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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Book Review With Fire and Sword, Arkansas 1861-1874

With Fire and Sword: Arkansas, 1861-1874 (Histories of Arkansas)With Fire and Sword: Arkansas, 1861-1874 by Thomas A. Deblack

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was researching my book Ride Around Missouri, Shelbys Great Raid 1863, this title served as background reading.

With Fire and Sword: Arkansas 1861-1874 by Thomas A. DeBlack is a detailed account of the period from just before the war to the end of Reconstruction as is second in a four-part series covering the history of Arkansas.

It's nice to see a volume that covers both the war and Reconstruction. DeBlack convincingly argues that they're essentially two phases of the same event. The focus is more on political and social history than a detailed discussion of military strategy (which has been done at length elsewhere) and DeBlack skillfully interweaves primary sources and academic studies to give a clear picture of how Arkansas and Arkansans changed during this tumultuous period. A long annotated bibliography rounds out the work, adding a valuable resource.

I do have a couple of reservations. The book could have used a stricter editorial hand to clear away some overly academic writing, one howler (Missourians will be interested to know that Lexington is west of Kansas City), and a glossing over of some important details. The reduction of Sterling Price's army after the Battle of Lexington, for example, was not so much due to desertion as it was Price ordering many units to go home for lack of provisions.

Also, the book could do with a general map of the state and region. Many history books lack proper maps and I've never understood why some publishers feel the small amount of extra expense and work isn't necessary. I doubt most readers, including Arkansans, will know the locations of all the towns, villages, and rivers DeBlack mentions.

But these are minor quibbles. With Fire and Sword is an excellent overview of an important period in Arkansas history that affected the region as a whole. Highly recommended to students of the region and period.

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