Frazier, Donald S. Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the South.

College Station: Texas A&M Press, 1995.

When I did my M.A. in History forty years ago, my major professor and thesis adviser was, among other things, an authority on the attempt by the government of Texas during the Civil War to capture and hold the Arizona Territory (which also then included what is now New Mexico) and establish a Confederate outlet to the Pacific, or at least to the Gulf of California.

Had they succeeded, it could easily have changed the whole course of the war. And yet, to most readers — to most historians — “the War in the West” means Tennessee and Missouri. The trans-Mississippi gets almost no attention, especially compared to Lee and the campaigns in Virginia.

I became fascinated with the subject, partly because, being so much smaller in terms of the number of men involved and the smaller scale of the actions they fought, it was much easier to keep track of what was going on. The number of books written on the War in the Southwest is also far more manageable than on, say, Gettysburg, and I’ve read literally all of them over the years. The historiographic situation has changed a bit in recent years, though, and this book is one of the better surveys of the subject.

Frazier, who teaches at McMurray University in Abilene, was one of Grady McWhiney’s students and enjoys a solid academic reputation. He also turns out to be a first-rate storyteller, which is always nice in an academic historian. He does a good job with Col. John R. Baylor’s invasion of New Mexico, his crushing of the incompetent Maj. Lynde, and his establishment of a civil government with himself as CSA governor. However, Baylor was not at all a nice person (especially if you happened to be an Indian) and Frazier doesn’t gloss over his nastier side. Gen. Henry H. Sibley was a very different sort of animal, frequently self-serving and a heavy drinker, who followed Baylor into the territory with a larger army, and who eventually was defeated by the Union forces (including relief columns from Colorado and California) under Cols. Edward Canby and “Kit” Carson at Valverde and Apache Canyon.

The author departs from his predecessors, however, in defining a much larger context for the whole Southwest venture. He sees it as a continuation of the longstanding Texas desire to absorb the northern states of Mexico, combined with a more grandiose scheme by the CSA’s central government to capture California and its gold fields. I’m not sure I buy all of that, since Richmond, which already had its hands full back east, never gave Sibley much support and never seemed to think there was much real chance of success — but it’s an interesting idea and Frazier certainly makes an arguable case. I’m happy just to revisit the actions fought on battlefields that are still much as they were at the time. I’ve been to Ft. Fillmore and Valverde and Glorieta, and what you can see now is pretty much what Baylor and Sibley saw before them then. And I’ve always thought the appalling cock-up the Union forces made at Mesilla — what with the cavalry attacking their own fleeing infantry — could be the basis of a terrific movie. (I’d cast the younger Robert Duvall as Col. Baylor.) Alvin Josephy’s Civil War in the American West (1991) is often touted as a superior work on the trans-Mississippi department, but Frazier provides far more detail on the New Mexico campaign. He also knows it was less a Confederate project than a Texan one. I recommend this one enthusiastically to anyone with a serious interest in the Civil War.

Published in: on 20 June 2014 at 5:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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