History books like this one are difficult to rate because, on the one hand they may serve a vital role in the public domain, while on the other hand tHistory books like this one are difficult to rate because, on the one hand they may serve a vital role in the public domain, while on the other hand they suffer from certain technical problems.
Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865, was first published in 1955. I picked up my copy at the John Brown State Park in Osawatomie, Kansas and began reading it on the flight home from Kansas City to Arizona later that afternoon. Despite my deep and abiding interest in the subject matter, it took me just over two years to make it all the way through this book. Although the drama of the stories that Monaghan has to tell here is vast and thoroughly compelling, the density of the text can make it a rough read. A big part of the problem is the enormous cast of characters Monaghan must deal with. All too often individuals come and go in this long text and it's almost impossible for the novice to be able to remember exactly whom is being referred to. Frequently characterization is sacrificed to plot and we never have a very clear or reliable understanding of who these historical figures were as living and breathing human beings. One case in point is the very frustrating one of James Henry Lane. Although it's fairly clear that Monaghan is no fan of Lane, I got to the very end of the book without ever having formed a solid opinion of what Lane's character was like, or what really motivated the man.
Another serious problem with this book is its uneven use of anchoring dates. Monaghan's story necessarily moves back and forth in space and also in time, and often it becomes difficult to know when certain events are occurring in temporal relationship to other storylines. By the time a date is finally mentioned after six or seven pages, it's too late to go back in one's mind and reconstruct a mental timeline. Even more frustrating than that is Monaghan's forfeiture of standard footnotes, instead only appending an admittedly rather colossal section of references at the end which only refer to page numbers in the text. One is never certain of exactly which point being made within a certain page of the text refers to any given source. Consequently, a mirror funhouse bedevils anyone interested in tracking down primary or underlying sources. This is all the maddening because the notes section is so huge: Monaghan obviously did an enormous amount of research to create this book; unfortunately, his system of notated sources effectively blocks the reader from verifying, or expanding upon, any of that research.
Nevertheless, given the immensity of Monaghan's tale, I've yet to find a book that covers this material any better. Monaghan does serve as an important repository for all these stories in the popular domain. Anyone interested in the events transpiring in eastern Kansas and all of Missouri and northern Arkansas in the period in question should give this book a try.
This is really quite a remarkable little guide covering all the essential ground between Wilson's Creek at Springfield and down to Prairie Grove in ArThis is really quite a remarkable little guide covering all the essential ground between Wilson's Creek at Springfield and down to Prairie Grove in Arkansas. It's quite impressive to me how its already noteworthy authors (see, for example, Shea and Hess' Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West) have been able to compress so much detail about so much ground into so little space. The maps are quite excellent as well.
I bought the ebook version and have some quibbles about the formatting, but their minor. I live a thousand miles away from Pea Ridge, but having this guide on my reader makes me want to return to the region ASAP and start tramping around some of the back roads they mention. Other reviewers here mention certain local sites that this book misses and I won't disagree with them, but nevertheless I would highly recommend this guide to anyone who will be visiting any of the parks which it covers.
I also own a few other volumes in the Civil War Battlefield Guide series of which this is a part. They're all generally very good, but I'm tending to think this is the best one I've come across in the series. ...more