Editor’s Note: December 2016 Issue

Editor’s Note: December 2016 Issue

We are very pleased to announce the publication of our December 2016 issue. To our subscribers, you should find your copy in your mailbox soon, but here is the editor’s note previewing the exciting work being done in Civil War studies!

The essays in this issue are devoted to exploring the Civil War in the West, or, perhaps more aptly, they treat the war and Reconstruction as part of a long project of American empire building that resulted in a number of military conflicts, including the U.S.-Mexican War, Civil War, and Indian Wars. The perspectives and directions laid out here expand the war’s geography and its periodization in exciting ways, and they consider war and reconstruction as simultaneous processes.

Moving decidedly away from a narrative of declension, Pekka Hämäläinen’s essay explores how, for more than twenty years, Great Plains Native Americans—the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche, to name a few—exploited weakness to resist and obstruct American state designs and to score diplomatic and military victories against the state. This essay continues a conversation that Steven Hahn initiated in JCWE when he referred to the period of the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction as the “Wars of the Rebellions” and described the war over slavery and the Indian Wars as part of an extended “crisis of sovereignty.” Hämäläinen tells a compelling and convincing story of “indigenous resilience in the midst of an expanding American state.”

Megan Kate Nelson takes this point up again in her essay, which considers the Civil War in Apache Pass, a disputed region of New Mexico and Arizona, where the U.S. and Confederate armies fought each other, and the Apaches, seeking their own advantage, fought them both. Nelson’s piece underscores the significance of belligerents seeking environmental advantages, as the Apache controlled access to the region’s scarce water supplies and pushed this vantage against both armies. So does this essay remind us of the importance of roads that convey men and materiél, something that connects the Civil War in the West with the one in the East.

American Indian resistance not only confounded American nation-building but had the power to move railroads. As both Nelson and Kevin Waite remind us, the Apache determined to rout the southern route of the transcontinental railroad, the one Jefferson Davis, as U.S. senator and secretary of war, promoted tirelessly as part of what Waite describes as his dreams of a proslavery empire in the West. In his essay, Waite identifies Davis and other southern railroad boosters as forgotten conquistadors, for theirs was an ambitious proslavery vision to be built in the Far West. Waite’s forgotten conquistadors include U.S. Postmaster General Aaron V. Brown, who was responsible for the Butterfield Overland Mail Route, whose wagon ruts Nelson explores in her essay that begins with the ruins of U.S. and Confederate empire-building in the West.

Stacey Smith’s review essay surveys the literature on the Civil War in the West from its rebirth, with Elliott West’s idea of a “Greater Reconstruction,” which he dated from the origins of the U.S.-Mexican War (1846) to the Dawes Act (1887). In the last ten years this work has taken Civil War scholarship in new directions; even so, Smith identifies some holes—surprisingly, the shortage of work on African Americans in the Far West, for instance. Smith leaves readers with some questions to consider about whether we can go too far—too far west, that is—but she is surely right when she points out that the crises in sovereignty explored here haunted American expansion into the Pacific after the war.

For his hard work recruiting and nurturing these essays along, I would like to thank guest editor Ari Kelman, whose own work has helped shift Civil War history from the East to the West.

To subscribe to The Journal of the Civil War Era, please visit http://journalofthecivilwarera.org/subscribe-to-the-journal-of-the-civil-war-era/. 

Judy Giesberg

Judith Giesberg is professor of history at Villanova University and author, most recently, of Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, and the Making of American Morality (UNC, 2017).

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