Bowen Cast as `Stonewall of West'

Article excerpt

The mighty river of new Civil War histories and biographies continues at high flow, about which no Civil War enthusiast will complain. Among the fresh flood are new studies of men and battles well known to readers as well as those of lesser-known but fascinating participants in the great conflict.

In The Forgotten "Stonewall of the West" - Major General John Stevens Bowen (Mercer University Press. 379 pages. Illus. $32.95), Phillip Thomas Tucker contends that Bowen is more deserving of the Jacksonian comparison than the much better known Patrick R. Cleburne. But Bowen died of dysentery in the summer of 1863, his end obscured by occurring immediately after the fall of Vicksburg and, of course, Gettysburg that same month - the most grievous defeats the Confederacy would suffer.

It didn't help, either, that Bowen was neither reticent nor modulated in making his opinions known. Add to that his daughter's haste to burn his letters and personal papers after the war, evidently ashamed of her father's "traitorous" service.

Mr. Tucker, now chief historian of the 11th Wing at Bolling Air Force Base, makes the case that Gen. Bowen performed "brilliantly in one battle after another in both key offense and defensive roles to overcome almost impossible odds with his own tactical skill and ability." The author adds that Bowen "was never tactically out-thought or out-fought, even when confronting General Grant during some of the most decisive battles of the war," including Bowen's tenacity at Vicksburg.

A plain tombstone in Vicksburg's Cedar Hill cemetery bears Bowen's name - his rank incorrectly etched - though the exact location of his grave is unknown.

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The long controversy over the guilt or innocence of Dr. Samuel Mudd in the Lincoln assassination is not a controversy to Edward Steers Jr. - His Name Is Still Mudd: The Case Against Doctor Samuel Alexander Mudd (Thomas Publications. Gettysburg, Pa., 160 pages. Illus. $12 paperback; $24 hardcover). The author contends that "whatever history thinks of the military tribunal [that convicted Mudd and the other conspirators] and its jurisdiction: Dr. Mudd was allowed every avenue of access to the American justice system. . . . The good doctor had his day in court."

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Phillip Shaw Paludan's A People's Contest: The Union & Civil War, 1861-1865 was originally published in 1988. This edition, in paperback (University Press of Kansas. 486 pages. Illus.), with a new preface by the author, is, he explains, an effort to combine the "old history" with the new, which focuses on social history - the two methodologies having diverged into compartmentalized presentations of the past.

Mr. Paludan has combined political narrative, constitutional debate, economic decision-making and civil-military relations with, as he says, "insights from the new social history" - which is to say about cultural impact.

Mr. Paludan concludes with an observation by the remarkable and too-little-known diarist George T. Strong, who, as the seismic conflict was ending, wrote that looking back to prewar America made him think of "records of some remote age and a people wholly unlike our own."

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Benjamin Franklin Cooling is professor of history at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and Monocacy: The Battle That Saved Washington (White Mane Publishing. 335 pages. Illus. $34.95) is his third book on the defense of the nation's capital - following "Symbol, Sword & Shield" and "Mr. Lincoln's Forts" - and he has been honored with the Douglas Southall Freeman award.

At the Battle of Monocacy, July 9, 1864, just south of Frederick, Md., a catchall collection of federal units under future novelist Lew Wallace stubbornly delayed Jubal Early's desperate attempt to capture Washington, allowing reinforcements to be brought from Grant's army in Virginia to stop the Confederate raiders at Fort Stevens on the outskirts of town. …