Ulysses S. Grant’s District of Cairo
By T.K. Kionka
(October 2008 Civil War News)

Illustrated, bibliography, index, 248 pp., 2006. University of Missouri Press, 2910 LeMone Blvd., Columbia, MO 65201, $39.95 plus shipping.

Reviewer: William H. Mulligan Jr.
William H. Mulligan Jr. is professor of history at Murray State University in Kentucky and past president of the Kentucky Civil War Sites Association. Wayne State University Press recently published a collection of Civil War letters he has edited, Badger Boy in Blue: The Letters of Chauncey H. Cooke.

A good book focused on the beginning of U. S. Grant’s military service during the Civil War at Cairo, Ill., and the beginning of the war in the Western Theater would be most welcome and an important contribution to our understanding of the early days of the Civil War and the career of its most significant commander.

It was Grant, after all, who best understood the evolving nature of the war and adjusted best to its demands — and that all began at Cairo.

Unfortunately, this is not that book despite the publisher billing it as “first book-length study of the district, exploring the town’s Civil War legacy while shedding new light on Grant, the war in the West, and other important Union generals… .”

The book has three areas with serious problems — the organization, its research base and the presentation, by which I mean the footnotes, proofreading and illustrations.

While the history of Cairo (and the city has an interesting history prior to, and since, the Civil War) is interesting it is not presented clearly, nor is it linked to Grant’s situation. Discussions of the history of the city appear and reappear and are confusing more than they are helpful because they are repetitive and never clearly tied to Grant’s situation.

It is never clear, and this is a major shortcoming of a book with many shortcomings, that the author understands that Grant’s command extends far beyond the limits of Cairo, which was merely the location of his headquarters.

This is a poorly written, minimally researched, abominably proofread (if it was at all) book. It is so poorly done that it is hard to accept anything in it as based on sound research. As I read this book, I kept asking myself, how did a reputable university press publish this in a series edited by well-known, competent scholars? How did this happen?

It seems clear from the footnotes and bibliography that the extensive Civil War collections in the National Archives had not been consulted. The author has relied on the published Official Records, the published Grant papers, and a number of manuscript collections in Illinois. There is a great deal of material in the National Archives that does not appear in the OR. In a study focused on a single area or single command failure to consult that material is a serious omission.

Where are the general order books, the special order books, the telegrams sent and received to name a few basic sources only sampled in the OR? They are minimally represented in the OR, but such sources are where the day-to-day life of the army and its commander is found.

There are a number of problems with the presentation. Since one of the factors that made Cairo militarily significant — and gave Grant his opportunity — was its location. It is unfortunate that no map shows the city’s strategic location in detail. There is a small contemporary map, but it is totally inadequate to that or any purpose.

The illustrations are nice, but given the current printing technology why are they all between chapter seven and eight (and unmentioned in the front matter)? There is no reason today for black and white illustrations to be clustered rather than put where they best enhance the text.

The footnotes follow no standard format with which I am familiar. In more than a few instances it is hard, if not impossible, to know just what is being cited. There are reasons for standard formats in footnotes in scholarly publication and it is surprising that a university press would not follow one of the standard formats rather than present the idiosyncratic one used here.

The book is also sloppy on details like people’s names. The Confederate general who commanded Fort Henry was Lloyd Tilghman, NOT Tighlman as appears far too many times, actually the correct spelling never appears even in the index. Then there is southern Illinois politician, and later provost marshal, Andrew Jackson Kuykendall. His name is thrice spelled Kuykendull — once nearly directly below the correct spelling on page 80.

Proofreading anyone? There may be more such things, but I gave up keeping track. Once might be excused as a missed typo, but every time as in Tilghman or Kuykendall is carelessness and a lack of attention to detail that is simply not acceptable. This might seem like a small point, but spelling people’s names correctly is important and the failure to do so undermines the reader’s confidence in what is presented.

Combined with the poor writing and organization and the shallow research base on can only conclude that this is not the book we need on Grant at Cairo — that remains to be written.