Civil War Book Review: The Battle of Carthage, Missouri: First Trans-Mississippi Conflict of the Civil War

The Battle of Carthage, Missouri: First Trans-Mississippi Conflict of the Civil War
by Kenneth E. Burchett

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (November 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786469595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786469598

The history of a non-event

History has a way of overlooking or forgetting events.  Oh yes, the event is real.  People talked about it for years afterward.  At the time, the papers reported it.  Things happened because of it.  However, history seems to have forgotten all about it.  It is a non-event.  At best, non-events are footnotes or a couple of lines in a detailed history.  Non-events are always important to the local historical society.  They have a few die-hard fans willing to talk about how the non-event should not be a non-event.  Having said that, non-events can teach us a lot about the times, attitudes and help frame the real events in history.

The Battle of Carthage on July 1861 is one of the Civil War’s non-events.  I discovered Carthage years ago and have a soft spot for it ever since.  Carthage is a window into 1861 Missouri.  This is a state full of ethnic divisions and political infighting.  People are capable of incredible bravery and just plain stupidity.  Missouri’s 1861 war is the story of armed semi-trained mobs stumbling into each other and into battles.  While not fought between “official” armies, Carthage is the first battle of the war.  The bravery and fighting abilities of the men on both sides stand in stark contrast to the political “generals” that lead them.  Personnel evaluations Carthage colors the Wilson’s Creek and Pea Ridge campaigns helping to determine who was/was not reliable.  A major advantage of small battles is our ability to easily look at the details and personalities.  We can understand why their are so many questions about big battles exploring questions caused by small ones.

Kenneth E. Burchett takes the time to explore the details and questions in an intelligent and readable way.  We have enough general politics and prior events to understand the situation and the events that put the two armies on the field.  The real strength is the coverage of the town and personalities.  This investment pays dividends, as the reader understands the tensions and actions of both sides.  The author shows that in addition to the two armies, the locals are divided and dividing into factions.  This division will have real consequences in the years to come.  The author takes the time to tell us what “Civil War” came to mean for the town of Carthage and the people living there.

The battle history is well written, detailed and readable.  Multiple questions are covered with the possible answers and the “Best Choice” identified.  The tactical problems facing sides, their solutions and how this changes the battle are understandable.  The author has an easy to read style that keeps your attention.  The result is a detailed informative look at this small battle.

The book has a number of woodcuts and photographs but lacks maps.  The two included are contemporary maps and little use to placing armies or understanding the course of battle.  That is my only real problem with this book.  The book is fully footnoted, indexed and has a good bibliography.



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