A Civil War Interactive Book Review

 

In the Saddle with the Texans:
Day-by-Day with Parson’s Cavalry Brigade, 1862-1865

Edited By Anne J. Bailey
Reviewed by David White
414 pages
Cloth
ISBN 1-893114-48-1 ($24.95)
Publisher: McWhiney Foundation Press, McMurry University, Abilene, Texas.


In the Saddle With TexansParson’s Texas Cavalry Brigade served the entire Civil War far from what many consider the principal seat of the war in Virginia; nor did they serve in the huge secondary theater of operations in the west that was east of the Mississippi River. Their war was in the Trans-Mississippi Department, patrolling and reconnoitering the backcountries of Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. In most cases, even when the obscure spotlights shined in that department, they often arrived after the crisis had passed or only helped to clean up after the fact. It was a mundane assignment during an otherwise eventful time. As was their assignment, so is this book.

The editor, Ms. Anne Bailey, discovered the original brigade order book in Waxahachie, Texas while doing research for her history of the brigade, Between the Enemy and Texas: Parson’s Texas Cavalry in the Civil War. The order book had been virtually untouched since the late nineteenth century and Ms. Bailey decided to publish the entire contents for research purposes. It covers the day to day activities of the Texas Cavalry Brigade, commanded primarily by Col. William Henry Parsons. The brigade consisted of the 12th, 19th and 21st Texas Cavalry Regiments; Morgan’s Battalion, and the 10th Texas Field Battery.

The book is divided into seven chapters, each one capturing an important time period for the brigade. Each chapter begins with a two to eleven page summary of the events that occurred during the specific time period. The summaries, written by Ms. Bailey, are matter of fact in style and cover the events, movements and key personnel changes of the brigade. Readers will not get an idea of the impact of engagements and battles on the unit by reading these summaries. There are no discussions of actions at a given battle or engagement, just that the brigade was there. Immediately following the opening chapter summaries are the orders issued by the brigade commander in chronological/numerical order. If the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion were an onion, these orders are the next layer of the onion below the correspondence volumes of that work; as a result it is a bit like reading those volumes. By way of example, here is one page of the book, omitting headings, salutations and endings from December 15th, 1862:

“M [Lochlin J.] Farrar will detail on[e] Sergeant to report [to] Lt [J. Fred] Cox at the Brg gar [brigade guard] House.

The comdg officer of the 12 Texas Cavalry [will] detail one discrete man for duty as special courier to report at these head quarters imed[iately].

Maj F [Lochlin J. Farrar] will detail 1 NC off & 15 men to report at these Head Qrs early Breakfast on 16th for fatigue [duty]

Cap [J. Em.] Hawkins is detailed as field officer of the day to report at 9 ock AM at these Hed Qrs.”

Repeat similar orders for 350 or so pages and you get an idea of what this book is like.

The book should appeal to three major groups, hard core Trans-Mississippi War enthusiasts, researchers and genealogists. The first two groups will be served adequately by the book but for the latter group, the editor has done a huge disservice in not providing more editorial content, leading to my biggest issue with the book. The editor presents superficial information for the most part. The information is mainly from unit rosters and the 1860 Census. Often the footnotes are repeated as the same individuals reappear later in the orders. Little illumination is provided regarding the orders themselves, such as the background for issuing orders and the results of carrying them out. Perhaps Ms. Bailey doesn’t know either but that is hard to believe, since she wrote the modern history of the unit.

When men are detailed to slaughter and butcher 15 hogs, it’s not hard to imagine how the men killed them and that the brigade enjoyed a barbecue that night. But in many cases, the causes and effects are not as easily discernible. Instead, Ms. Bailey should have answered the questions about why the orders were issued and what the results were and she could have offered genealogists more explanation of what their ancestors were doing. A generic description in the notes of what the various duties entailed should have been included, with quotes from soldiers, not necessarily from Parson’s Brigade, to give an idea what that duty was.

I appreciated the fact the editor choose footnotes over endnotes but a larger font size would have been appreciated. Even the orders themselves are in a font size smaller than the introductory text (which appears to be a standard 12 point).

Another point of concern is with the four maps included with the volume. They are nineteenth century maps from the Official Records and another source that are barely readable. The real error is in the choices of the maps. All are operational views of the Trans-Mississippi, including statewide maps of Arkansas and Louisiana. In a volume that discusses sending men to scout certain fords on various creeks, these maps serve almost no function for readers. A better choice would have included tactical maps with the towns and landmarks discussed in the orders to help orient the reader to the tactical situation or to understand where the brigade was encamped.

Despite all these problems, there are some things worthwhile in the book. A Houston newspaper account written by one of the men of their first battle is quite stirring. Ms. Bailey made a good decision to include footnotes based on the letters of two members of the brigade, Henry Orr, to various family and friends and George W. Ingram to his wife. These footnotes provide some background information and context to a few of the orders. Orders issued to ensure camp sanitation and health are quite interesting and the directives, if followed, would be effective for a modern army. There are a few humorous or misguided orders such as a directive from the brigade surgeon not to take long baths or eat watermelons or peaches as they were the cause of current sicknesses in the camp. Another was an order to sentries not to continue to challenge civilians with “ludeness and foolish, and ungentleman[ly] expressions.” Throughout the war, the orders deal with proper procedures to obtain a furlough. Later it becomes an obsession, along with how to handle soldiers who are absent without proper leave or what constitutes proper or excusable leave. Along with furloughs, another topic of continuous interest is the need to scatter the brigade in order to provide forage in areas with poor harvests or that had been previously stripped bare by the marauding armies.

While this book is not one for pleasant reading, even for your average Civil War buff, someone with an acute interest in the Trans-Mississippi Theater or the detailed workings of a cavalry brigade would find value in the book. The reader should also keep in mind that the volume was published as a reference work.


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In The Saddle With The Texans: Day-by-Day with Parsons's Cavalry Brigade, 1862-1865 

 

 

 



 

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