Featured Book Reviewer
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
I've been aware of this title for as long as I can remember, largely because for many, many years it was the only treatment of its topic. First published in 1955, it was the work of Jay Monaghan who I also knew as one of the writers of that period to revive the career of the Civil War's Boy General in his biography Custer. Having finally read it, now some sixty years after it was written I can fully say it deserves the usual adjective "classic." This is an easy-to-read account of the conflict in the West, mainly the states of Missouri and western Arkansas, Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma), and the Territory/State of Kansas where the action really began.
I must admit I found the going a bit slow and confusing for the first third of the book which concentrated on Bleeding Kansas and the shifting cast of characters who populated both it and neighboring Missouri. There was good deal of John Brown here but the stooped-but-towering figure that eventually overshadowed all the others was that of The Grim Chieftain James (Jim) Lane. My essential problem was with myself, however; I'm on much firmer ground militarily speaking than political and my relative unfamiliarity with the pre-war period should not be seen as a fault of the author. One problem I had that should've been addressed is the absolute absence of maps in the paperback edition; hopefully, there was at least an endpaper map in the original edition. There are likewise no illustrations and portraits of those unfamiliar political figures might have helped keep them sorted out - to me at least!
Once the war arrived in all its panoply things moved much swifter for me - having traveled to most of these sites I had far less trouble visualizing them or the participants. Here are found all the usual suspects - professional soldiers like Nathaniel Lyon, John M. Schofield, and Alfred Pleasonton; military neophytes like John C. Fremont, Samuel Curtis, James Blunt, and other Union leaders; Sterling Price, James McIntosh, Ben McCullough, Earl Van Dorn, Thomas Hindman, and other Confederates; raiders like John S. Marmaduke, Jo Shelby, Stand Waite, M. Jeff Thompson; and outlaw renegades like Charles Quantrill, Bloody Bill Anderson and many others. There is a great deal of attention given to the travails of the members of the Civilized Tribes waging their own bloody war-within-a-war under leaders like Albert Pike and Samuel Cooper.
The three major campaigns resulting in the largest battles fought west of the Mississippi River probably receive the major attention: Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern and Prairie Grove in 1862, and Price's Missouri Raid in 1864. One fact of which I was unaware is that the largest battle was actually fought at Westport, Missouri, during Price's Raid. Monaghan gives figures of 15,575 for Wilson's Creek, Mo.; 21,000 for Lexington, Mo.; 24,000 for Prairie Grove, Ark.; 26,700 for Pea Ridge, Ark; and 29,000 for Westport. All these receive full treatment and descriptions of action, only marred by the lack of maps; several smaller actions are also well represented.
The real strength and value of Monaghan's work is the overall placement of these events in a continuous coherent narrative. Other than Bleeding Kansas I felt I didn't learn too much as far as individual events were concerned; however seeing them all as part of a whole instead of being merely isolated occurrences was quite revealing, even to one who had traveled and read pretty widely about them. It's possible this may be dated by now by other more recent books but for an overall understanding I highly recommend it.