These Rugged Days
Alabama in the Civil War
John S. Sledge
University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 2017, 296 pages
Book Review published on: August 31, 2018
Various aspects of Alabama’s Civil War history have received increased attention from scholars recently, from Chris McIlwain’s works Civil War Alabama and Alabama 1865, exploring the state’s political history during the conflict; to Michael Fitzgerald’s Reconstruction in Alabama, examining the postwar “phase IV” operations; to editor Ken Noe’s Yellowhammer War, a collection of essays on various topics and constituencies to highlight the conflict’s sesquicentennial. It seems every aspect of the war has been covered except the war itself. Into that void steps John S. Sledge, an architectural historian from Mobile, Alabama, and the son of Eugene Sledge, whose remembrances of his service as a Marine during World War II were published as With the Old Breed, perhaps the finest combat memoir to come out of the war and featured prominently in the HBO miniseries The Pacific. Evidently the talent for narrating military action runs within the Sledge family, as son John has produced an equally fine narrative of Alabama’s military experience of the Civil War. Though based largely on existing secondary sources and somewhat privileging events in the southern part of the state where he makes his current home, Sledge’s work is a highly readable, easily accessible summary of the various military campaigns in Alabama during the sectional crisis. Released to coincide with the two hundredth anniversary of Alabama’s statehood in 2019 and endorsed by the “Alabama 200” Bicentennial Committee, These Rugged Days provides a compact, single-volume study of the war shorn of the pro-Confederate “moonlight and magnolias” romanticism that marred most efforts in the first century after the end of the conflict. Sledge’s work is a welcome addition for students of the state in general and the Civil War in particular, as “of all the many important events in Alabama’s two-hundred-year history as a state, the Civil War still looms as the most profound.”
Sledge focuses on the major military campaigns within the state’s borders and the Confederacy’s struggles to hold the Union liberators at bay. He provides slight coverage of events in northern Alabama in 1862, but detailed coverage is available elsewhere, most notably in Joseph Danielson’s War’s Desolating Scourge. Sledge is at his best narrating the succession of hard-hitting cavalry raids across the northern half of the state, beginning with Abel Streight’s failed mule-mounted raid in 1863, followed by loyal Kentuckian Lovell Rousseau’s destruction of the Montgomery & West Point Railroad during the Atlanta campaign in 1864, and culminating in Maj. Gen. James Wilson’s destructive raid (which James Pickett Jones has described as a “Yankee blitzkrieg”) that destroyed Confederate factories and armories in Selma, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia, and restored the stars and stripes to the state house in Montgomery. Three additional chapters focus on the war in and around Mobile, including one on the Confederate home front during the blockade, another on Adm. David Farragut’s famous battle at the bay’s mouth, and a third on the ground campaign to capture the city’s defenses. The work ends abruptly with Montgomery’s liberation, despite the presence of Union peacekeepers across the state well into 1866.
If the work has a flaw, it is the scant coverage of Alabama’s Union soldiers, including the First Alabama Cavalry (U.S.), a Unionist regiment that fought across the northern portion of the state, and the four U.S. Colored Troops regiments who battled Confederate raiders, especially Nathan Bedford Forrest, and largely frustrated his efforts to interdict Union supply lines during the vital Atlanta campaign. But Sledge knows his topic well and has produced a highly engaging, comprehensive narrative of the state’s wartime experience. A general audience will enjoy the informative read and students researching specific events will appreciate the detailed bibliography pointing to a wealth of additional resources for more in-depth study. The work is a welcome corrective to Walter Fleming’s deeply flawed and badly dated Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama and will have broad appeal to both a general audience as well as military professionals.
Book Review written by: Christopher M. Rein, PhD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas