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November 2014

A fine krimie by an Australian writer, this and his other books too long out of print.  This one was originally published in London as ‘Gently dust the corpse.’ Why it was changed from 'Gently' to 'Softly' is anyone's guess.


It offers the classic setup of an group people isolated from the outside world with tensions among them, in this case at Tyson's Bend on the Old(est) Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney near Mildura in the 1950s. The tensions spring from a missing lottery ticket worth £100,000. So far so ordinary.  

Tyson’s Bend has a petrol pump, a general store, a pub, a school, and perhaps a population of 200.

What sets this work apart is the additional character of the dust storm that cuts cuts off Tyson’s Bend from the outside world, making driving impossible and bringing down telephone wires. While most of the townfolk shelter at home about a dozen take refuge in the pub where, thanks to a generator, the beer remains cold. These people are the syndicate that bought the lottery ticket which has won, but before they can collect the dust storm hits, hits hard, and keeps hitting.

The wind howls and cracks, the dust is invidious and insidious, getting through every crack, slit, hole, and into everything from eyes to drinks.  It just goes on and on, shaking the roof, ripping doors open, cracking windows, overturning cars, blowing detritus with force, making a walk from one house to another as dangerous and difficult as such a walk in an Antarctic winter. Even in the pub, dust swirls in the air and coats and re-coats every surface. Makeshift face masks and dark glasses are essential to venturing outside and they add to the mystery.

dust-storm-002.jpg The dust of the Red Centre

The dust clogs and carpets everything from eye brows to clothing.  There is no escape and no relief from it. It is like a bombardment without end. The setting is marvellous and far more dramatic than comparable efforts by the dean of Australian krimie writers, Arthur Upfield. The storm is a malevolent force even greater than the murderer within the ranks, and far more destructive.

qPCUm.jpeg A dust storms envelops Melbourne

The characters are well defined; The nervous school teacher, the bullying policeman and his subdued wife, the simple store owner whose clever wife runs most things in town, the barman who plays the clown, the jackaroo who keeps to himself, and the two city lawyers who are trapped there.  It seems one member of the syndicate is determined to murder the other members to get the lottery ticket!

I learned a new word 'bombilation' (p. 180) which is very old and means to buzz. Here it refers to the incessant noise of the storm.

sh-courtier.jpg S. H. Courtier, school teacher by day

I read several other of Sidney Courtier's books in the 1970s and liked them.  There a great many others, though out of print, and so not easy to come by. There is a good entry for Sidney Hobson COURTIER at AustcrimeFiction.org

This is the third entry in this long running krimie series set in contemporary Turkey. The title refers to a style of popular music that seems to parallel country and western music, and not the elaborate decorative style known as arabesque. There are fifteen novels in all and I have read four or five others.


The protagonist is Inspector Çetin Ikman and his homicide team in Istanbul. In this entry the earth moves, more than once, but only in slight tremors as Europe and Asia once again collide at the Bosporous, as one of the characters observes.

Some of the cleavages of Turkish society are mirrored in the story, West (urban, rich, and European) vs. East (rural, poor, Asian), religious (Muslim, Jew, Yezidi, Christian), social (wealthy and servant), and ethnic, too, Turks, Ottomans, Kurds, and an expatriate. The distinction between Turk and Ottoman has to do with social status but their is also an ethnic patina to it, it seems, the Ottomans are taller, lighter of skin, etc. than the Turks. The expatriate is a half-Irish doctor who likes the life in Turkey but not the way women are treated, and that is another cleavage in the story. Men go out and about, and women stay home in the kitchen.


Nadel’s krimies are guide books to Turkish society with a plot that brings together the individuals who embody these lines of demarcation. To say it that way makes them sound didactic and that is not the case. The books are lively and walks through the streets are vibrant, exotic, and sometimes frightening.

Always in the background for young men of draft age is Turkey’s continuous conflicts along the Iraq and Syrian borders and in Cyprus. These conflicts may be low level but conscripts get killed in them every day. Everyone knows this happens but the Turkish news media seldom reports these events.


In this entry Ikman is on sick leave but sitting at home doing nothing is depressing so he gradually insinuates himself into an investigation led by his subordinate, the tall, urbane, handsome, Ottoman, Mehmet Süleyman. In contrast, Ikman is short and dark, and very Turkish. Worse, Ikman is half-Albanian, a cross that he never escapes.

494.jpg Barbara Nadel

Sometimes the stew is too rich for this reader. No doubt the names are all authentic but, as in those 19th Century Russian novels where everyone has three names, I found it hard to distinguish and remember all the names that come up in the early chapters. The references to the different quarters of Istanbul mean nothing to me, but I should have the wit to find a map to follow the action. Everyone smokes, more or less continuously.

Arabesque evolved, says fount Wikipedia, to interest the eye while not depicting human or animal forms, respecting Allah’s power of creation and destruction of these beings.

It is now commonplace for presidential candidates, even early in pursuit of party nomination, to publish a book. Most of these campaign books are autobiographical of the ‘My Story’ sort. John McCain offered ‘Faith of My Fathers’ (2000) gently reminding readers and reviewers of his sacrifices. Mitt Romney in ‘No Apologies’ (2010) tried to make himself seem ordinary but special at the same time. Barack Obama in ‘The Audacity of Hope’ (2008) and Hillary Clinton in ‘Hard Choices’ (2014) have bowed to the convention. A host of lesser known candidates have had their ghost writers, too, briefly putting their names before the reading public in book stores. (As always, Hillary overachieves and has several other titles to her credit.)

In the current fashion these books emphasise the intangible, the character of the candidate. Seldom do they focus on problems, programs, or goals or have the intellectual content of, say Richard Nixon’s ‘Six Crisis’ (1962).

When the campaign book became an essential is hard to say. Since the 1960s it has become a fixture. Semi-literate candidates who have never read a book, now write one!

In 1936 a campaign book was not commonplace; Long’s ‘My First Day in the White House’ was unusual in its time and place.


Long’s plan was to support an independent spoiler (Father Coughlin) with no chance of winning in the 1936 campaign to split the Democratic vote and elect a Republican, who would be unable to respond to the Great Depression, leaving the Republicans discredited and the Democrats without a leader by 1940 and the country desperate. Then Huey P. Long would accept a popular draft to take the Democratic nomination. During his short time in the United States Senate Long had begun to organise the spontaneous draft that was supposed later to impel him to the Democratic nomination. Huey never left anything to chance and he worked for the longer term.

This book, incomplete at his death, was a declaration of his intention. The custom at the time was for senators to declare their candidate for a presidential nomination at a press conference in the Senate cloakroom. Never one to follow form, Huey Long did it in this book.

In the hectic life he led, Long dictated this manuscript in 1935 in Washington D.C. where he was a senator from Louisiana, and Baton Rouge in Louisiana where he ran the state through a stand-in governor, often in cars, taxis, and hurrying from one meeting or speech to another, and on the train on his national campaign for his ‘Share our Wealth Clubs.’ He worked 24/7, getting by with four hours sleep most nights.

Long had one simple proposal that the ‘Share our Wealth Clubs’ expressed. Tax the rich! TAX the rich! TAX THE rich! TAX THE RICH! Get it?


It is more than taxing income, by the way, it is was also seizing the fortunes the rich had already amassed. The word ‘confiscation’ was not used but that it what it was. Compared to this spectre, Franklin Roosevelt was a bastion of the establishment.

But what of the book? It has an impish humour that is attractive, and a subtlety of mind and insight into the motivations of others with which he is seldom credited, but which he must surely have had to be as successful as he was. Like many other successful politicians he understood what motivated his opponents and how to manipulate that rather as a sailor learns to tact into the wind.

In these pages President Long hits the ground running, publicly naming a cabinet on inauguration day without bothering to inform those named! It is just what he would have done. He named, among others, Herbert Hoover to Commerce and Franklin Roosevelt to Defense. They could of course decline, but then they would have to explain to public opinion why they refused to serve their country in these roles! Now that is audacity. Needless to say in these pages, they comply with that great god public opinion in the person of its prophet Huey Long.

The millionaires resist but are won over through appeals to their better natures, long term self-interest, and Christian charity. That Baptist ascetic John D. Rockefeller was the first to surrender his fortune to the greater good. His fortune is a pittance compared to J. P. Morgan or John Hill but they, too, succumbed to saviour Long. In short order. Morgan and Rockefeller are redistributing their wealth and ohers' in a ‘Leviticus’ jubilee.


The only tension is this parable occurs in Chapter Six when an unnamed governor stirs up popular resistance to Long’s initiatives. Long does what Huey Long always did, he goes to face down the crowd, and wins them over. The governor is contrite, saying he led the revolt, to force the Supreme Court to rule on Long’s many initiatives, which it did found and them all good.

The initiatives include nationalising the railroads (calling William McAdoo from retirement to reprise his World War I role as Tsar of the rails), endless funding for agriculture, education, and health, combined with a balanced budget (thanks the confiscation of the fortunes of the Robber Barons). After token resistance, everyone agrees with Long’s vision.

Most of the book is told through dialogue in meetings or letters. There are illustrations he commissioned as the work evolved. This one for example.


There is none of brow-beating, blatant bribing, sale of offices, strong-arm tactics, double-dealing, and threats, or beatings that fuelled his gubernatorial administration in Louisiana in these pages. It is a redeemed Huey that figures here now that he has ascended to the White House.


It is easy to parody the book these generations later, but in the late 1930s with the Dust Bowl suffocating six states, thousands displaced through foreclosure, hundreds of thousands of jobless men wandering the country, hardship without end for a decade, and against the backdrop of President Roosevelt’s tentative first efforts, placed within the organisation of the ‘Share our Wealth Clubs,’ the book would have been a lightning rod for both hope and despair, one that Huey Long would have wielded expertly. Of that there is no doubt.

The book offers a complete social vision, albeit supeficial, as naive and as inspiring as many utopian fictions. It shows the working out of the idea without any of the inevitable reaction, undermining, half-heartedness, and confusion of life. It compares to Edward Bellamy ‘Looking Backward’ (1888) or William Morris’s “News from Nowhere’ (1890).

Class, time for another quiz. Get those eggheads ready! Agitate those little grey cells!

In the 1860s, who…

1.negotiated treaties with foreign governments and corporations without any political authority?
2.created an elaborate parallel federal bureaucracy with no constitutional authority?
3.practiced state socialism?
4.monopolized trade?
5.seized private property to the tune of $30,000,000 in gold?
6.exercised the executive authority of a president without any political mandate?
7.abrogated habeas corpus in the pursuit of conscripts?
8.and did all of this over the area of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, eastern Kansas, and Oklahoma to the loyal supporters of the Confederacy?

All those who said General William Sherman in his famous March to the Sea, on with the dunces’ caps and look at a map!

All of this was done for more than two years (1863-1865) by forty-year old full General Kirby Smith, of the Confederate States of America army. How that came to be, why it happened, what he did and how are laid out in this fascinating study of a corner of American political history quite unknown to this casual Civil War buff.

Edmund_Kirby_Smith.jpg General Kirby Smith

I had long known that the youthful General Smith had commanded Trans-Mississippi Confederacy though I was never quite sure I could find the Trans-Mississippi on a map. I now know it comprised four states (Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas) and four territories (Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, and Indian [Oklahoma]).

Map of Trans 1.jpeg The blue line encompasses the field of operations of the Department of Trans-Mississippi Confederacy.

His army, such as it was, was the last major force to lay down its arms in June 1865 as the news from the east made its way west. But knowing that was to know nothing of the detail.

After reading some other biographies of presidentials in the Civil War period I was reminded of Smith’s domain and decided to find a book about it. Pay dirt!


Not only does the book produce the goods on Smith and the Trans-Mississippi it makes the point that without the title or the legitimacy that goes with it, he exercised the prerogatives of a super-president unbalanced by a legislature and unchecked by a judiciary for two years. See that list of eight points above. If President Abraham Lincoln or President Jefferson Davis had done any of these, the opposition would have been great. Indeed, for what it is worth, Davis did none of them and Lincoln did only one, habeas corpus - he put a lot of people in jail indefinitely on the suspicion of sedition without trial. A lot. He provided a precedent for George W. Bush and Guantanamo Bay that was never cited!

First to that name ‘Trans-Mississippi’ for those who did not read Caesar’s ‘Gallic Wars’ ‘Cis-Alpine’ means on this - ‘cis’ - side of the Alps, and ‘trans’ means…? Yes, Class, on the other side of the Alps. Now apply that to the Mississippi.

No, Dunce, Caesar did not cross the Mississippi River at Rubicon! Do pay attention.

Cis-Mississippi is east of the Mississippi River and Trans-Mississippi is west of the Mississippi River. (Except in Des Moines Iowa where I repeatedly find on Skywalk maps that east and west are relative terms not fixed.) Now that we have nailed the name, let’s go to the man.

Kirby Smith (1824-1893), born in Florida, was a West Point graduate and a gentleman scientist whose collection of botanical specimens acquired while serving in frontier forts in Texas can still be seen in the of Natural History on the Mall. He served under Braxton Bragg in the Confederate Army of Tennessee and when his accomplishments made Bragg look bad, he removed him from command in one of this many fits of jealousy. Smith was thus available at the right time to go West in January 1863. The theatre he commanded was the biggest in space assigned to a general officer in either army and the means he had to defend it ranked the smallest on any measure. He said he liked a challenge, and off he went with a devil-may-care wink.

Within six months it got a harder. The Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg surrendered and in a few weeks the Mississippi River became a Federal lake, impassable to Confederates. Smith was now on his own, with very limited, very difficult communication with the Confederate government in Richmond. Intrepid individuals rowed skiffs, canoes, rafts, and logs across the Father of Waters bearing messages. They might wait weeks for Federal patrols on the River to move on, slacken, or be called away to a diversion before daring a night crossing. Anyone who has seen the current in the Mississippi above the Delta knows that this is a life-risking exercise. Many messages and some messengers were lost to the River, to Union patrols, and to self-preserving second thoughts.

At first Smith dutifully asked for instructions case-by-case from Richmond but after July he sought a carte blanche which in a series of agonising messages travelling this long, dangerous, uncertain route from Richmond to his headquarters in Shreveport Louisiana or Marshall Texas President Davis did not say ‘no’ to the request but then did not say ‘yes’ either. For equivocating, President Davis could give the Japanese lessons.

Finally, Smith just focused on Davis's sentences that seemed to authorise him to do what Smith deemed necessary and ignored all the qualifications, asides, limitations, hedges, cross-references, hesitations, definitions, and the fog of indecision that Davis’s pen exuded. One reason Davis obfuscated was that he, as President, did not have the powers Smith wanted to exercise, a fact of which Davis was made constantly aware by newspaper editors, Confederate Congressmen, and state governors who enveloped him.

Smith’s forces were desperately short of war material (ammunition, firearms, gun powder, pack animals, cannon, shot and shell, uniforms, boots for the men and shoes for the horses) but most of he was short of men. Periodically he would launch an enlistment campaign offering such inducements as he could (immediate furlough and an enlistment bounty in worthless Confederate dollars). Desertion was astronomical, one division reported 300 men fit for duty and 4,500 absent without leave. To stop that he would take troops from contact with the enemy and set them to find deserters who would then be shot on the spot as a lesson to others. This was hardly an appealing duty and members of those patrols often themselves deserted. It was a downward spiral.

The best way to avoid conscription was to enrol in the state militia (which remained true during the Vietnam War; think George W. Bush). The state militias’ registers were bursting with names and for each name there was an exemption. None of the states had the capacity to arm these militiamen with any more than the farm shotguns they brought with them. Few states had officers who could drill and discipline them, and since the officers were elected (per the state constitutions), any officer who tried too hard was defrocked. Moreover, a state militia cannot go outside the state (again by the state constitution), limiting cooperation with others to nearly nothing. While Smith’s armies regularly opposed forces four or five times larger, vast numbers of able bodied men of soldierly age had their exemptions, and these very same men urged Smith to fight to defend their homes and property (slaves) from the Yankee scourge. It did not take long for this circle of irresponsibility to wear out Smith’s good humour. With no legal or political authority but the weapons of his press-gangs, he forced militiamen into the ranks. Of course some of them deserted and sicced governors and newspaper editors on to him, and a host of trial lawyers brought endless suits. He persisted with some success.

To pay his army, to pay civilians for their labor as teamsters or ditch diggers, to buy uniforms, ammunition, and everything else he need a source of such goods and he needed money. The source was obvious. Look at the map above. México! There were plenty of Méxican entrepreneurs to supply whatever was needed. Then the problem was the Readies to pay for it. The only resource of value he had at hand, and he had at hand plenty of that, was cotton. In warehouses, on farms, in sheds there were hundreds and thousands of bales which had built up when the Union occupation of New Orleans stopped the trade through that port. Those who owned the cotton would not, however, sell it for Confederate dollars. Smith tried bonds; he tried his own warrants; he offered interest on the Confederate dollars - no sale!

What was a general to do?

He seized it. In some operations 60,000 bales were impressed by his troops in one day. ‘Impressment’ is the fancy word for stealing with a gun in return for a chit of paper. Get this in perspective, the price of cotton on the world market was very high. One or two bales would be worth a fortune to a private solider. Yes, there was private enterprise among the ranks and not all the cotton seized entered the lists on Smith’s accounts. Even so, in one calendar year he sold cotton for $30,000,000 gold dollars in México. By the way, there is no evidence, none, that Smith enriched himself in this trade.

060_cotton_bales_in_back_of_truck.jpg Cotton bales

He started shipping cotton to México under armed escorts (yes, some owners formed posses and came after their crop) and he was in business. He created a Confederate Cotton Office and this bureaucracy identified, compensated (seized) crops, stored, shipped, and sold it. To do so it acquired (seized) wagons, mules, harnesses, reins, and teamsters (who were conscripted on the spot). States’ rights, habeas corpus, private property did not figure in the equations. His assertion of authority went beyond even presidential powers.

In addition, to keep the wheels turning on this enterprise much was needed, wagons, wheels, tackle, yokes, horse shoes …. Smith set up foundries and factories to manufacture all this. Soon there was a Confederate Army tannery turning out leather for harnesses, an ore and refining foundry for horse shoes…. To manage these affairs an Office of Army Supply was created that socialised all of these works. There were many objections, and law suits were spun, letters of complaint slowly found their way to President Davis’s desk in Richmond, and he would in turn chide Smith in a letter received eight months later. On the rare occasions when Smith received an explicit and direct order from Davis to cease an activity, he obeyed exactly.

In short order French armament corporations started swapping cannons for cotton along the Rio Grande. There was an increasing French military presence in México at the time and many French field officers found they had rifles, saddles, horses surplus to requirements which they swapped for cotton. The entrepreneurial spirt blossomed.

While England and France had limited sources of cotton in their empires, the mills of New England had ground to a halt for the want of cotton. Sure enough purchasing agents from New England were soon buying Trans-Mississippi cotton along the Méxican border. That is, they did not buy it but swapped it for Colt revolvers, ammunition, Remington rifles, steel knives, cassons, harnesses, heavy serge uniforms in grey which they brought with them from New England. That is right. In fact prior to the closure of New Orleans many of these … businessmen had been doing this since 1861, and they were merely relocating the trade in 1863 to the Rio Grande.

One result of this trade with New England was that the Confederate troops in the Trans-Mississippi were often armed with the latest weapons, just as the their Union counterparts received them, too. A shipment of 10,000 repeating rifles to New Orleans would be split, 5000 to stay and the other 5000 shipped on to México and Smith's procurement bureau. Then when a Union cavalry patrol armed with Remingtons went out to blast Rebels, they quickly discovered the Rebels had the same rifles, and blasted back.

Since Napoléon the French had been leaders in artillery. The French sold cannons to Smith's agents. Accordingly, Smith's troops had better, though fewer, cannons than the Union forces they encountered. Better in that they were more accurate and easier to re-load.

To manage relations with México, France, Britain, and the New England traders Smith created his own State Department which negotiated agreements, exchanged agents, and so on. Everything was in writing. He made treaties with both Méxican and French authorities to pacify the border for this trade. Not only was he trading with foreign countries, he was trading with the enemy.

Nonetheless, his command often suffered privations because making or buying the material was one thing, distributing it over the vast reaches of the Trans-Mississippi with its few railways, many fordless rivers, its animal-track roads, disrupted raids by Federal cavalry was hard.

Cotton iconography features on nearly every Confederate bank note to remind the world of the white gold. On this five dollar note the overseer sits atop a horse with a whip in hand, ready to increase efficiency by using it on the blacks picking the cotton. All the while Lady Liberty on the lower left serenely observes. Most Confederate currency portrays blacks, too, always busy and happy at their work.


A good part of the book is taken up with accounts of military manoeuvres, battles, campaigns which make appalling reading. The size of the forces involved are microscopic compared to either the Virginia or Tennessee theatres but the death, the cold endured without shoes, the dying, the amputations, the disease, the swarms of stinging and biting insects, the gangrene, being constantly wet in the bayous, the malnutrition, the blinding heat, the field of rotting dead men are just as real.

The governors of each of the states and territories wanted Smith to defend every foot of their jurisdiction, the more so when the Union occupied most of a state. Missouri had to be defended, then recovered. Arkansas. Louisiana. Missions impossible, those. The Union picked and poked around looking for easy opportunities using the control of rivers to roam far and wide, supplemented by large bodies of cavalry riding on well-fed horses.

New Mexico and Arizona were the route to California gold and very early in 1861 Confederate expeditions went through Death Valley toward that El Dorado. Nature - it is called Death Valley for a reason - hostile Indians, and some Union army posts were enough to stop that. Even so there was a Confederate governor-in-exile and in the Confederate House of Representatives in Richmond sat a delegate from the Confederate Arizona Territory. Kansas figured as a continuation of the Jayhawk War and a refuge for raiders into Missouri, including the infamous William Quantrill (1837-1865), Jesse James (1847-1882), and other thugs later made into celluloid heroes. Slaughtering defenceless civilians was the preferred vocations of these men, e.g. Lawrence Kansas, not encounters with Union army patrols. There was also at least one raid into Colorado.

The Indian Territory (Oklahoma) was home to Cherokee Indians, regarded as the most civilised savages for they had adopted many of the white man’s ways: clothing, newspapers, slavery, and political representation. They negotiated an alliance with Kirby Smith against promises of future autonomy, i.e., no state of Oklahoma.

Apart from the shreds of papers affirming this alliance, it was embodied in a brigade of cavalry consisting of Cherokee and Creek Indians led by Brigadier General Stand Watie (1806-1871) himself a Cherokee, which remained loyal to the Confederate cause through thin, thinner, and thinnnest.

382630173f092a785422f50f2c34e1c2.jpg Stand Watie, Brigadier General C.S.A.

It operated independently, and mostly in today’s Oklahoma and disrupted Union communication and transportation, and occasionally joined one of Smith’s armies for a combined operation like the invasion of Missouri and then Arkansas. This brigade was one of the most reliable in Smith’s command.

While Texas was not often a scene of combat, when it was General John Magruder showed once again his tactical acumen and held off the threats made, including some French sabre rattling from México which Magruder saw-off in short order. In Arkansas General Richard Taylor did the bulk of the fighting in the Trans-Mississippi with the little wherewithal Smith could supply. He, too, had a tactical mastery that allowed him to overcome the odds often, but not always. On the debit side Generals Theophilus Holmes and Sterling Price made a mess of anything they turned their hands to, and Smith’s efforts to promote them to some harmless station, preferably in Cis-Mississippi, did not secure the support of President Davis, until it was too late.

By March 1865 a means of regular, albeit hazardous, communication had been established between Richmond and Smith at Shreveport. While the Confederacy was crumbling, the Confederate War Department launched an inquiry into the staffing Smith’s command. There were too many generals on the payroll! (Never mind that none of them, nor anyone else, had been paid in sixteen (16) months and then only in worthless Confederate dollars.) In an exchange of letters Smith was required to account for his every general and his duties in detail. Considering the vast distances within his command, he was not over-generaled, but try convincing the paymaster of that by letter.

So does the tail wag the dog.

Ever the dutiful soldier, he prepared the report but in the end he did not submit it. Why not? Because the War Department ceased to exist a fortnight later. Love it? The ship of the Confederacy is sinking, water is everywhere, and the head of payroll division sits grimly at his desk as the ship goes down demanding an explanation for those damn paper clips in the Trans-MIssissippi! It is the principle that is at stake!

As news of the surrender of Lee and then Johnston was broadcast in the Trans-Mississippi the scattered remnants of Smith’s garrisons, independent brigades, and armies evaporated. In some cases the local commander went to the Union line to surrender with some formality, but in most cases the Johnny Rebs walked away into the night. Smith surrendered formally at Galveston, and then took himself and his family off to México, because by that time, Lincoln had been murdered and the future was dark. He returned in late 1865.

He became a professor of botany and taught at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee for almost thirty years.

Conclusions? The author draws five conclusions from the study, and they make all the detail fall into place very nicely. However, I do wish they had been outlined at the start so I could have borne them in mind as I read.

1.The Confederacy conceived of the Mississippi River as a boundary, not a highway. Dividing commands at that boundary split forces that would have been better combined as the Federals proved repeatedly along the Father of Waters. This was the major strategic error. This decision divided command at the River, and then required explicit orders from Richmond for any cooperation across the River by Confederate forces on the two sides. More often than not, Richmond could not decide at such a distance what to do, and even if a decision was made, the communication was very poor. I trace this reasoning back to the general conception of military departments (matching state boundaries) which in turn paid court to states’ rights in the Confederacy.

2.Despite the hardships, the Trans-Mississippi Department sustained itself agriculturally and economically. It supplied the army with the necessities and civilian life went on. Though worn down and worn out it went on. The major problem was not production of the necessities of life, it was rather the distribution on the primitive roads, a problem compounded when the Mississippi River was closed.

3. Spared the extensive damage of general warfare experienced in Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia, its armies never suffered a decisive defeat, yet the Trans-Mississippi did suffer a collapse of morale which was apparent in 1864, well before Lee’s surrender. That surrender was the the end of this collapse not the beginning. Kerby's evidence for this collapse is ingenious.

4.Contrary to the conventional thesis that the ideology of states’ rights defeated the Confederacy from within, in the Trans-Mississippi General Smith worked effectively with the state governments in most ways, most of the time. Certainly, there was no Georgia in the Trans-MIssissippi, Georgia being the state that - some say - did more to defeat the Confederacy of which it was part then any other factor, except possibly South Carolina!

5.In the Trans-Mississippi the erosion of morale (see 3 above) that culminated with Lee’s surrender started very early in 1862. The initial cause was not defeat on the battlefield anywhere but the mobilisation of men and economy for war through conscription and impressment. Though everyone bore it, it sapped energy, enthusiasm, and spirit. Subsequent defeats sped the erosion but did not start it. Not sure what to make of this one. Again Kerby finds evidence, over looked by others, to sustain this thesis.

Unknown-10 Robert Kerby

When those who preferred compromise to war passed away, there remained those men of principle who preferred war to compromise.

Stephens had two brushes with the presidency. At one time the Little Giant of Illinois, Stephen Douglas, toyed with asking Stephens to be a vice-presidential running mate. Later the Secession Convention in Montgomery Alabama selected him to be Vice-President of the Confederate States. Indeed, he had even been mentioned as a president in the first days at Montgomery before Davis emerged as the preferred candidate.

Alexander Stephens (1812-1883), after a career in law, was a state legislator and member of the United States House of Representatives, where he was embroiled in the collapse of the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas Jayhawk War, the continuous crises that led to the Civil War.

220px-Alexander_Stephens_-1855.jpg Stephens in 1855

In his own mind Stephens was a pillar of virtue, a man of unblemished rectitude, absolutely consistent and forthright, unwavering, and never mistaken. He was also pivotal and influential in all matters he touched. That is his own opinion. He had no self-knowledge, it seems.

Schott shows in this well researched and nicely written book that Stephens was inconsistent, illogical, marginal, and often ignored. That Douglas briefly considered him as a running mate indicated how desperate Douglas was to hold together the Democrats as national party, spanning North and South, and how few Southern moderates there were that he might recruit. That he became Vice-President of the Confederate States is because more important players had contempt for this ‘empty compliment.’ Like most vice-presidents, Stephens found there was little for him to do.


Stephens was barely 5’ 2” tall and never weighed more than 100 pounds. He suffered ill health all of his days, and was often incapacitated for months at a time. He spoke in a shrill and high-pitched voice. Nor was he favoured by appearance. In today’s media he would never make it in politics.

He was a prodigious letter writer, and a finder of legal loopholes that made his legal career, an autodidact, who was as pompous as he was short. He had the intellectual vanity of a PhD.

When Jefferson Davis arrived in Montgomery to accept the presidency, he and Stephens met frequently. In those days, just as the assault of Fort Sumter occurred, Davis proposed a three-man commission North to negotiate a peaceful secession and asked Stephens to head it. Stephens declined because of ill health, he said at the time, and because, he added in hindsight years later, he saw no chance of success. Outliving many rivals, Stephens added much hindsight to his record; the the author does a good job of evaluating that hindsight against reality, seldom to Stephens’s credit.

While Davis and others argued that secession was a right to reconstitute a government, unconsciously aping John Locke, Stephens, ever in love with the sound of his own voice, delivered a paean on the divine justice of black slavery in his infamous Cornerstone Speech. That speech, widely reported and reprinted, lit a fire in the abolitionists of the North; even if Abraham Lincoln had been inclined to entertain the Davis peace commission that speech made it impossible. Stephens, the Vice-President of the Confederate States said that the purpose of secession was to defend slavery! He said further that it was a God-given right to enslave others. Moreover, that speech registered with the European powers Davis had been trying to convince to support the Confederate cause.

The author implies that Stephens’s speech was not intended to set a policy, but simply that when he started talking and mentioned slavery, the audience cheered, so he laid it on to milk more cheers from the audience. The author leaves little doubt that Stephens often talked without thinking. Before the death tolls mounted crowds North and South cheered all manner of claptrap. Don’t know what ‘claptrap’ is. Think Tea Party. Got it? Got it!

The Montgomery convention established a provisional government on the condition that the president be elected in one year. The critics of Jefferson Davis were legion. Some things never change and every newspaper editor in the South knew better than Davis how to conduct the government and wage a war, and said so often and in 30-point type. Even so, there were no other candidates; Davis (and with him Stephens) were re-elected unanimously. I cannot find out any more about this election from Wikipedia. There seems to have a popular vote of some kind and an electoral college vote.

What a utopia it would be if we were governed by the philosopher-journalists of the media who know everything.

He and Davis were much alike in their overweening egotism and thin skin, and when the government moved to Richmond, Davis no longer consulted Stephens. Accordingly, Stephens went home and spent most of the war in Georgia, and Georgia contributed as little to the war as possible.

Some historians say that Georgia made war on the Confederate government in the name of states’ rights. Georgia withheld men and material from the Richmond government on a significant scale. It stymied efforts to raise money with Georgia cotton and refused to cooperate with the Confederate Navy’s efforts to run the Union blockade, all in the name of states’ rights. Georgia Governor Joseph Brown won over Stephens with transparent and superficial flattery who then joined him in attacking his own government. Stephens could see no inconsistency in this behaviour. He never considered resigning, but continued to enjoy the status of being 'Mr. Vice-President' while disloyally opposing that government he formally served.

The Northern press fastened onto to this show of disunity with glee. European diplomats took note of this disunity, too.

The Confederate Constitution followed that of the United States very closely. It differed, however, in giving cabinet secretaries a seat of the House of Representatives where they would be subject to scrutiny. Schott accepts without examination Stephens’s claim to making this innovation, but the balance of evidence gives that honour to Judah Benjamin, the Attorney-General. (Benjamin had seen this practice in his travels to England.) In the event it seems not to have had any impact and it did not last since most cabinet secretaries stayed as far away from Jefferson Davis as possible by leaving Richmond.

Twenty_dollar_bill_Confederate_States_of_America_1864.jpg Stephens on the Confederate $20 note which in 1964 would have bought a toothpick. The Confederate government printed about $1 billion dollars in notes, and most of the Southern states also issued their own script, then there were the bonds. In addition to inflation at the time, another result is that they have little value to collectors because there are so many of them. (Readers may remember that in the 1950s the judge in Carson McCullers's 'Clock without Hands' had a stash of these notes which he proposed to put back into circulation to solve the economic problems of the day.)

Stephens never married and women are rarely mentioned in his extensive correspondence. He would say that he gave himself wholly to his country as a patriot. Did I say ‘pompous’?

While he fancied himself the only Christian gentlemen the country he did not attend church, though he read the Scriptures, and none of his opponents ever threw that in his face on the stump. Odd that. But he was not alone, e.g., Andrew Jackson.

Stephens’s political career started as a Whig, as did Abraham Lincoln’s. They sat together in the Whig caucus in Congress. As the Whig Party collapsed, unable to span the regional divides of North and South and of East and West, Lincoln became the second Republican presidential candidate, while Stephens sided for a time with Stephen Douglas as a Democrat. Class! Who was the first Republican nominee?

A pedant? His first election to the United States House of Representatives was as a member at large from Georgia, which had not yet been divided into Congressional distracts, because its western border was not surveyed. In his first speech in Washington D. C. he declared his own election invalid since the Constitution expressly required Congressional Representatives to be elected by districts of nearly equal size. He was satisfied with the startling effect on the few who heard it and did not act on his own contention, say, by resigning. By the way, the districts were surveyed and in two years he was re-elected from a district.

At the end of the Civil War Stephens was arrested and jailed for four months, the first two were pretty hard but the last two were lax. After his release he was a United States Senators-elect from Georgia but since he had not taken the loyalty oath, he was not allowed to take his seat. Later, after taking the oath, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives for ten (10) years where he served without distinction, and then briefly - less than a year - governor of Georgia.

In this post-bellum years Stephens proved (to his own satisfaction) that he had never erred, that he had opposed slavery, that he upheld the United States Constitution, that he had the right war policy, and more. His capacity for self-delusion had no bounds. That old adage about a person being promoted one level about the level of competence came to mind in his case. In the confusion of wartime, his promotion was several levels above his competence.

The book is meticulously researched and written with a light hand. It gives credit where credit is due to Stephens, e.g., he did visit wounded soldiers in Richmond hospitals now and again, something that Jefferson Davis could never bring himself to do because he thought it was inconsistent with the dignity of his office. After all, one of those hill-billy soldiers might not address him as 'Your Excellency', which the only form of address he found suitable for his high station! The book also points out Stephens’s volatility, repeated mistakes, lies, and more.

My one complaint though is that the there is no terminal chapter with a final, overview assessment of Stephens after readers have forced-marched through 520 pages of detail. A bigger picture at the end might give that details some added meaning. Without that picture a lot of that details seems, well, detail for the sake of detail.

A ticket of Douglas and Stephens would have give the wits something to talk about, for example, the Leprechaun ticket or the garden gnome slate at 5’ 6” and 5’ 2” respectively.

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