Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River, 1861-1865

Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River, 1861-1865

Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River, 1861-1865

Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River, 1861-1865


Though its most famous battles were waged in the East at Antietam, Gettysburg, and throughout Virginia, the Civil War was clearly a conflict that raged across a continent. From cotton-rich Texas and the fields of Kansas through Indian Territory and into the high desert of New Mexico, the trans-Mississippi theater was site of major clashes from the war's earliest days through the surrenders of Confederate generals Edmund Kirby Smith and Stand Waite in June 1865. In this comprehensive military history of the war west of the Mississippi River, Thomas W. Cutrer shows that the theater's distance from events in the East does not diminish its importance to the unfolding of the larger struggle.

Theater of a Separate War details the battles between North and South in these far-flung regions, assessing the complex political and military strategies on both sides. While providing the definitive history of the rise and fall of the South's armies in the far West, Cutrer shows, even if the region's influence on the Confederacy's cause waned, its role persisted well beyond the fall of Richmond and Lee's surrender to Grant. In this masterful study, Cutrer offers a fresh perspective on an often overlooked aspect of Civil War history.


The trans-Mississippi theater of the American Civil War remains to a remarkable degree unknown and underappreciated. Despite the romantic allure of the New Mexico campaign of 1862, the pathos of the war in Indian Territory, the drama of the recapture of Galveston, the heroic defense of Sabine Pass, the ferocity of the Red River and Camden campaigns of 1864, and the irony of the final battle of the war—a minor Confederate victory on the Rio Grande achieved more than a month after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox—the trans-Mississippi West languishes in the backwaters of Civil War historiography. Neither the massive size and strategic importance of the region nor the dedication and hardships of the soldiers who served there in Union and Confederate armies has inspired substantial interest among historians or readers drawn to the military story of the conflict.

Soldiers at the time foretold their fate. in the autumn of 1863, for example, the Army of the Gulf and the Army of Western Louisiana were deeply engaged in the momentous “Overland Campaign” in south Louisiana, a series of battles that ultimately saved Texas from invasion. But, Capt. Elijah Petty commented to his wife, in comparison to the Chickamauga campaign underway in Tennessee, “these little places here are of minor importance to them and will be overlooked.”

For nearly 150 years, historians tended to disregard what one called “the dark corner of the Confederacy.” Early in the twentieth century, historian Nathaniel W. Stephenson wrote that “a great history of the time would have a special and thrilling story of the conduct of the detached western unit, the isolated world of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas— the ‘Department of the Trans-Mississippi’—cut off from the main body of the Confederacy and hemmed in between the Federal army and the deep sea.” But to the largest degree, this story has not yet been written. The Annals of the Civil War: Written by Leading Participants, North and South, one of the major collections of primary documents relating to the Civil War, contains not a single article on the war west of the Mississippi. the classic West Point Atlas of American Wars contains not a single map of the trans-Mississippi. Ken Burns’s vastly popular and influential pbs

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