Book Review: Banners to the Breeze: The Kentucky Campaign, Corinth, and Stones River


by Earl J. Hess

Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. Pp. 263. Illus., maps, index. $32.00. ISBN:0-8032-2380-3

Part of the University of Nebraska Press Great Campaigns of the Civil War Series, the scope of this work is rather interesting. Hess picks up the story in the aftermath of U. S. Grant's victory at Shiloh and the ensuing occupation of the key Confederate rail junction of Corinth, Mississippi. He then details the aggressive Confederate response, the abortive offensive into Kentucky, the botched attempt to retake Corinth, and finally Braxton Bragg's failed attempt to destroy William S. Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland at Stones River/Murfreesboro.

Hess takes a very conventional approach in attributing the failure of the Confederate response to Union offensive to their fractured command system. The move into Kentucky was hamstrung by the different agendas pursued by the "cooperating" commanders, Braxton Bragg and E. Kirby Smith. Likewise, Confederate attempts to wrest control of northern Mississippi from Union forces foundered on the differences between the principal commanders, Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price. Again, taking a conventional approach, Hess also outlines how, although hopes were high for bringing Kentucky into the Confederacy, the response of the population was, as in Maryland, less than overwhelming. In this way Bragg's campaign in Kentucky, like that of Robert E. Lee in Maryland, ultimately helped define the Confederacy, which by 1863 included neither Maryland nor Kentucky.

Much less conventional is Hess' take on the principal commanders in these campaigns. He paints a very favorable portrait of much maligned commanders such as Don Carlos Buell. Hess argues that Buell's conduct of the campaign in Kentucky was reasonable, given the difficulties under which he was operating. In this regard, Hess is following the line on Buell recently taken by Stephen D. Engle. Likewise, he is also very understanding of the problems faced by Bragg in both Kentucky and Tennessee. Somewhat less convincing is Hess' contention that Stones River had a traumatic effect on Rosecrans, making him much more cautious and less optimistic a commander than he had been at Corinth. This is certainly not supported by subsequent events, especially by Rosecrans' brilliant planning and conduct of the Tullahoma Campaign.

Given the broad scope of Banners to the Breeze and its relatively short length, it should come as no surprise that Hess relies largely on secondary sources, including some works that are marked by haphazard research and implausible interpretations. Hess, however, has an excellent grasp of the issues that confronted both sides at this juncture of the war.

Consistent with Hess' other work, the book is both a quick and a pleasant read. It also has a number of fine photographs, several of which have not been previously published. One minor irritation is the dust jacket. It is one of those Currier and Ives pictures one normally sees on the dust jacket of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. In this case, however, the image is very blurry. Any more indistinct and it would pass for a Rorschach ink blot. A publisher as prestigious as Nebraska ought to be able to do better.

In conclusion, someone who is familiar with the works of Thomas L. Connelly and some of the other historians of the western campaigns will not find much here that is new. For the reader who is new to the this part of the war, this book is an invaluable starting point.

Reviewer: R.L. DiNardo, USMC C&SC   

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