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Mark K. Christ (Editor)

Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas


NEW 12/26/06

Mark K. Christ (Editor). Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas. Fayetteville, AR: The University of Arkansas Press (November 1994). 207 pp., 13 maps, notes, index.. ISBN: 1-55728-357-5 $19.95 (Paperback).

By most accounts, the fighting in Virginia and in the Western Theater was far more important to the eventual outcome of the Civil War than that which occurred west of the Mississippi River.  What many people do not know is that Arkansas was also the scene of bloody struggles, not only battles but smaller clashes involving guerillas as well.  According to editor Mark Christ, the state of Arkansas saw "at least 771 Civil War military actions", a number which ranks the state fifth in total number of battles, actions, and skirmishes.  The purpose of Rugged and Sublime, then, is to help preserve battle sites within the state's borders by educating readers on "the important role Arkansas played in the Civil War."  This book is a solid overview of the military history of the state which at times touches on the political and social aspects of the conflict as well. 

As a member of the middle tier of slave states, Arkansas was one of the last to secede from the Union, doing so on May 6, 1861.  From this point forward, Arkansas was the scene of both military and civil conflict.  A significant minority of Arkansans were content to either side with no one or even support the Union cause, a situation which caused quite a bit of consternation among Arkansas Confederates.  The year of 1862 saw quite a bit of fighting in northwestern Arkansas, including the Battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove.  The first occurred in the spring and the other late in the year, but both resulted in Confederate losses.  In between those fights Earl Van Dorn had stripped the Trans-Mississippi of almost all her defenders.  Thomas Hindman, the man responsible for rebuilding a new force from scratch, had managed this task through means both legal and otherwise.  The losses at Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove combined with Federal advances in the eastern portion of the state which took Arkansas post and threatened Little Rock meant all of northern Arkansas was in Union hands by the end of the year.  The year 1863 was not much better for Rebel hopes.  It saw the fall of Vicksburg in Mississippi and the loss of Little Rock as well.  Walker's Texas Division and other Trans-Mississippi Confederates tried to attack Ulysses S. Grant's supply line on the west side of the Mississippi River with little success.  After the fall of Little Rock, the Confederates were reduced to holding on in the southwestern portion of the state as 1863 ended.  The next year saw Steele's Camden Expedition get underway from Little Rock.  Camden and his Union force were to join up with Nathaniel Banks' expedition in Shreveport, Louisiana after it had ascended the Red River.  Steele did not attend to his supply line and his command was almost destroyed after Confederate troops attacked at several spots including Jenkins' Ferry, fresh off their victories over Banks on the Red River.  Confederate General Sterling Price launched an ill conceived invasion of Missouri from Arkansas in late 1864 that resulted in the destruction of two thirds of his force.  Arkansas was nearly devoid of a Confederate presence save for guerilla forces from this point forward.  An appendix covers various Civil War sites by county, which was another good way to educate readers on the history Arkansas has to offer.  Maps were included on all major battles, but they rarely ventured below division level.  Considering the focus and level of the book, the maps were sufficient to educate the reader while inviting further study of more detailed books in the future.

Rugged and Sublime is divided into an introduction and five chapters, with almost all written by different authors.  All of these individuals, Kenneth Story, Mark Christ, Carl Moneyhon, William Shea, Thomas DeBlack, and Daniel Sutherland, live and work in the state of Arkansas or have written extensively on this subject.  Carl Moneyhon takes the chapters on 1861 and 1865, which seem to be focused less on military events and more on secession and the beginnings of Reconstruction, respectively.  William Shea covers 1862, including the fight at Pea Ridge.  Shea co-authored an excellent book on this fight with Earl Hess.  Thomas DeBlack, the author of the 1863 chapter, is a graduate of Southern Methodist University with a focus on the history of the American South.  The 1864 chapter is taken by Daniel Sutherland, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas and an author an Arkansas regimental as well.  Mark Christ, the editor, is the Director of Development for the Department of Arkansas Heritage, with headquarters in Little Rock.  I highlight the backgrounds of these authors to point out their unquestionable qualification to write an overview of the Civil War in the state of Arkansas.  It is to their credit that these chapters flow relatively seamlessly despite the varied authors.  The book is a very good introduction to the Civil War in this area, even touching on some actions which bordered the state in Missouri, Mississippi, and elsewhere.  The narrative was detailed enough to remain interesting while not overwhelming those readers new to the subject.  The focus of these authors was mainly on the military events which occurred in the state, and this is not by accident.  Rugged and Sublime was written as a way to draw attention to Arkansas' Civil War battlefields and the ongoing development of the Arkansas Civil War Heritage Trail.  I was mildly surprised by the lack of a bibliography, though the authors do provide notes for their respective chapters.  Inclusion of a detailed bibliography would have been an excellent opportunity to point interested readers in new directions.  Shea's book on Pea Ridge, Michael Banasik's large volume on the Prairie Grove Campaign, and Michael Forsyth's coverage of the Camden Expedition are just a few of the books that could have been highlighted.  This was unfortunately a bit of a missed opportunity.

Rugged and Sublime is a solid overview of the military aspects of the Civil War in Arkansas.  It is aimed mainly at those new to the subject, but can be read and appreciated by more experienced readers as well.  Students of the Trans-Mississippi Theater will find this to be a readable if not indispensable addition to their library of books on the subject.  Those Civil War buffs more into the social and political aspects of the war may not find what they are looking for considering the mostly military subject matter.  As a reader who is interested in the military side of the conflict, I found this book to be a very good summary of Arkansas' battlegrounds.

(Note: Special thanks goes to the University of Arkansas Press.)

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