The Civil War In The American West

 Arenson, Adam, and Andrew R. Graybill, eds. Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015. 321 pp. $29.95. As new. ISBN 978-0-520-28379-4Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States

Scharff, Virginia, ed. Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015. 321 pp. $34.95. As new. ISBN 978-0-520-28126-4.Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West

In fall 2002, Professor Elliott West, in his presidential address “Reconstructing Race” before the Western History Association, urged American historians to see closer links between what he considered the two most important topics of nineteenth-century American history: the Civil War and the western movement. Too often historians devoted separate chapters to these two subjects in their historical overviews, thereby overlooking how the Civil War and the West were intertwined. Following ideas like these path-breaking ones of Professor West, the historians in these two collections of essays endeavor to make explicit several Civil War and West connections.
Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States, edited by Adam Arenson and Andrew R. Graybill, gathers twelve essays. Those essays are divided into three parts: sections on borderland conflicts, aftereffects of the Civil War, and ongoing tensions over citizenship measures. Most of the essays are monographic, well researched, and clearly written. Writers particularly deal with minority experiences.

A number of similarities exist between Civil War Wests and the second volume under review, Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West, edited by Virginia Scharff. The partner book is also a collection of essays, this time eleven items. The major organizing theme is the same: finding and emphasizing links between the Civil War era and the West. The emphases in the two books are also parallel: social history topics, especially racial-ethnic history, but also stress on gender and social classes.

But differences are equally apparent. Liberty and empire ideas, drawing on Thomas Jefferson’s words “empires for liberty,” provide variant themes for the second volume. Plus, it also utilizes dozens of artefacts from the Autry National Center for the American West in southern California, and more than 150 photographs and other visuals from other collections, to richly illustrate its pages.

These two volumes add much to connections between the Civil War era and the American West, but also contain large gaps. Much of the American West is not covered, with most essays treating the Texas to California portion of the southern West. Few pieces deal with the northern West. Readers will also notice how little is said about Abraham Lincoln. Was there any national figure who exhibited more shaping influence on the West during the Civil War years than Lincoln? Probably not. One would not know from these essays, for example, that in the early 1860s Lincoln was naming more western governors than western residents were.

Still, one should remember the contributions of these two volumes much more than their limitations. Their central purpose–to show connections between Civil War issues and happenings in the American West–is clearly evident in nearly all of these essays. After perusing these writings, specialists in western history and the Civil War and Lincoln scholars should come away with a determination to tell more cross-continental stories. If they do, we’ll have enlarged and more valuable histories about mid-nineteenth-century America.

— Richard W. Etulain

Other Books On The Civil War In The American West

  • Colton, Ray C. The Civil War in the Western Territories: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959. 230 pp. Cloth $22. Very Good.
    Colton deals narrowly but thoroughly with the Civil War military history of these four territories. His emphases are on Union battles with Confederates and Indians.
  • Etulain, Richard W. Lincoln and Oregon Country Politics in the Civil War Era. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2013. 212 pp. Paper $19.95. New. ISBN 978-0-87071-702-4.
    This slim volume treats Abraham Lincoln’s connections, especially those of friendship and politics, during the Civil War years in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The volume also deals with civil rights, slavery, Indian conflicts, and North-South controversies in the Oregon Country.
  • Higham, Carol L. The Civil War and the West: The Frontier Transformed. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2013. 153 pp. Cloth $37.00. New. ISBN 978-0-313-39358-7.
    This brief volume on a large subject focuses on military history and the impact of war on western development both before and during the Civil War. The author also treats, in abbreviated form, Civil War influences on western treatment of Indians, statehood aspirations, and regional differences between the East and the West.
  • Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. The Civil War in the American West. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1992. First printing, 448 pp. Cloth $15. As new. ISBN 0-394-56482-0.
    This volume remains by far the best overview of the Civil War in the American West-especially on military history. Josephy, a skilled and appealing writer, also deals with conflicts with Indians and with major military leaders. Valuable book.
  • Matthews, Glenna. The Golden State in the Civil War: Thomas Starr King, the Republican Party, and the Birth of Modern California. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Cloth $95.00. New. ISBN 978-0-521-194006.
    Matthews provides a revealing reading of California’s Civil War years, particularly through political conflicts, cultural developments, and the life of a leading Unitarian minister, Thomas Starr King. A valuable book on an important topic.
  • Potter, James E. Standing Firmly by the Flag: Nebraska Territory and the Civil War, 1861-1867. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012. 375 pp. Paper 375 pp. $29.95. New. ISBN 978-0-8032-4090-2.
    Potter, a research historian at the Nebraska Historical Society, furnishes a fact-filled overview of the military history of Nebraska during the Civil War years and shortly thereafter. The author also deals with the socioeconomic impact of the war on Nebraska residents and their shifting attitudes toward slavery and blacks.
  • Richards, Leonard L. The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War. New York: A. A. Knopf, 2007. 292 pp. Cloth $20. As new. ISBN 978-0-307-26520-3.
    This very strong monograph clarifies the steps, especially the political ones, leading from California’s disruptive Gold Rush years, through the 1850s, and up to the election of 1860. Superbly researched and smoothly written.
  • Thompson, Jerry D. A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016. 952 pp. Cloth $95.00. New. ISBN 978-08263-5567-6.
    This mammoth study by the leading expert on the Civil War military history of the Southwest will please both scholars and general readers. Thoroughly researched and clearly written, it is obviously the definitive work on these subjects.

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In this issue: Fictional Wests: Two Recent Novels, Two Trails West, The Civil War In The American West, 10 Historical Overviews Of The American West and Lewis and Clark Books

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