Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Theophilus Hunter Holmes: A North Carolina General in the Civil War

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Theophilus Hunter Holmes: A North Carolina General in the Civil War

Article excerpt

Theophilus Hunter Holmes: A North Carolina General in the Civil War. By Walter C. Hilderman III. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013. Pp. x, 220. Acknowledgments, maps, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $35.00, paper.)

Writing a fair biography of Theophilus Holmes is hard for three reasons. First, Holmes leftno substantial body of primary materials. Second, most of his Civil War contemporaries thought he was incompetent. Third, historians who have examined the evidence usually have agreed that Holmes was indeed incompetent. For a biographer with few primary sources from his subject, the last two problems are difficult to overcome. Still, Holmes is an important figure in Arkansas Civil War history, and he deserves a biography. Hilderman has admirably accomplished that task by examining the relevant sources and producing a well-written narrative of the general's life. It is a sympathetic treatment of this much maligned general, and Holmes does deserve some sympathy for having to serve in Civil War Arkansas. After all, conditions in the state were so bad that even a good general would likely have failed.

Holmes graduated from West Point in 1829 and spent his antebellum career in the army. He served mostly in the West and fought in both the Seminole and Mexican Wars. Unfortunately, and, again, because he leftbehind few writings, most of what the author thinks about those years is gleaned from sources that only mention Holmes in passing. Holmes emerges as a brave, dutiful soldier, but there is no real sense of his skill as a leader of men.

In the spring of 1861, Holmes joined the Confederate Army. His West Point classmate and friend, President Jefferson Davis, appointed him brigadier general. Holmes ended his career as a lieutenant general.

Holmes' service ended in the eastern theater because he failed to impress Gen. Robert E. Lee. In July 1862, Holmes, with Davis's approval, assumed command of the Trans-Mississippi District. He was, as the author notes, "fifty-eight years old, nearly deaf, and gave the impression of an inattentive elderly man" (p. …

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