He also generally approves of Franz Sigel; my own knowledge of Sigel came from his consistently inept performances in Virginia and the Red River Campaign, but in Missouri Monaghan reports him performing competently (although mostly in well-organized and successful retreats; as noted in a different conflict you don’t win a war with successful evacuations). Perhaps Sigel was like Burnside; competent when handling smaller units but over-matched in command of an army.


An easy read; Monaghan favors short declarative sentences. A big handicap is the complete lack of maps; this is especially problematic with the battles of Pea Ridge and Elkhorn Tavern and the Battle of Westport, which involved complicated maneuvers by both sides (to be fair, the contemporary participants had a hard time figuring out what was going on, too.) Good references and bibliography, although they are all older works.


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 Post subject: Re: civil war on the western frontier
PostPosted: Tue Aug 01, 2017 10:50 pm 
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Joined: Fri Apr 04, 2008 10:52 am
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Location: California-prev Texas Montreal Virginia
My mother's sister wrote about the Civil War among other things. She is still being reprinted by Bethlehem books. She and my mother were old fashioned Confederate sympathizers, As a small child I vaguely recall a visit to see some cannon ball impacts near my grandfather's farm - possibly a civic building in Waverly MO.
http://fromsinkingsand.blogspot.com/201 ... eally.html


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