The March of Military History: Part 1

For this year’s military history roundup, we start with new titles covering subjects other than World War I or II. Books on the world wars will be reviewed in the October 15 issue. (Part 2 of the roundup is here.


redstar La Vere, David. The Tuscarora War: Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies. Univ. of North Carolina. Oct. 2013. 304p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781469610900. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781469610917. HIST

The Tuscarora War of 1711 to 1713 was a significant one that has drawn little scholarly attention. Through the perspectives of its combatants, La Vere (history, Univ. of North Carolina, Wilmington; Looting Spiro Mounds: An American King Tut’s Tomb) explores the origins of the war, the motives of its participants, and how it was fought. Before the war, North Carolinians were largely confined to the Atlantic seaboard. Constant depredations, including the enslavement of native children, led Bear River, Core, Neuse, Pamlico, Machapunga, Tuscarora, and Weetock warriors to attack the colonists on September 22, 1711. After North Carolina, with assistance from Virginia and South Carolina, retaliated and emerged victorious in the ensuing conflict, the colony rapidly expanded westward to the Great Smoky Mountains. The Tuscarora splintered after North Carolina made Chief Tom Blount the Tuscarora puppet king. Some stayed in North Carolina, and others moved north to Iroquoia to become the sixth nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. Writing engagingly and accessibly, La Vere conveys a great amount of ethnohistorical detail to adult readers. VERDICT This important work fills a significant niche in the literature on Colonial America. Readers should also consider Anthony F.C. Wallace’s superb Tuscarora: A History.—John R. Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY


Anderson, Mark R. The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony: America’s War of Liberation in Canada, 1774–1776. Univ. Pr. of New England. Nov. 2013. 456p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781611684971. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781611684988. HIST

Anderson sheds light on a little-known episode of the Revolutionary War, highlighting an ill-fated campaign to bring Canada into the fold of American colonies. A military historian and retired U.S. Air Force officer, the author combines his knowledge of military strategy and tactics with in-depth research to demonstrate how the American tendency to intervene to “save” foreigners and guide them to democracy started even before the country technically existed. As Anderson notes in his introduction, the Canadian campaign foreshadowed later U.S. efforts—including recent forays into Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, while reading his book, it’s hard not to be reminded how strongly “America as liberator” is entrenched in U.S. culture, militarily and politically. Anderson outlines various segments of the Canadian campaign and shows how patriot zeal led the nascent united American colonies to overstretch their resources without having a larger plan quite worked out. Thus, Canada’s chances of becoming the 14th colony devolved into bad behavior by conscripts, lack of follow-through on economic promises, and misunderstandings related to language and culture. VERDICT While it may be of less interest to readers outside of New England, Ontario, and Quebec, Anderson’s well-researched and thoughtful book brings a fascinating piece of history to the forefront. Recommended.—Elizabeth Goldman, Perth & District Union P.L., Perth, Ont.

WAR OF 1812

Daughan, George C. The Shining Sea: David Porter and the Epic Voyage of the U.S.S. Essex During the War of 1812. Basic: Perseus. Oct. 2013. 336p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780465019625. $28.99. HIST

With substantial background information on the U.S. Navy, its circumstances of battle in the War of 1812, and the naval careers of principal commanders, Samuel Eliot Morison Award winner Daughan (If by Sea) centers on Capt. David Porter’s time commanding the American frigate Essex and extending the War of 1812 into the Pacific. Porter’s cruise began in early 1813 when he was ordered to harass the British with commerce raiding. He made the momentous decision to take the war to the English whaling grounds off the west coast of South America, where he captured numerous enemy vessels and was so disruptive that the English diverted several warships to catch him. Daughan richly describes the Essex’s voyage, including the dangers and privations from the weather, enemy action, crew indiscipline, and the vagaries of handling a wooden ship under sail. He questions Porter’s judgment in interfering in the affairs of the natives of Nuku Hiva (which he claimed as a U.S. possession) and his seeking a glorious frigate-to-frigate battle instead of preserving his ship as a continued threat through raids. VERDICT Readers, especially those well versed in naval history and terminology, will revel in this lively and thoroughly researched work covering a cruise on its bicentennial.—Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA


Armistead, Gene C. Horses and Mules in the Civil War: A Complete History with a Roster of More Than 700 War Horses. McFarland. Feb. 2014. 235p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786473632. pap. $49.95; ebk. ISBN 9781476602370. HIST

Did you know that the Confederate push north to Gettysburg was in large part to appropriate horses? Likewise, for Sherman in undertaking the Federals’ March to the Sea. Did you know that “flea-bitten” described horse coat color rather than condition? There’s plenty written on the human Civil War experience but little on the estimated three million-plus equines that supported the cause. Armistead, who has published articles on the war, systematically and eloquently fills the gap and points the way for others to undertake more archival research in the future. We may understand by definition that Union and Confederate cavalry would be in need of horses; did we know that each cavalry mount would likely survive only four months? And the war also required horses and mules for artillery, infantry, quartermasters, headquarters, signal corps, medical departments, and so on. In beautifully organized chapters, Armistead presents the story of the war’s horses and mules. The equine war—tied by anecdote to particular men in battle—was a complex infrastructure of its own. The final chapter is Armistead’s roster of 700-plus identified Civil War equine veterans, detailed by name from Abe to Zoozoo. VERDICT Meticulously sourced and nicely illustrated, this book will be an eye-opener for all Civil War history buffs and students. Highly recommended.—Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal

Hatch, Thom. Glorious War: The Civil War Adventures of George Armstrong Custer. St. Martin’s. Dec. 2013. 384p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250028501. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250028518. HIST

George Armstrong Custer’s achievements in the Civil War, for which he won national fame and was promoted to brigadier general in the U.S. Cavalry at age 23, are reviewed here by popular historian Hatch (The Last Outlaws: The Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Rightfully giving Custer his due for his brilliant early career as a Union cavalry officer, Hatch particularly celebrates his role in the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, wherein he out-generaled the Confederate cavalry legend Jeb Stuart to protect the Union rear position during Pickett’s ill-fated charge, a success that not only bolstered his reputation but was essential to the survival and eventual victory of the entire Union Army. Custer is best known today for his later role in the Plains Indian wars and his death at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, but Hatch sympathetically emphasizes what Custer formerly achieved to make him a national figure in the first place. He describes battle scenes vividly; Custer’s legendary pluck, luck, and sheer audacity shine throughout the narrative. VERDICT Recommended as a lively read for Civil War history buffs during the 150th anniversaries and beyond. [See Prepub Alert, 6/10/13.]—Nathan Bender, Albany Cty. P.L., Laramie, WY

Meier, Kathryn Shively. Nature’s Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia. Univ. of North Carolina. Nov. 2013. 256p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781469610764. $39.95; ebk. ISBN 9781469610771. HIST

All the battles, campaigns, and generals of the American Civil War have received their fair share of ink. But as historian Meier (history, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.) points out in this edifying account of the common Union and Confederate soldier’s quest for survival in the Peninsula and Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1862, it was the soldiers’ time spent “in between the spaces of battles” that largely determined individual survival in the harsh environment. Those lucky enough to survive the process of “seasoning” disdained the formal yet somewhat counterproductive services of institutional outlets and instead adopted a variety of self-care tactics, from home remedies to simply straggling, that proved more effective. VERDICT Meier has scoured the available sources left by everyday soldiers from both sides of the war, studying letters, diaries, and memoirs, to produce a captivating “ethnographic history of soldier health,” building a strong case for environmental determinism, a phenomenon commonly overshadowed by the “persistent romanticizing” of the Civil War in popular culture. Recommended to Civil War history buffs and anyone interested in soldiers’ adaption and survival in trying environments.—Brian Odom, Birmingham, AL

Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection. Smithsonian. Nov. 2013. 388p. ed. by Neil Kagan & Stephen G. Hyslop. photos. index. ISBN 9781588343895. $40. HIST

It’s a very handsome volume, but let’s consult the substance. Here are 150 more or less chronologically presented topics attached to more than 500 photographs of objects or images in the Smithsonian’s collections. Some entries, e.g., number 18 on Lincoln’s “Passage Through Baltimore,” are tied to one print and are covered in one page. Others, e.g., number 26, “The Seamstress and the First Ladies,” are multipaged, in that case showing numerous elite pieces that belonged to either Varina Davis or Mary Todd Lincoln. Each entry’s text is suffixed with the initials of the contributing Smithsonian writer, with full names and positions on a list up front. VERDICT Overall, contributors cover the Civil War years richly from numerous social, political, military, and material-culture angles. But this hybrid may not fully succeed in either part of its approach: as a picture book it doesn’t accessibly outline for lay readers the basics of the war’s progress and people. As deeper, descriptive history, it seems to send the message that its collections are above the intellectual discourse on the war and can simply stand on their own—no cited research beyond the Smithsonian required—a very old-fashioned notion. Still, this book sure is attractive, and when getting lay readers interested in history, those good looks count for a lot!—MH

Ural, Susannah J. Don’t Hurry Me Down to Hades: The Civil War in the Words of Those Who Lived It. Osprey. Oct. 2013. 312p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781849085908. $25.95. HIST

Ural (history, Univ. of Southern Mississippi; The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861–1865) presents a Civil War narrative that interweaves chronological coverage of select battles with portraits of some individuals involved, based upon their surviving letters and diaries. Some of her subjects are well-known (e.g., Ulysses and Julia Dent Grant, Jefferson and Varina Davis), but most of her coverage is of ordinary soldiers and their families. An overriding theme in the quoted material is how difficult the writers found it to adequately describe the hardships and horrors of war. Ural’s final chapter follows several men and women who were involved in or were witnesses to Lincoln’s assassination and the attempt on William Seward’s life. Particularly poignant is her description of Maj. Henry Rathbone, who, along with his future wife, was in the Lincoln box at Ford’s theatre. As with so many of Ural’s subjects, Rathbone was forever haunted by the Civil War and became a casualty long after. Unfortunately Ural’s descriptions often include embellishments that cannot be known by any historian and are oversimplified. Her antiquated style of referring to men by their last names and women by their first names is distracting. VERDICT General readers may like this work, but academics should skip it.—Michael Farrell, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL

Varon, Elizabeth R. Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War. Oxford Univ. Oct. 2013. 352p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780199751716. $27.95. HIST

Varon (history, Temple Univ.; Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy) argues that our conflicting interpretations of the meaning of General Lee’s April 1865 surrender to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, VA, help explain our subsequent varying interpretations of Reconstruction and post–Civil War America. The interpretations of Appomattox began even before the surrender itself. In their very negotiations, Lee and Grant attempted to define the meaning of the surrender. Initial responses focused on Grant’s generous terms offered to the defeated rebels. To Lee, the very fact that Grant was generous showed that the South had been morally right but was defeated by overwhelming manpower. For Grant, he was magnanimous because the North was morally right and could afford to be generous in victory to “convert” Southern opinion to Northern sensibilities. To Northerners, it was the superior generalship of Grant, the morality of their cause, and effective soldiering that brought victory. For Southerners and copperheads, it was inferior numbers alone that lost the war. These variances, says Varon, explain Southern resistance to radical Reconstruction, especially as it pertained to civil rights for former slaves. Varon shows that the Northern interpretation of the surrender is in fact better supported by the historical record. VERDICT This is a careful examination that anyone interested in exploring the meanings of the war and Reconstruction will find valuable.—MF


Miller, Robert L. & Dennis Wainstock. Indochina and Vietnam: The Thirty-Five Year War, 1940—1975. Enigma. Nov. 2013. 256p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781936274659. pap. $19; ebk. ISBN 9781936274666. HIST

While American involvement in the Vietnam Conflict greatly expanded after U.S. Marines landed in Danang in 1965, the war did not begin then. Miller (coauthor, Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations) and Wainstock (history, Fairmont State Univ.; Election Year 1968: The Turning Point) explain that the origins of this war, and America’s involvement in it, are much earlier. Their book provides a succinct overview of Vietnamese history, starting from the earliest days of French colonization in Indochina up to the fall of Saigon. Unlike other works that treat the Indochina and Vietnam Wars as two separate events, this work takes the view that these conflicts were in fact components of one larger war. The authors clearly illustrate the overlapping connections between these wars. VERDICT This volume is an excellent introduction for anyone interested in learning about the Vietnam War. It’s especially strong in its coverage of French and American motivations. While experts are unlikely to find any new revelations, novices will appreciate the comprehensive, concise, and lucid treatment of a complex topic. For a more detailed investigation, see Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History.—Joshua Wallace, South Texas Coll. Lib., McAllen

Understanding and Teaching the Vietnam War. Univ. of Wisconsin. 2013. 352p. ed. by John Day Tully & others. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780299294144. pap. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9780299294137. HIST

History teachers know how difficult it is to cover an enormous and complex topic such as the Vietnam War, especially in a survey course. Thankfully, editors Tully (history, Central Connecticut State Univ.; Ireland and Irish Americans, 1932–1945), Matthew Masur (history, Saint Anselm Coll.), and Brad Austin (history, Salem State Univ.) have compiled a collection of 18 useful essays, written by scholars and teachers from various backgrounds, to assist with the challenge. Readers will find essays that give ideas on how to use sources such as presidential recordings, popular music, films, and works of fiction to reach students. Other essays introduce strategies for teaching difficult or often neglected topics such as the Tet Offensive, the antiwar movement, the role of the Hmong, and Vietnamese perspectives. VERDICT This valuable read will serve as a practical resource for teachers of the Vietnam War at the high school or undergraduate level. Suggestions for assignments and prompts for class discussions will prove especially helpful. Librarians will also find this book useful for both collection development on the war and for ideas about resources to add to particular subject guides.—JW

redstar Warren, James A. Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam. Palgrave Macmillan. 2013. 256p. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780230107120. $26. HIST

Despite being outgunned and suffering heavy casualties, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, who served as commander in chief of the People’s Army of Vietnam, managed to defeat both France and the United States. Warren’s (Portrait of a Tragedy: America and the Vietnam War) latest work is not so much a biography of Giap but an exploration of the strategies and tactics he employed to defeat two superior enemies. His book provides a concise overview of the entire Vietnam conflict while giving special attention to major events such as the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the Tet Offensive. Rather than focusing on what France and the United States did wrong, the author successfully explains what Giap and the Communist Vietnamese forces did right. VERDICT This is a must read for all students of the Vietnam War. It is especially valuable for those seeking a greater understanding of the conduct of these wars from the North Vietnamese viewpoint. For a work from a similar, but more personal, perspective, see Truong Nhu Tang’s A Vietcong Memoir: An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath.—JW


Mansoor, Peter R. Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War. Yale Univ. (Yale Library of Military History). Oct. 2013. 400p. illus. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9780300172355. $28. HIST

Mansoor (military history, Ohio State Univ.), a retired U.S. Army colonel, was Gen. David Petraeus’s executive officer during the surge (2007–08) about which he writes. In short, he provides an insider’s account of one of the most controversial and hotly debated strategies adopted by George W. Bush’s administration in its conduct of the Iraq War. The “surge strategy” involved the introduction of some 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq in order to stem the tide of violence in that country which was teetering on the verge of collapse. Mansoor had intimate knowledge of the war’s strategy. Relying on his personal knowledge as well as an array of declassified primary sources, interviews, unpublished manuscripts, and published secondary sources, he offers the most detailed report of the policy process and implementation of the surge counterinsurgency operations in Iraq. VERDICT The book is generally an upbeat analysis of the surge. Its central thesis that the surge was a successful strategy can certainly be challenged in view of continuing violence and mayhem in Iraq today. Nonetheless, this is a useful source for those interested in studying the inner thinking of U.S. military planners during the Iraq War.—Nader Entessar, Univ. of South Alabama, Mobile

Williams, Brian Glyn. The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior Who Led US Special Forces To Topple the Taliban Regime. Chicago Review. 2013. 352p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781613748008. $28.95. HIST

Contemporary Afghanistan is characterized by several ethnic, ideological, religious, and geographic divisions. Over the past 30 years, several strongmen or “warlords” have played important roles in shaping Afghanistan’s destiny. This book is a highly readable account of the meteoric rise of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan of Uzbek ethnicity and one of the most colorful and powerful “warlords” to have emerged in recent decades. Williams (Islamic history, Univ. of Massachusetts, Dartmouth) chronicles Dostum’s central role in the various iterations of Afghan crisis from the late 1970s to the present. Through extensive interviews with the warlord and his family, as well as with various local chieftains, Muslim clerics, women’s rights activists, and even Taliban prisoners, Williams provides a fascinating description of Dostum’s political maneuvering and the alliances he formed through the years. In some ways, Dostum has been a political survivor, aligning himself first against the Afghan Mujahedin fighting the Soviet army, then siding with them in what was later called the “Northern Alliance” to fight against the Taliban, both before and after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. VERDICT This is a valuable and informative book for inquiring readers of all levels, including journalists and policymakers.—NE


Black, Jeremy. War and Technology. Indiana Univ. 2013. 336p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780253009845. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780253009890. HIST

Black (history, Univ. of Exeter; Fighting for America: The Struggle for Mastery in North America) explores technology’s role in the evolution of armed conflict, noting that while technology is undeniably a factor in wars won and lost, the evidence indicates that we can neither simply make “bold claims for technology” nor “minimize its role.” From 15th-century gunpowder to today’s complex air power, Black examines weaponry production, use, and impact. While the introductory chapter may be demanding for lay readers, subsequent chapters are more engaging, as they cover the military effects of the move to steam and firepower, the internal combustion engine, railways, radio, and air power, extending up to today’s drones in the fight against terrorism. Technology alone, Black shows, has not determined success in a war. He cites, for example, German U-boat failures as compared with American submarine successes in World War II. Something other than technology was at work. Black notes how today’s conflicts demonstrate new means of strategizing and waging war owing to profound cultural global shifts, making battlefield technology of relatively less import. VERDICT Black’s academic prose will challenge general readers, but for those interested in diving into these realities behind military history, this book is thoughtful and valuable.—­Rebecca Hill, Zionsville, IN

Dahl, Erik J. Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond. Georgetown Univ. Oct. 2013. 256p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781589019980. pap. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781589016804. HIST

Retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer Dahl (national security affairs, Naval Postgraduate Sch.) argues here that the conventional wisdom on intelligence analysis is wrong; better imaginative and comprehensive analysis of intelligence data will not thwart surprise attacks. Rather, he emphatically contends that his study of both military and terrorist surprise attacks demonstrates that precise tactical-level warnings that policymakers deem convincing are necessary to foil surprise attacks. Dahl examines a wide range of military surprise attacks including Pearl Harbor, Midway, and the Egyptian surprise attack on Israel in 1973. He recognizes that his analysis of recent terrorist attacks depends upon press reports and government-released information, both of which can have significant limitations, but he scrutinizes dozens of terrorists attacks including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in East Africa, the 9/11 attack, and more. He finds that the two elements he cites—of tactical warning intelligence and policymakers receptive to these warnings—always distinguish the prevention of a surprise attack. VERDICT Dahl’s book will appeal to intelligence professionals, scholars of U.S. intelligence operations and policy, and readers interested in national security.—Mark Jones, Mercantile Lib., Cincinnati

Robinson, Linda. One Hundred Victories: Special Ops and the Future of American Warfare. Public Affairs. Oct. 2013. 336p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781610391498. $28.99. HIST

Robinson (senior international policy analyst, RAND; Masters of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces) spent much of 2010–12 visiting U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. In this resulting book, he describes how amid the very difficult environment of the U.S. policy debate on the country’s strategy for Afghanistan and splintered and disorganized internal Afghan politics, U.S. Special Forces (all branches) changed their mission. From commando hunting/killing operations, they moved instead to advisory/teaching operations to create community security through strong local Afghan police, militia, and special forces. Robinson enjoyed very open access to special forces, a world ordinarily cloaked in secrecy. She advocates that an integral element of U.S. military force should be those units and their demonstrated success at advisory missions that create local self-defense capacity. They should not be solely a hidden asset that strikes at night and then returns to secrecy. VERDICT Recommended to readers interested in delving further into the context of our special forces, the U.S. war in Afghanistan, or U.S. military affairs generally.—MJ

Margaret Heilbrun About Margaret Heilbrun

Margaret Heilbrun is a former Senior Editor, Library Journal Book Review.