Having published six books in as many years about the western theater Civil War navies, Myron J. Smith, Jr. has established himself as one of the foremost authorities on the subject. His recent works include a biography of a Union naval officer in the western theater, two studies of unique classes of vessels (timberclads and tinclads), two histories of individual vessels (USS Carondelet and CSS Arkansas), and the work under review here, which is essentially a regional study. As with all of Smith’s work, this study is thoroughly researched and densely detailed, at times almost to its own detriment. Readers familiar with Smith’s work will know exactly what they are in for before ever opening the book.
After an opening Introduction and Acknowledgements, a chapter detailing the landscape and environmental conditions of the Yazoo region, and a chapter about the destruction of the Confederate ironclad CSS Arkansas, Smith lays out the remainder of the book as a chronological study of the various phases of the war in and around the Yazoo River, from the earliest Union reconnaissance to the eventual Union control of the entire region by late 1864. Each chapter is thick with detail and the book is well illustrated throughout, particularly with photographs of people and ships as they appear in the text. Coming in at nearly 400 pages, this is literally a blow-by-blow account of nearly two years of warfare. The tremendous amount of detail can make the book difficult to work through at times, but the amount of information is certainly very valuable to researchers looking for a starting point for further inquiry. The bibliography is extensive, including many primary sources.
There are some significant issues that plague this book, and they are the same issues that seem to appear in each of Smith’s works. It is enough to make one wonder whether these are faults of the author or the publisher, as all of Smith’s recent works have been published by the same company. Typographical mistakes and simple factual errors can be found throughout the book. A few examples include Helena, Arkansas being referred to as Helena, Arizona and photographs of steamboats being mislabeled on pages 34 and 36 (a side wheel steamboat is labeled as a stern wheel and vice versa). These types of mistakes are easily corrected if more careful editing is undertaken. Another issue involves citation of sources. As with all of Smith’s works, each endnote contains far too many sources cited, making the notes confusing. More frequent citations containing fewer sources per note would be more helpful. Although the book is replete with illustrations, more maps might prove useful for readers who may not be familiar with the region’s geography. Finally, though the book contains a tremendous amount of detail, it is short on analysis. There is no real conclusion; rather the story ends abruptly. Ideally, the Acknowledgements would receive a page unto itself, and the author would expand the well-written Introduction and add a Conclusion to complement it.
- Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2012
- 7” x 10”, softcover, 452 pages
- Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $52.25
- ISBN: 9780786462810
Reviewed by Andrew Duppstadt, North Carolina State Historic Sites