Book Review: The Civil War Battles of Macon

The Civil War Battles of Macon
By Niels Eichhorn
History Press, 2021, $21.99 paperback
Reviewed by Stephen Davis

In this work of astonishing mediocrity, Niels Eichhorn sets out to explain the handful of small engagements fought during the war near Macon, in central Georgia, “in greater detail” than previous authors. Unfortunately, one doesn’t have to read too far to see he hasn’t done this.

The first of these four engagements pertains to Stoneman’s cavalry raid in July 1864. The author doesn’t explain why Sherman sent out the mounted column (to break the Macon & Western railroad at Lovejoy’s), only hints at Stoneman’s insubordination (riding instead to free several thousand Union officers confined in Macon’s Camp Oglethorpe), and fails to mention entirely that Stoneman’s column was to cooperate with another one being led at the same time by Brigadier Edward McCook, also aimed at Lovejoy’s. I had to turn to David Evans’ Sherman’s Horsemen to find a map of this battlefield of East Macon (fought July 30, 1864). I also got a clearer picture of Stoneman’s repulse from Bill Bragg’s article in CWTI (June 1985). Neither Evans nor Bragg is listed in Eichhorn’s bibliography. The author speaks of “Wheeler’s ten thousand cavalrymen” pursuing Stoneman; actually, it was Alfred Iverson’s 1,400. He dismisses the battle of Sunshine Church, fought a dozen miles north of Macon, in a half-sentence; it was there that Stoneman surrendered, the highest-ranking general to have been captured during the war.

The author is adjunct instructor at Macon’s Central Georgia Technical College and is admirably conversant on such war-related sites as the Cannonball House and Griswoldville battlefield. Unfortunately, an unseemly partisanship seeps into his writing, especially when he uses such loaded terminology as “the War of the Rebellion,” which was Northerners’ favored term till, decades later, Civil War came into use. He seems to prefer “rebellion” over “Confederacy,” and calls Southern troops “Rebels” more often than he does “Confederates.” Noting how a Macon paper complimented William C. Quantrill even as it condemned Stoneman’s raiders, Eichhorn sneers, “While U.S. raiders were vandals, Rebel murderers were heroic individuals.” Such sarcasm has no place in a work like this.

There was a “Second Battle of Macon” on Nov. 20, 1864, when Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry demonstrated against Confederate defenses. Eichhorn claims that his narrative is stronger than Richard Iobst’s Civil War Macon (1999). Yet it was to Iobst that I turned for casualties in this second “battle” (1 K, 9 W, both sides). Moreover, it is Iobst whom Eichhorn quotes to summarize it: “Sherman’s men failed to capture a city which they did not really intend to take.”

Griswoldville, fought Nov. 22, 1864, involved Georgia militia charging Federal veterans who were ready for them. The predictable slaughter is chronicled in Bragg’s Griswoldville (2000), which Eichhorn dismisses as “a decidedly pro-Confederate view” (and which he fails even to cite in his bibliography). Turnabout’s fair play, I guess; in his chapter on the battle, Eichhorn uses Rebel twenty-two times, Confederate just three. So that makes his book a decidedly pro-Federal view? Pardon me; historical narrative shouldn’t be judged on such terms these days.

In a troubled text, inadequacies hit high and low. The Confederate engineer fortifying Macon in the fall of 1864 was not “R. W. Frobol,” but Bushrod W. Frobel. (I’ve read his NARA records.)

“With the departure of Jefferson Davis, the final episode of the War of the Rebellion ended in Macon,” the author’s last paragraph begins. Confederate monuments are tumbling down—and we can all talk about that-–but the insertion of war-enflamed, sectional and dated terminology into Civil War history does nothing to bring about the cool, educated discussion of our common area of study.

…which is where I think most of us want to be.

19 Responses to Book Review: The Civil War Battles of Macon

  1. What about the part of the book that talks all about the history of Macon? I thought that was really interesting.

  2. In your opinion did the South not leave the United States of America to form their own country?

  3. I find nothing wrong with his selection of phrases and use of nomenclature, it makes sense to me. This seems like a rather biased review itself. I also find the dismissive tone referring to him as an adjunct to be inappropriate and unnecessary.

    1. Jon, I’ll invite you to reread the sentence where Steve mentions that Eichhorn is an adjunct at Central Georgia Technical College. The information is stated factually and passed no judgement on academic position or institution, and in fact the second part of the sentence actually offers Eichhorn a compliment. (One of my own professional pet peeves, as someone who works in academe, is academic snobbery. I’d have asked Steve to revise any such balderdash.) The fact the Eichhorn adjuncts at a college in Macon is relevant biographical information to mention when discussing a book about battles of Macon.

      1. Thanks Chris, I appreciate the clarification. I’ll admit to being touchy on the subject, having learned from so many incredible adjuncts. Consider that a misread on my part.

      2. No worries. It’s unfortunate that at so many schools, adjuncts are sometimes treated like second-class citizens. They’re often over-worked, under-paid, under-valued, and under-appreciated–and yet they provide invaluable service, often in some of the most important classes. In my school, we simply couldn’t deliver our curriculum without the specialized expertise adjuncts bring to the classroom, so they’re invaluable to us. I share your admiration!

      3. Jon and Chris,

        Thanks for your responses. I feel the need to clarify my criticisms of this book review and the reviewers statement of Niels as an “adjunct instructor” on Twitter and Facebook. I agree that there needs to be a cultural shift around our understanding of adjuncting in academia. Part of the problem, as demonstrated in the review (as well as some of the comments here), is that being an adjunct instructor only contributes to performing labor, not scholarly contribution or abilities. On a sentence level, that statement is factually correct. But when looking at the review holistically, which we all should do, the description of Niels as an “adjunct instructor” belabors the point that adjunct and contingent faculty are primarily teaching and not skilled in research and scholarship — even though Niels’s work can be found in LSU Press, Palgrave MacMillian, and several peer-reviewed journals. The review comes off as nit-picky; the biased reviewer attacks the minutia of Niels’s book to forward his Lost Cause/Confederate sympathizer beliefs. Emphasizing his position as an adjunct becomes another drop in a sea of criticisms about Niels and his book. If the reviewer was trying to make a positive statement about Niels’s “local” position and how that aids in his perspective on the history of Macon, Georgia that sentiment was completely lost. Again, this review must be taken holistically and we must not be hyper-focused on the factual nature of the one sentence; it contributes to the negative attack by the reviewer of an excellent book that reframes our understanding of Macon, Georgia during the Civil War without the taint of Lost Cause rhetoric.

      4. John, thanks for taking that opportunity to elaborate. I think it’s helpful, and the more we can do to more fully illuminate the important contributions adjuncts make to the intellectual life of our students, our schools, and the field, the better. Well said.

      5. I, for one, appreciate the review. Dr. Davis exposes some major issues with this book. Which is the job of a book reviewer. Secondly, as someone who worked as an adjunct instructor for almost a decade, I do not find the use of the term “to be inappropriate and unnecessary.”

  4. Mr. Davis protests too much. He has made his career writing about the Civil War with a pro-Confederate bias. Even his Emerging Civil War books are advertised having a “Southern sensibility.” He’s had no qualms in the past using the word “Yankee” in both his text and titles, which is simply the opposite of “Rebel,” no? In one of his books he even personally refers to William Sherman as a “son of a bitch.” But this book is simply too much because it calls the war the War of the Rebellion (which it was) and calls Confederates “rebels” (which they were).

    Got it…

  5. I think a mediocre book should be described as a mediocre book. If every review said “this is the best book ever,” they would be worthless. But I also question if a review such as this does anyone any good. The sum and substance of his criticism is 1) while he knows Macon, he did a poor job of describing Stoneman’s raid, 2) I’ve used other books as resources, 3) he’s biased against the Confederacy, and 4) the obligatory “just as an example of his unfamiliarity with the subject, he misspelled a name’ critique that every mediocre reviewer seems compelled to find in ever book he reviews.

    But the roundhouse punch aimed at the book based on this rather thin gruel gives an impression that Davis HATED it. I’d really suggest that a review by someone who despised the book doesn’t ultimately help anyone and certainly not the reader. My suggestion to reviewers is, if you really hate the book, turn it back to the editor and let someone else review it. If the first three reviewers all hate it, then it probably deserves the pan.

  6. Maybe I’m getting old, but, after Chris’s post this evening, I came to this page expecting to see a veritable donnybook. Some real smash-mouth, Ric-Flair-off-the-turnbuckle commenting! I must admit, I’m a bit disappointed. Is nygiants1952 on vacation?

  7. Well reviewed Steve! Always hate when a historian drops in some contemporary remark while writing history. Even if the the history is solid, such remarks soil otherwise excellent work. Some people just feel they need to virtue signal… it’s quite immature and anti-intellectual.

    Reading your recent Hood book now. Enjoying it.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!