Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Granbury’s Texas Brigade by John Lundberg

John Lundberg’s Granbury’s Texas Brigade is a well-researched and professionally written history of this famous Confederate unit.

Hiram Granbury
The history chronicles the evolution of “perhaps the most distinguished combat unit in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.”  The brigade, named for its commanding officer, Brigadier General Hiram B. Granbury, fought gallantly in major battles throughout the South.

Regiments that were to become part of Granbury’s brigade fought at Fort Donelson, Arkansas Post, and Vicksburg where they suffered defeat and imprisonment.  These initial defeats helped forge a tough unit that would be part of Confederate victories at Chickamauga and Pickett’s Mill.  The brigade’s last, difficult service under General John Bell Hood in Georgia and Tennessee is described in disasters at Atlanta, Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville.  The description of the actions involving Granbury’s brigade are assisted by good, easy-to-read battle maps.

Patrick Cleburne
Throughout the book, Lundberg advances his theories about why the Texans continued to fight.  He attributes their constancy to strong, effective leadership from officers like Granbury and Patrick Cleburne;  a commitment to the goals of the Confederacy; and a “localized perspective” that focused on how their division and brigade performed rather than the overall outcome.

In spite of their heroics, the brigade and its precursors has a mixed reputation with early desertions when mounted units were transformed into infantry and, after the defeat at Franklin, disgraceful behavior against southern citizens.

The following are some of my favorite items from Granbury’s Texas Brigade:

·    On April 5, 1864, the Army of Tennessee staged a “sham battle” for the citizens of Dalton, Georgia – perhaps a first reenactment?

·     The description of the Union dead at Pickett’s Mill – “I beheld that which I cannot describe and which I hope never to see again…”

·     Response to Hood replacing Johnston – “… we hear men openly talk about going home…”

·     At Nashville – men fashioning shelters in the shape of “old fashioned chicken coops.”

·     On April 19, 1865 – Confederates discovered two barrels of apple brandy and commenced to get “gentlemanly drunk” and all the officers get “dog drunk”

·     Comments about “The Lost Cause” and the attitudes of Texas Confederate veterans

This scholarly work certainly adds to the understanding of how and why Granbury’s Texans fought and died.

Granbury's Texas Brigade has been selected as a History Book Club offering.

Interview with Dr. John R. Lundberg
Mesch:  Why did you write the book?
Lundberg:  The book was a product of my doctoral thesis at TCU.  I wanted to examine some common themes such as loyalty to the ideals of the Confederacy, desertion, and the "Lost Cause" by using Granbury's brigade as a case study.
Mesch:  What do you want the reader to know about the brigade?
Lundberg:  I want readers to understand that these men were typical of other Confederate units in many respects, but in some ways were atypical.  I want people to get a better grasp of what these men fought for and their experiences as soldiers.   

Mesch:  You indicate that the brigade was very committed to the Confederate cause.  How did you identify this commitment as a factor as opposed to say loyalty to their fellow soldiers?
Lundberg:  This a little like the chicken and the egg. The men who would become Granbury's brigade were doing their duty as they thought.   They joined the Confederate Army for certain reasons including belief in a society based on slavery, supremacy of the white race, rights of individual states. They were loyal to these ideals but were also faithful to their leaders and fellow soldiers.  Idealism alone is rarely enough to sustain a soldier.
Mesch:  You seem to make excuses for the desertion of brigade members saying that they wanted to fight closer to home.  Was that reason for desertion unique to the brigade? 
Lundberg:  The reason for desertion was not unique to this unit.   If the soldiers saw an immediate threat to their home they would leave to defend it.  I think that this is an explanation more than an excuse.  They deserted because in their minds they were doing the right thing.  Inadvertently they were hurting the overall war effort.   They were not professional soldiers who understood military duty and orders.  As volunteers, their loyalty was to their home and protecting it from danger.
Mesch: Of the many soldiers and officers in your book, which one stands out most in your mind?
Lundberg:  Hiram Granbury.  Granbury was a mysterious and fascinating man.  His life had to be pieced together from secondary resources.  He was estranged from his father who was a staunch secessionist. Granbury was a Unionist until the war broke out.  His men were especially loyal to him and chose to designate themselves after the war as Granbury's Texas Brigade even though Granbury only led them for 10 or 11 months.
Mesch:  I have taken the phrase "localized perspective" to mean focusing on how the brigade performed as opposed to the outcome of the battle.  Is this interpretation correct?
Lundberg:  The men understood that the Confederacy was failing, but they chose to focus on their individual performance.  They had good leaders were successful in performing their battlefield assignments.  They tried to shut out the larger strategy and concentrate on their own performance.  This focus psychologically shielded them from the bigger, more depressing  picture.  They felt that if they continued to win their individual fights that there was hope for a Confederate victory.  When Granbury and Cleburne were killed they loss the inspiration for their determination and  optimism.  They had nothing that they could hold onto.
Mesch:  You present some interesting comments about the post-war feelings of the brigade especially in regard to the "Lost Cause."  Did the "Lost Cause" and associated attitudes hurt reconstruction/reunification?
Lundberg:  After the war, the veterans of the brigade adhered to the beliefs of the "Lost Cause" - maintenance of slavery, white supremacy, and  positives of a slave economy.  The still thought that fighting the war was the right thing to do.  They devoted time and effort to change public opinion and keep alive the ideal of the Confederacy.  The "Lost Cause" hurt reunification.  Even today people are still trying to refight that war because they believe that what is wrong about society would have been fixed if the South had won the war.  As a historian I am more interested in why things happened as opposed to those who think about what could have happened should conditions in 1860 have been maintained.
Mesch:  What is the attitude of your students about the Civil War?
Lundberg:  For most of them, the Civil War is a" blank slate."   They don't know what to think about it.  Some are ingrained with aspects of the "Lost Cause" philosophy.   I try to make my classes exciting and teach history as a storyteller.   
Mesch:  What is the topic of your next book and/or future research?
Lundberg:  I am hoping to write a history of the Confederate Army of Tennessee.


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