Campaigning With Banks In Louisiana, ’63 And ’64, And With Sheridan In The Shenandoah Valley In ’64 And ’65, by Frank M. Flinn
One of the more interesting aspects of this book to me as a reader is that the author proves to be a fan of the leadership of Nathaniel Banks, who is one of the less well-regarded political generals of the Civil War. During the Civil War, both the Confederacy and especially the Union had politically important generals it was necessary to placate and to place in responsible positions despite the fact that these people were not very successful generals in a strictly military sense. Nathaniel Banks is known as one of these generals (along with Benjamin Butler), and this book covers one of the more lamentable failures of Banks as a military leader, and that is his effort to seize Texas through an invasion of the Red River valley. While this campaign did not cover Banks with glory, the author does make a compelling case that the real difficulties of the campaign in terms of logistics, the collapse of levels of the Red River that endangered the necessary Union flotilla under Porter, and the squabbles between subordinates were not entirely Banks’ fault, thus creating an account that is a compelling eyewitness account and also one that speaks in favor of someone who has gotten a rough verdict from military historians as a whole.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and it is divided into thirty chapters and two parts. The first part, talking about the author’s campaigns with Banks in the Red River, takes up twenty chapters, and the account of the Shenandoah Campaign of 1864 with Sheridan takes up the remaining ten chapters. The author begins with a discussion of the Louisiana campaign as a forgotten one, his own travel from Massachusetts to Baltimore, and his experience of Butler’s Napoleonic farewell address when he was transferred out of Louisiana thanks to political complaints. The author comments that Banks sought to be gentle but found himself having to be harsh because of the disloyalty and disrespect of many people in Louisiana to the Union. A great deal of time is spent talking about the marching and fighting of the Red River campaign, as well as the poisoned atmosphere of the Union army, which managed to preserve itself despite its logistical difficulties in terrible country. After that the author moves to talk about his transfer with the 19th corps to Washington and his fighting and marching in the Shenandoah, including attention being paid to subordinate officers as well as especially the fighting at Cedar Creek.
Besides the author’s pro-Banks perspective, one of the notable aspects of this book is the fact that the author was able to move from his time in Louisiana to fighting in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864. It is sometimes hard to understand the flexibility of the Union in moving troops all around from one area to another, and those soldiers who fought on peripheral fronts of the war do not often appear to be discussed in any great detail. In this book we have a very interesting account of very worthwhile war experience to detail. If the writer himself is not famous in history, his account tells a perspective that allows the reader to see how it is that soldiers from less glorious fronts of the war could find themselves influencing the Civil War in notable and positive ways. One can say that Flinn’s unit must have been at least somewhat worthwhile to be brought from an area of low priority in the Gulf to a higher priority in Virginia. This is lucky for the author, as it gives him something glorious to report on in victories that helped to win the war, rather than service in forgotten sideshows remembered for their futility.