Suffering on Edges of Civil War

By Bateman, Lt Col Robert | Army, June 2017 | Go to article overview

Suffering on Edges of Civil War


Bateman, Lt Col Robert, Army


Suffering on Edges of Civil War Extreme Civil War: Guerilla Warfare, Environment, and Race on the TransMississippi Frontier. Matthew M. Stith. Louisiana State Press. 218 pages. $42.50

Civil wars are often the most brutal. These conflicts, when fought by, among and through civilians-often neighbors- can transcend mere brutality and descend into true barbarity, which was the case in the Trans-Mississippi West during the American Civil War. Now, Matthew M. Stith shines the light of historical research on the topic in his book Extreme Civil War. This is a solid work of academic history, decently written and mercilessly even-handed. No side in this comes out looking or smelling clean. But that is what good history is about: telling the story, warts and all.

Stith, an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at Tyler, understands that to cover this topic for the entire Trans-Mississippi region would be nearly prohibitive, and so the book is deliberately limited in its geographic scope to make the telling digestible, if not palatable. The focus is upon a roughly 100-by-100-mile area around where Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and what was then Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) come together. By narrowing in on this geographic locus, Stith gains the space he needs to bring depth to a story which is as thorough as it is depressing.

He makes it clear that as bad as things were when the large regular armies of the Civil War clashed, life for the inhabitants of this blighted land were orders of magnitude worse. Here, there were few uniformed armies marching under battle flags, but instead, guerillas, bushwhackers, thieves, murderers, looters, and not a few who met all those descriptions. There were few heroic stands by embattled divisions struggling to hold the corps lines, but thousands of what Stith calls microbattles, often waged on front porches and in barnyards over more than politics; over the very stuff of life on the frontier-corn, hogs and cows.

Some of this ground has been covered before. Mark Grimsley of Ohio State University broke ground 20 years ago with his Lincoln Prize-winning book The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865. …

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