Andrew E. Masich. Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861-1867. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017. x + 454 pp. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8061-5572-2.
Reviewed by Cecily Zander (Penn State University)
Published on H-CivWar (February, 2019)
Commissioned by G. David Schieffler (Crowder College)
Andrew E. Masich’s Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands is an important intervention in the growing scholarly literature on the Civil War in the American West. As a region, the West has been largely ignored in scholarly assessments of the nation’s most transformative era, with such works as Donald S. Frazier’s Blood and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest (1995) and Alvin M. Josephy’s The Civil War in the American West (1991) long considered the standard treatments. In the past decade, a new cohort of scholars has produced monographs, collections of essays, and dedicated issues of journals on the topic of the Civil War in the West. Masich joins this growing chorus of voices exhorting Civil War enthusiasts and scholars to include the West in their narrative of the conflict, though his approach reminds all scholars of the period to consider carefully not only what made conflicts in the far West similar to the Civil War but also what set them apart.
The Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands does not wholeheartedly endorse the notion that conflict between American Indians, white settlers, and Hispanic peoples was part of the struggle between Union and Confederate forces on the eastern half of the continent. Masich begins his monograph by alerting readers that the conflicts he examines occurred “quite apart from the Civil War of the Southern Rebellion that raged in the eastern United States” (p. 3). Rather, in Masich’s narrative of the period from 1861 to 1867, the demands of the Civil War on national resources, particularly the institution of the Regular Army, substantially changed conditions in the Southwest borderlands, first creating a power vacuum and then replacing seasoned, veteran troops with citizen volunteers, putting more American martial power in the borderlands than had ever existed prior to the Civil War.
Masich is particularly interested in martial attitudes among all of the groups that vied for influence and survival in the borderlands. In describing the lifeways and customs of borderlands inhabitants, Masich turns anthropologist and offers complex portrayals of the customs and cultural attitudes that drove such groups as Apachean peoples, Navajos, and Mescaleros—as well as Kiowas, Comanches, and Utes—to both internal and external warfare. The incidents Masich details range from intertribal raiding and captive taking to resistance movements against the encroachment of white and Hispanic settlers on Native territory.
Masich also gives prolonged attention to the issue of gender—particularly masculinity—in the borderlands. Though Masich goes to great lengths to distinguish the array of cultural and ethnic groups in the borderlands and admonishes historians who lump all Native American, Hispanic, or white settlers together, he ascribes a warrior ethos to each of the groups in his study that is seldom explained. Masich writes that the borderlands “became a stage upon which martial men assumed roles dictated by their conceptions of manhood, honor, and violence” (p. 31). The monograph will do little to satisfy readers who might seek to know more about how those conceptions or masculinity differed among cultures. The reliance on generalizations about gender is clear in Masich’s prose, where the discussion of gender is indicated by inserting adjectives like “manfully” when describing the combat actions of soldiers or saying an individual soldier was “powerfully built,” implying masculinity (pp. 90, 96).
Civil War historians will be most interested in Masich’s discussion of the two best-known campaigns in the Southwest borderlands: Henry Hopkins Sibley’s Confederate invasion of New Mexico and the march of James H. Carleton’s California Column. Masich adds relatively little to the historiography on Sibley, though he rightly observes that Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government invested almost no attention (and few financial resources) in the expedition. The investigation into Carleton’s training and deployment of the California Column to remove the Navajo and Apache to the Bosque Redondo, on the other hand, feels innovative. It is in this section that Masich provides a useful reference for how the men of the antebellum Regular Army applied their knowledge of the West to outfitting soldiers for the unique challenges posed by terrain and lack of resources—in the same way officers in the East reoriented their thinking as Civil War experiences generated new methods of waging war.
In addition to discussing Sibley and Carleton, Masich devotes considerable attention to the ongoing war between Benito Juarez’s liberal Mexican forces and imperial French invaders. In so doing Masich produces a true borderlands study, as defined in the useful glossary supplied by the author. In addition to the glossary, Masich offers a brief discussion of one of his primary source groups in a helpful appendix. This section makes a compelling case for historians to use Indian Depredation Claims in future work on the region.
As the historical narrative of the Civil War era expands, the West and its vast array of peoples, cultures, and spaces will find a place in the classes historians teach and the research they undertake. Masich has done the field a great service with The Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, offering new research and perspectives for historians to contest and consider. Scholars interested in the Civil War, the West, borderlands, and transnational histories will find much to consider in a monograph that matches its ambition with conscientious research and confident storytelling. Masich has produced a work that will hold a prominent place on the shelves of Civil War historians for many years to come.
. This observation runs contrary to several recent historical works suggesting that the Davis government was deeply invested in Sibley. See Megan Kate Nelson, “Death in the Distance: Confederate Manifest Destiny in New Mexico,” in Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States, ed. Adam Arenson and Andrew R. Graybill(Oakland: University of California Press, 2016); and Kevin Waite, “Jefferson Davis and Proslavery Visions of Empire in the Far West,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 6 (December 2016): 536-65.
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Cecily Zander. Review of Masich, Andrew E., Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861-1867.
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