Book Review: Extreme Civil War: Guerrilla Warfare, Environment, and Race on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier


by Matthew M. Stith

Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 218. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $42.50. ISBN: 0807163147

Why the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Descended into Senseless Violence

Prof. Stith (UT-Tyler), who has an interest in what he terms “the nexus between environmental, social, and military history,” has produced a ground-breaking study of the protracted irregular warfare in the Trans-Mississippi. He examines the combination of a harsh physical setting, the complex multi-racial population of whites, Native Americans, free and enslaved African-Americans, political extremism, slender military resources, and distance from the principal theatres of the war, to explain the causes of the vicious partisan struggle that developed in the theatre. In effect the intersection of these factors sparked an ever downwards into mutual, often senseless brutality, in which civilians, men, women, and children suffered enormously, while having little actual effect on the overall course of the war, resulting in bitter feelings for generations to come.

Stith makes his case well. He draws evidence both from official documents and published materials, and, perhaps more importantly, as from an extraordinary number of first-hand accounts – letters, diaries, memoirs, testimonies – by civilians, government officials, and soldiers, including many of the partisan fighters, some of whom on both sides were little more than bandits pretending to support a cause.

Very thought provoking, Extreme Civil War, a volume in the LSU Press series “Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War, will prove a rewarding read for anyone interested in the Trans-Mississippi or the Civil War in general.

Note: Extreme Civil War is also available as a pdf, ISBN 978-0-8071-6315-3, and as an e-Book, ISBN 978-0-8071-6316-0.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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