Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review of O’Brien – Mountain Partisans

I live in Southern Appalachia, and my mom’s family has lived in Southern Appalachia since the mid-1700s. At times I write about Southern Appalachia, and I often speak about Southern Appalachia and the war. So with great interest, I searched around and found a used copy of the out-of-print book, Mountain Partisans: Guerrilla Warfare in the Southern Appalachians, 1861 – 1865, by Sean Michael O’Brien.

The book has sections on guerrilla activity in western North Carolina, northern Alabama, eastern Kentucky, north Georgia, and West Virginia. Surprisingly, the book does not cover eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia. During the war years, I had family in western North Carolina, north Alabama, eastern Kentucky, and southwest Virginia, so the absence of sections on these two states was a bit of a disappointment.

I thought that we would spend a little time exploring what O’Brien has to say about western North Carolina. The section starts off with a snapshot of the Shelton Laurel episode as a segue into the area. On page 4, he writes that “Even in the mountains there was an initial flurry of patriotic support for the Confederacy, but this soon gave way to apathy as the war entered its second year.” Hmm, that “initial flurry” outpaced support for the Confederacy across the entire state, and the “apathy” was partly due to the fact that there were no more men left to give. The rest of Chapter 1 is spent on the Shelton Laurel massacre.

Chapter 2 starts with this: “In 1863, partisan warfare intensified in the western North Carolina mountains. Federal victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July gave the loyalists hope.” I don’t really see what Gettysburg and Vicksburg have to do with partisan warfare in western North Carolina. I do understand that it hinged much more on Longstreet’s inability to recapture Knoxville, and his movement north. When Longstreet was attempting to lay siege to Knoxville, he sent some of his men into western North Carolina to gather supplies. These groups of regular Confederate soldiers kept many of the Unionists at bay. It is not until 1864 that partisan warfare really intensified. Part of Chapter 2 is spent on a Unionist by the name of Goldman Bryson and his activities against the Cherokee, and in Cherokee County, North Carolina, and in north Georgia. Col. George W. Kirk and his raid on Camp Vance near Morganton is covered in chapter 2, as are Keith and Malinda Blalock. Chapter 3 covers William H. Thomas and his legion, and part of Stoneman’s Raid. On page 33, O’Brien writes that Stoneman’s command reached Boone on March 28. “Stoneman’s men burned the county courthouse, the jail, and several other public buildings.” That’s not true. The courthouse records were burned, but not the courthouse. Some of Stoneman’s men who came into town to protect Stoneman’s line of retreat fortified the courthouse by cutting loopholes in the walls to use as gunports.

Chapter 4 dives into George Stoneman and his 1864 raid into southwest Virginia. Then we go back to Stoneman’s 1865 Raid into western North Carolina. The rest of Chapter 4 brings in a host of people not related to the war in western North Carolina: U. S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, George B. McClellan. William S. Rosecrans, George Cook, John C. Fremont, William Quantrill, Felix Zollicoffer, E. Kirby Smith, John S. Mosby, Ormsby M. Mitchell, Don Carlos Buell, William T. Sherman… I guess this chapter is trying to tie in the partisan war in other areas. I kind of thought that was the purpose of the whole book. That ends the North Carolina section of the book.

Mountain Partisans was released in 1999. You can buy it new for $72 on Amazon. I paid a little over half of that from a independent bookseller. I’m not so sure it was worth it.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how much research you've done about the war in this area. But to the claim that Kirby Smith wasn't relevant to this area is not not correct. In fact his raids from east Tennessee through the mountain passes into western NC were pretty detrimental

Michael Hardy said...

Just why would Kirby Smith be sending raiding parties into western North Carolina in 1862 while departmental commander?