Book project, part one

As the semester drew to a close and I hit ‘submit’ on the last groups of grades in time to satisfy the registrar’s deadline, it occurred to me that not only have I been a miserably uneven contributor to the blogosphere, but I have also been abandoning my duties to my bookshelves.  In light of this revelation, I settled on an ambitious project that will, no doubt, result in some successes and failures.

I will be picking a book from the shelves behind me (you can see them pictured on either side of these words), reading it, and posting comments about the book each day.  As I am also preparing for summer courses and the fall semester, I will occasionally choose books from the library rather than the shelf for perusal.  Most of these books will be non-fiction and history oriented and I have no idea whether all will lend themselves to ‘reading straight through’ followed by review.

The exercise serves a few purposes – 1. it gets some dust off books that, in some cases, I have opened but never read page by page. 2. it gets me writing on a daily basis.

Last night I pulled the following book off the shelf – a long ago gift, it has, to my knowledge not been opened in years by these hands.

Bruce S. Allardice, More Generals in Gray. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995.

Allardice is a Civil War and genealogy student and in this volume he has pulled together concise bibliographic comments on over 130 officers who served the Confederacy during the Civil War as generals or in the capacity of commanding officers who operated like generals.  Allardice sought to offer rationale for why these officers should be considered generals, how they attained their rank, and corrections on particulars of their lives as he discovered them.

In an interesting remark from the introduction of the text, Allardice argues “in most respects, the Confederate army was the Confederacy.”  I don’t know that I completely agree with this sentiment as their were a number of civilians who participated in the day to day existence of the doomed attempt at creating a separate American nation.  Nonetheless, I can see his point that it is chiefly the military that we examine when looking at the Civil War.

Allardice goes on t define what a general was under laws of the Confederacy and the various states.  He affirms that becoming a general was a combination of political intrigue, personal power, and battlefield actions.  Eventually, he lays out that there are six main categories by which individuals became generals:

  1. Appointed and nominated by Jefferson Davis and confirmed by Confederate Senate
  2. appointed and nominated by Davis but not confirmed
  3. appointed by Davis but never nominated or confirmed
  4. appointed by Confederate army authority but not Davis
  5. appointed by state authorities
  6. officers who exercised brigade command and were called general by contemporaries

Allardice concisely explains how the state militias made a large contribution to these numbers and explains other factors that went into selecting leaders.  He then proceeds to provide biographical sketches of these individuals, alphabetically.

As such, the book is not so much a ‘read’ as it is a resource.  You can pick through and gain new insights into individuals like Arkansas general Charles Adams, born in Boston, grandfather of Helen Keller or Raphael Semmes who is more famous as an admiral, but who cleverly gets himself referred to as a general when surrendering at the war’s end lest he be brought up on charges of piracy for his time commanding the CSS Alabama. Or you might learn more about Pleasant Jackson Philips the Georgia banker and planter who rose through the ranks of the militia to a brigadier generalship.  What’s fascinating about these individuals is not only learning their background prior to the war, but more about what happened to them after the fact.  William H. Parsons for example, the Texas general referred to as “Wild Bill,” was born in New Jersey but raised in Alabama.  A Mexican War veteran, Parsons then worked as an editor and publisher.  Fighting in engagements from Arkansas to Texas and Missouri to Louisiana, Parsons briefly left the country after the war for British Honduras.  When he returned, Parsons worked in newspapers again while also serving as a state senator in Texas and an appointed commissioner (by Ulysses Grant) for the Centennial Exposition in 1876.  Parsons became active in the Knights of Labor and Greenback party and his younger brother Albert was one of the central figures accused, convicted, and executed after the Haymarket Affair in Chicago.

I scanned a few other biographies along the way, and though the book does not lend itself to reading cover to cover, Allardice made the text readable and concise.  Should researchers want to know more, Allardice indicates sources used for building each biography, and often, he has included a photograph or other portrait image of the generals in question.  More Generals in Gray certainly serves to illuminate the lives of lesser known figures and picks up on individuals not included in Ezra J. Warner’s original work on Confederate generals.

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