Book Review: The Enemy Never Came

The Enemy Never Came:  The Civil War In The Pacific Northwest, by Scott McArthur

This book is a rough sort of work, written by a competent historian who nevertheless falls short of the most eloquent practitioners in his craft.  As a resident of the Pacific Northwest deeply interested in the Civil War [1], there are few sources that deal with the period.  As this author relates, recordkeeping was not very complete and few historians have taken the time to write lengthy discussions of the Civil War in the Pacific Northwest, which was far away from the centers of fighting.  That is not to say that the story is uninteresting, as there is clearly something of interest in the way that the Civil War helped to encourage the settlement of the Pacific Northwest, often from people who wanted to escape the Civil War and its division.  It was said of Idaho, for example, that it was filled with deserters from the Union and Confederate armies, although verifying that sort of statement is impossible and likely was at the time.  If you wanted to escape the Civil War and its horrors by traveling to the Pacific Northwest, you were probably serious about not being found.

In terms of its structure and organization, the book is full of chapters that seem a bit haphazardly put together.  Each of the chapters tells a compelling story with plenty of research, but the book as a whole appears a bit aimless and at times more than a little bit repetitive.  The book has at least a rough chronological organization, but it is rough.  The author opens with a look at the historical context of the Pacific Northwest as well as Oregon politics before the war.  The author then turns his attention to the outbreak of war, the withdrawal of federal troops to fight in the East, and in the slow establishment of local militia forces.  A few chapters follow about the draft, the suppression of the Copperhead press, and various organizations that agitated for expansion of the United States towards the south for the expansion of slavery.  Three more chapters follow about the relationship between settlers and militia and the local indigenous population along with various expeditions.  A couple of chapters look at threats from land and sea to the Oregon country before three more chapters look at the raising of soldiers and compare the life of civilians and the life of the soldier at the time.  The book ends with a look at the end of the war and the relationship between the war and the economy in the Pacific Northwest, and a few appendices, all of which take about 250 pages in total.

This is the sort of book that one does not read for the entertainment value of the text or for the elegant prose of the author.  This is a book that does its job competently–and that is giving the reader an awareness of the complexity of the Civil War experience in Oregon and surrounding areas that demonstrated to all the peripheral nature of the area to the United States as a whole as well as the effort that was undertaken to avoid inflaming local concerns while also counteracting centrifugal tendencies due to the area’s isolation and population.  Efforts by the Union to keep Oregon and its surrounding areas contented and loyal were successful and led to a short-term dominance by Republican political leaders that was only turned aside during the Reconstruction period.  That said, while the Civil War led to a great deal of growth and to ultimate success in the long-running Indian Wars of the area, little is remembered about the war in the area and the Pacific Northwest remains peripheral to studies about the war.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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