- Series: Civil War Series
- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: The History Press (September 4, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1609492838
- ISBN-13: 978-1609492830
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #298,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom (Civil War Series) Paperback – September 4, 2012
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About the Author
James Schmidt is a member of the Galveston Historical Foundation, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and the Woodlands area Civil War Round Table. He is the author of three other Civil War titles and the Civil War Medicine (and Writing) blog.
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Schmidt makes some profound points. He documents that slavery was central to Galveston which was the main Texas port for the booming pre-war interstate slave trade. Fear that Lincoln would aggressively attack slavery underpinned the strong Galveston secessionist movement. That argument is explored in more depth by David Keehn in “Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War” published after “Galveston and the the Civil War” went to press. The Confederates exploited impressed slave labor to build strong defensive works, a major factor in the decision by U.S. Naval officers not to try to retake Galveston after the Confederates recaptured the city in 1863. Schmidt also shows how this victory benefited the rebels first by boosting morale then after Mobile fell in August 1864 by their use of Galveston as the last Gulf port available to blockade runners. Indeed, Galveston was the only significant rebel held port at the end of the Civil War. The Navy was still engaging blockage runners in May 1865 well after the end or organized Confederate resistance east of the Mississippi.
Schmidt’s perspective is highly localized. He misses or does not explore the greater political significance of the Confederate recapture of Galveston. This arguably was an important pivot in Texas Civil War history. President Lincoln sought to tap latent Unionist sentiment and weaken Confederacy credibility wherever he could sustain a military presence and establish a provisional government. Elements of the Union’s First Texas Cavalry and civilian Texas Unionists were en route to Galveston when the rebels recaptured the city. Lincoln earlier had named former Texas Congressman A.J. Hamilton Military Governor of Texas. Had Galveston remained in Union hands it could have become the beachhead for a provisional Union government in Texas. Moreover Colonel Edmund Davis commanded the First Texas. He had led opposition to secession in Corpus Christy and was elected Governor in 1869. As Schmidt writes Davis almost was captured by a nearly successful ruse as his ship approached Galveston. Two Texas Unionists on that ship who were captured were executed, a fate Davis might have suffered.
Readers interested in exploring how Texas fit into Lincoln’s political strategy should consult Edward Cotham Jr.’s essay “Nothing But Disaster”: The Failure of Union Plans to Capture Texas in “The Seventh Star of the Confederacy: Texas during the Civil War,” edited by Kenneth Howell.
In his new book Galveston and the Civil War Mr. Schmidt sets out three main goals: First is to provide readers a lively and well illustrated account of Galveston and the Civil War. Second is to add to the scholarship of Galveston by addressing subjects that have previously received little coverage. These include slavery, Unionist dissent, yellow fever, and the heroic actions of the Ursuline sisters. Lastly, to further add to the literature on the city by using previously unpublished primary resources. While I am far from an expert on the history of Galveston and admit to knowing little about the war there, I am convinced that all three goals have been achieved!
The book starts off strong with a discussion of slavery in Galveston and has Schmidt ably refuting the nineteenth century claims that slavery was not a major factor in the Galveston economy and also that slaves loved the island and did not want to leave. Just as the book starts strong towards one of the goals the ending (well, next to the last chapter) covers the yellow fever epidemics and the attempts of doctors to downplay the danger until it was too late. The period of 1837-1860 saw seven epidemics which left approximately 2,000 people dead. An 1864 outbreak left 259 dead with 117 being soldiers (more than double the number killed in the battle). Just after the war in 1867 more than 1,000 lost their lives to yellow fever with around 100 being soldiers.
Those who have read Mr. Schmidt's earlier book Notre Dame and the Civil War (IN): Marching Onward to Victory will expect nothing less than the expert treatment given to the Ursuline nuns, who despite potential danger to themselves treated the sick and wounded on both sides. While opinions were mixed their convent was offered to the Confederates to be used as a field hospital by Mother Saint Pierre Harrington, leader of the Galveston Ursuline nuns.
While these "overlooked" subjects are really the gem of the book in my view, the fighting is given good coverage. The island city was an important one for Confederates to hold. When the island was blockaded in 1861 by Union naval forces the Confederacy ultimately surrendered it in 1862. Almost immediately "Prince" John Magruder began making plans to retake the island leading to the New Years Day 1863 battle that returns Galveston to Confederate control. The land/sea battle produced approximately 150 casualties.
Mr. Schmidt has an enjoyable writing style that is easy to follow. The book is thoroughly researched and the notes and bibliography contain a nice mix of primary and secondary sources. As are most books from The History Press this one contains a large number of illustrations and photos. These are a nice mix of vintage and contemporary and help the reader visualize what is on the page. This is a great introduction to the subject for those of us not familiar with the battle. For those with knowledge of the 1863 fight the seldom heard human interest stories are a great reason to pick up this book. Highly recommended!