Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Just Finished Reading - The Confederate Heartland

Let's face it, when it comes to Civil War studies, especially those of the Confederate variety, the Eastern Theater gets most of the love. There have been various arguments put forth on why this is so, but regardless, it remains mostly true. Being from Tennessee, however, I started my Civil War interest by appreciating the Western Theater, and if I'm being honest, I probably still lean toward that region in my reading choice.

So, when I finally came across The Confederate Heartland: Military and Civilian Morale in the Western Confederacy (LSU Press, 2011), by Bradley R. Clampitt, it quickly made by reading wish list.

The Confederate Heartland examines how morale among the Western Theater's soldiers and citizens ebbed and flowed in the last sixteen months of the war. Clampitt divides his chapters into two month segments, starting in January and February 1864, with Joseph E. Johnston's assumption of command of the Army of Tennessee after the disasters of November at the battles around Chattanooga. It ends in March and April 1865, with that army's surrender in North Carolina.

Clampitt argues that Johnston quickly turned around the confidence level in the Army of Tennessee when he took command and that the change in leadership also positively impacted civilian morale. That upswing in morale continued with the resumption of combat in the spring of 1864. And although Union Gen. William T. Sherman captured a significant amount of territory during the ensuing campaign, Johnston's tactics sought to maintain the health of his army, which was greatly appreciated by both the soldiers fighting and the civilians at home.

Clampitt focuses his research on sources largely from the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. That is what he defines as "Confederate Heartland." One might argue that Georgia could be included, too. A number of the sources Clampitt uses are those probably familiar to many Civil War students. Diaries of civilians Ellen Renshaw House, Myra Inman, and Eliza Fain, among others, and soldiers' journals by William Berryhill and Samuel T. Foster help convey the emotions of the people of the "Heartland." However, the strength of these sources is that for the most part they are war time accounts rather than post- war reminiscences.

Even with the Army of Tennessee's change of command in July 1864 to Gen. John Bell Hood, Confederate Heartland morale remained fairly good. It naturally dipped with the loss of Atlanta in early September, but again began to improve with Hood's movement into Middle Tennessee in November. To those of the Heartland, forward movement was good. It was there, though, that things dissolved. With Hood's tragic decisions to smash his army at Franklin, and then become the attacked in December around Nashville, confidence in ultimate Confederate victory withered. The evidence seems to strongly confirm that morale rested largely on the peoples' confidence in their army commanders, and ultimately, their army's success on the region's battlefields.

I enjoyed reading The Confederate Heartland. It provided a much needed look into how the people of the Western Theater perceived their new nation and how their thoughts rode the waves during the last months of their efforts to win their independence. I would highly recommend it to those, who like me, enjoy studies focused on the red-headed step child of Civil War studies. On a scale of one to five, I give The Confederate Heartland a solid 4.5.  

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