KCWRT

 

In 2000, Kalamazoo Civil War Round Table newsletter editor Dave Bowers suggested that our Round Table do something to promote study and awareness of the Civil War in the Western Theater by presenting an annual award for the best book published on this subject. After discussing possible names for this award, it became obvious to all that the best idea would be to name it the Albert Castel Book Award in honor of Albert Castel, Professor Emeritus from Western Michigan University here in Kalamazoo. Even in "retirement" Professor Castel continues to be one of the most distinguished and prolific authors on the Civil War in the West. Dr. Castel is most famous for his book Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864, which won the second place in the prestigious 1993 Lincoln Prize competition.

After meeting with Professor Castel, he agreed to allow us to use his name in our award with the modest provision that he be considered ineligible to receive the award himself.

The Albert Castel Award consists of an honorarium of $500 and a commemorative plaque and clock. It is awarded in even-numbered years (2002, 2004, etc.) for the best book on the Civil War in the West. It is presented at a ceremony during a meeting of the Kalamazoo Civil War Round Table.

Authors, publishers, and others interested in submitting books for consideration for future Albert Castel Awards should submit 6 copies of the book for review to Chairman Jim Frey at this address:

Jim Frey
Chairman, Albert Castel Book Award Committee
1260 North 5th Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49009

2016 Albert Castel Award

The Kalamazoo Civil War Round Table is pleased to announce Edward B. McCaul Jr. as the winner of the 2016 Albert Castel Book Award for his book, To Retain Command of the Mississippi: The Civil War Naval Campaign for Memphis, published by The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN.

2016 Albert Castel Award given to Edward B. McCaul Jr. (click on image to enlarge it)Among some of the Kalamazoo CWRT reviewers' comments:

"Memphis was critical to control the Mississippi. It's all you need to know about the events on the Upper Mississippi. The maps make this easy to understand and the author covers not only the battles, but politics, personalities, strategy, tactics and logistics." ~Tim Taafe

"Civil War buffs can get caught up in the regiments, battles and commanders of the myriad land campaigns throughout the four-year conflict. This book helps bring into focus the immense importance the waterways played in support and control of any ambitions either the North or South had in winning the war." ~Rick Dawson

"The best account I've read of the creation of the Union river forces and the rivalries between the army and navy over control of the vessels." ~Dave Jordan

Receiving honorable mention was Lincoln's Trident: The West Gulf Blockading Squadron during the Civil War, by Robert M. Browning Jr.

 

2014 Albert Castel Award

The winner of the 2014 Albert Castel Award was Stephen M "Sam" Hood for his book John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, published by Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills, CA.

2014 Albert Castel Award given to Stephen M. Hood (click on image to enlarge it)Among some of the Kalamazoo CWRT reviewers' comments:

"The voluminous inclusion of citations to historical documents and other primary source material challenge previous interpretations of Hood's military actions. A look back at past author's interpretations of John Bell Hood's record reveals the biases, inventions, and myths that have darkly colored his Civil War reputation. This book refutes the aspersions of 'historians' to name Hood the sole cause of the loss of Atlanta, and failure at Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville." ~Margean Gladysz

"Anyone who wants the true story of the fall of Atlanta and the Tennessee campaign needs to study this book." ~Graham Hollis

"Sam Hood makes a compelling case that Hood's reputation has been unjustifiably tarnished over the years by authors who have repeated half-truths and myths that are not supported by primary sources. Even people with little or no interest in Hood should read it as a cautionary tale that the things that 'everybody knows' are not always true." ~Dave Jordan

Receiving honorable mention was General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of William S. Rosecrans Influenced our Understanding of the Civil War, by Frank Varney.

 

2012 Albert Castel Award

The winner of the 2012 Albert Castel Award was Gary Ecelbarger for his book The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta, published by Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, New York.

2012 Albert Castel Award given to Gary Ecelbarger (click on image to enlarge it)As reviewer Dave Jordan indicates: "The Atlanta Campaign was greatly neglected until Albert Castel's book, Decision in the West appeared. Castel's book covered the entire Atlanta Campaign. However, there has never been a full-length study of the Battle of Atlanta itself - the Confederates best chance to defeat Sherman and drive him away from Atlanta. Ecelbarger's book fills this gap." Quoting reviewer Margean Gladysz: "The book concentrates on the battle of Friday, July 22, 1864. Because of the losses sustained by Hood's forces, this day's battle sealed the fate of Atlanta and the South, and probably ensured Lincoln's re-election... hence, 'the day Dixie died.' With its in-depth coverage of the tactics in half-hour segments, the book allows for a great appreciation of Hood's plan, the personnel involved, the appalling casualties, and the chances of war. Beautifully written (even though detail laden), with quotes and vignettes from combatants, this will probably be THE historical report on July 22, 1864, in the battles for Atlanta."

Receiving honorable mentions are Thunder Across the Swamp: The Fight for the Lower Mississippi, February 1863 May 1863, by Donald Frazier and The L & N Railroad in the Civil War, by Dan Lee.

 

2010 Albert Castel Award

The winner of the 2010 Albert Castel Award was Michael D. Pierson for his book Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans .

Quoting reviewer Margean Gladysz, "The mutineers at Fort Jackson serve as a window into the Confederate and Union sentiments. The book illustrates the complex social mosaic of New Orleans through the careful depiction of the relationships between the elite, the working class, and the foreign-born. The book delves into the strikes, sabotage and recruitment problems of Confederate New Orleans. In addition, there is an excellent description of the quick success of Major General Benjamin F. Butler's governance of the captured city that counters the usual poor report of his time there."

KCWRT Albert Castel Award Chairman Jim Frey presenting the 2010 Albert Castel Award to Michael D. Pierson (click on image to enlarge it)Reviewer Mark Longstroth stated, "This book is well-written and easy to read and understand. The author proposed that the garrison of Fort Jackson, the major southern fort guarding New Orleans, intentionally performed poorly during the passage of the Union Fleet to capture New Orleans. After which, they proceeded to mutiny, desert, and that some even joined the Union ranks. The book is a unique look at an ignored incident. The loss of the forts guarding New Orleans, the largest city in the south, struck a heavy blow to Southern hopes. The author builds on period accounts of the conditions in New Orleans before and during the beginning of the Civil War to find the reasons behind the mutiny."

 

2008 Albert Castel Award

Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana, and the Defense of Red River by Steven M. Mayeux (Publisher: The University of Tennessee Press)The winner of the 2008 Albert Castel Award was Steven M. Mayeux for his book Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana, and the Defense of Red River.

The author, with local and family roots, covers Fort DeRussy from construction to destruction and current efforts to preserve and maintain the site. There is in-depth background on the fort, the area around it, and its role in the Red River campaign of Banks and Porter against the Confederacy. Excellent commentary on the role of cotton and its confiscation for the North's war effort, on the local black and white population's involvement with the Fort, on naval aspects of the Western theater - all increase knowledge of the scope of the Civil War.

KCWRT Albert Castel Award Chairman Jim Frey presenting the 2008 Albert Castel Award to Steven Mayeux on September 19, 2008 (click on image to enlarge it)It’s a lively tale containing ship captures, a battle between gunboats and the fort’s batteries, and the capture, reoccupation and final destruction of the fort.

In the book, the story of the fort is told in the context of events in the larger war and in the surrounding region. T he bulk of the book is about the Iron Men, the people who built the fort, those who fought to defend it, those who fought to destroy it, and the people who lived around it and were affected by its presence. Among those Iron Men will actually be a few Steel Magnolias, because the women-folk were affected by the fort, too. Mr. Mayeux pulls no punches in his evaluation of the heroes and scoundrels of the story (Admirers of Admiral Porter – beware!) A descendant of the original owners of the property where the fort was built, Mr. Mayeux has used family archives and local newspapers to enhance and correct the accounts given in the Official Records and other sources.

 

2006 Albert Castel Award

The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail: The Civil War of Captain Simon Perkins, Jr., a Union Quartermaster by Lenette S. Taylor (Publisher: The Kent State University Press)The winner of the 2006 Albert Castel Award was Lenette S. Taylor for her book The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail: The Civil War of Captain Simon Perkins, Jr., a Union Quartermaster.

The topic of Dr. Taylor’s book The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail is the role of the Union Quartermaster Corps in the winning of the War in the West. The story is told through the experiences of Captain Simon Perkins, Jr., of Akron, Ohio, and his fellow quartermasters in helping make the Union's victory possible by providing the Federal army with clothing and camp equipment; livestock and forage; wagon and railroad transportation; and offices, warehouses, and hospitals, despite bad weather, unserviceable railroads, and lack of reliable conveyance.

KCWRT Albert Castel Award Chairman Jim Frey presenting the 2006 Albert Castel Award to Lenette S. Taylor on September 15, 2006 (click on image to enlarge it)The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail examines Perkins's responsibilities, the difficult situations he encountered and overcame, and the successes he achieved as part of a team of determined and dependable supply officers, whose duties were critical to successful Union military operations. During his service with the Army of the Ohio, the Army of the Cumberland, and the Department of the North, Perkins held key assignments in Tennessee and Alabama, directed wagon trains during the Kentucky campaign, and managed railroad transportation and quarters in Nashville during the Chattanooga campaign. As the army's businessman, he handled labor problems, paid thousands of bills and managed properties throughout the embattled country.  Perkins produced and preserved thousands of documents and was an effective, resourceful, and honest quartermaster, who often anticipated and met the army's needs.

 

2004 Albert Castel Award

One Damn Blunder From Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864 by Gary Dillard Joiner (Publisher: Scholarly Resources Inc.)The winner of the 2004 Albert Castel Award was Gary D. Joiner for his book One Damn Blunder From Beginning to End, The Red River Campaign of 1864. A native of Louisiana, Mr. Joiner teaches at Louisiana State University – Shreveport.

The title of Mr. Joiner’s book is taken from General William Tecumseh Sherman’s assessment of the campaign. It is the story of the ambitious attempt by Union forces to seize Shreveport, enter Texas, and acquire large amounts of valuable cotton at the same time. This operation combined Union Army and Navy forces, using the Red River Valley for entry to the region. KCWRT Albert Castel Award Chairman Jim Frey (Right) presenting the 2004 Albert Castel Award to Gary Joiner (Left) on May 21, 2004 (click on image to enlarge it)Mr. Joiner’s book details both the failures and successes of the Union and Confederate forces, the personality clashes among the commanders, and the sometimes-ingenious efforts that occurred on both sides.

In this campaign, a well-led Confederate army managed to turn back a numerically superior Union force. They also engineered a drop in the water level of the Red River in an attempt to trap and destroy the Union fleet. The book details the defeat of the Union army forces at Mansfield, Louisiana as well as the ingenious dam building effort that allowed the Union fleet to escape. The results of this campaign were felt beyond the region, and lessons can be drawn regarding modern military operations.

 

2002 Albert Castel Award

Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer's View of the Vicksburg Campaign by Warren E. Grabau (Publisher: The University of Tennessee Press)The winner of the Inaugural Albert Castel Book Award was Warren E. Grabau of Vicksburg, Mississippi for his epic volume Ninety-eight Days: A Geographer's View of the Vicksburg Campaign.

Grabau’s book focused on the enormous impact that terrain and logistics had on the Vicksburg Campaign. Warren said,” I have found that when people are properly introduced to the subject, they suddenly see the world in an entirely different light. When one gets right down to it, the battles of the Vicksburg campaign were not very impressive. Against the scale of Gettysburg or Antietam or Fredericksburg, they don't amount to much. Furthermore, with the possible exception of Champion Hill, the issue had been decided before the first gun was fired, simply because the Confederate forces were so grossly outnumbered in every instance. KCWRT Albert Castel Award Chairman Sandy George presenting the inaugural Albert Castel Award to Warren Grabau on May 17, 2002 (click on image to enlarge it)Even Champion Hill was a pretty piddling battle by the standards of the East Coast. After all, only 3 Union divisions and 2 Confederate divisions actually took part in the fighting! Compared to Gettysburg it might rank as an engagement, but scarcely as a battle! What, then, accounts for the fame of Vicksburg in military circles? Surely not the battles! The fame is earned, and justly so, because of the maneuvering that created the dominating imbalance of forces at each point of contact. And that maneuvering was dominated by considerations of logistics on both sides, not just the Union. So, in substance, you either understand the logistics of the campaign, or you do not comprehend the campaign. It's as simple -- or as complicated -- as that. I serve as guide and moderator for several military "staff rides" each year, and without exception they come here wanting to talk about the battles. They invariably end up discussing the logistics.”

 

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