Book Review: Theophilus Hunter Holmes: A North Carolina General in the Civil War

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by Walter C. Hilderman III

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013. Pp. x, 220. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $35.00 paper. ISBN: 078647310X

The Life and War of a Little Known Civil War General

Previously the author of They Went Into the Fight Cheering! Confederate Conscription in North Carolina, independent historian and veteran Civil War reenactor Hilderman gives us a look at the man who was perhaps the least well-known of Confederate senior officers Theophilus H. Holmes (1804-1880). A man who had an interesting, varied, and rather important career in the Civil War, Holmes found that success did not attach itself to his efforts. 

A West Point graduate with over 30 years’ service in the U.S. Army, including Indian fights and the Mexican War, Holmes went with his state in the aftermath of Ft. Sumter. He commanded a brigade at Bull Run and then a division during the Peninsular Campaign, before being promoted to lieutenant general and sent west to try to sort out the Trans-Mississippi Department. 

In the Trans-Mississippi Holmes found complex local politics, professional and personal animosities, and slender resources combining to frustrate his efforts. Superseded by E. Kirby Smith and subordinated to him as commander of the District of Arkansas, Holmes found himself no more successful. Relieved of this difficult post, Holmes spent the final months of the war worked to strengthen the North Carolina militia, another thankless task. 

Despite his years of military service, Holmes was ill-prepared for high command, much like many others who served in the war.  In this first ever biography, Hilderman does a good job of laying out the general’s life, pointing out his strengths and weaknesses, and more or less rescuing him from the obscurity into which post-war memoirists and historians shoved him, while throwing fresh light on the complexities of campaigning in the Trans-Mississippi.

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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