BOOK REVIEW: Company of Cowards

 

Schaefer.Company of Cowards.cover
ISBN-13: 978-0826358639
University of New Mexico Press (July 11, 2017)

Jack Schaefer is probably best known for his novel, Shane. However, he wrote a number of other books, as well as a history of New Mexico for young people. One of these is Company of Cowards, a historical novel based on an event which may or may not have occurred.

The story’s premise is that eight Union officers who’ve been court-martialed for cowardice are not sent home in disgrace but are instead assigned to a separate military unit set up just for them, Company Q. Whether or not there really was such a unit is a riddle for the historians. Schaeffer’s take on the idea and his exploration of how such a group of men might become a cohesive fighting group and in the process learn to respect themselves again, makes for a fascinating story.

On this website, I only review books that are primarily set in New Mexico prior to statehood in 1912. Company of Cowards meets my criteria because, though Schaeffer’s Company Q is established in the East, the men in it end up at New Mexico’s Fort Union and  participate in the 1864 Battle of Adobe Walls. Schaefer’s version of that battle highlights the bravery of the fictional Company Q as well as the military skills of their non-fictional commander Christopher Carson.

Company of Cowards is a well-written book that explores how a man might fail and yet not be a failure. While Company Q serves as the primary focus of this exploration, the events at Adobe Walls also provide an opportunity to consider whether this battle—technically a defeat because Carson’s forces retreated— should actually be characterized in that way.

I recommend this book for several reasons. First, it is a fine exploration of the difficulty or breaking free of the labels others place on us. Second, it’s a wryly humorous look at the Civil War and the decision-making process in any military unit. Third, Schaefer’s loving  characterization of New Mexico and careful depiction of the battle of Adobe Walls will be appreciated by anyone who is interested in New Mexico and its history.

Company of Cowards  is definitely worth a read!

Book Review: Valverde

Bohnhoff.Valverde cover
Thin Air Books, 2017
ISBN: 9781534715974

Valverde is a novel about the Civil War in New Mexico that begins in Texas. This location may seem odd to you unless you’re familiar with the relationship of Texas and New Mexico. You see, the Texas Republic tried to invade New Mexico twenty years before the Civil War, and it didn’t go well.

His father’s involvement in that earlier invasion plays a role in teenage Texan Jemmy’s decision to join the Confederate Texan forces. It also affects New Mexico teenager Raul’s attitude toward the invading forces.

Valverde follows each boy as he experiences the beginnings of the Civil War in New Mexico and as their paths cross at the battle of Valverde in February 1862.

The characters are well drawn, the situations are believable, and the battle scenes are handled nicely—there’s enough detail to make the reader feel the characters’ pain but not more than is strictly necessary.

This book is the first in the trilogy Rebels Along the Rio Grande, a series of Middle-Grade novels about the Civil War in New Mexico. The next in the series is Glorieta and I’m looking forward to reading it, too!

You don’t have to be a Middle-Grader to enjoy and learn a little something from this book. I recommend Valverde to young and old!

Pike’s Peakers Arrive At Fort Union!!

Tuesday, March 10, 1862 was a momentous day for New Mexico. That morning, Confederate troops from Texas seized control of Santa Fe. Led by Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley, the Texans had moved steadily north through New Mexico since the previous July, receiving little opposition and clashing with Union forces in only one major battle, which they’d won.

By this time, the Texans must have been feeling pretty confident about making it to Denver and its gold fields. The idea was to seize those resources and use them to restore the Confederacy’s fortunes (literally). Then Sibley and his men would press on to California and the Pacific, opening its ports to Confederate shipping and sidestepping the Union blockades on the Eastern seaboard.

But late on March 10, Colonel John Potts Slough and his 950-man First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers (aka the Pike’s Peakers)  arrived at New Mexico’s Fort Union, more than doubling the number of men available in New Mexico to face down the Confederates.

Slough abruptly assumed command of the Fort. Although the Denver attorney had been in the military for only six months, he’d been a Colonel longer than twenty-seven-year veteran Colonel G.B.  Paul, who was in charge before the Pike’s Peakers arrived. But Slough, ever concerned about his rights and privileges, pulled rank, and Paul conceded his position as Commander, albeit unwillingly. Then Slough got busy outfitting his Pike’s Peakers with clothing, arms, and ammunition from the Fort Union supply depot.

march 10 illustration.john slough

Meanwhile in Santa Fe, Sibley’s Confederates  were also looking to their supplies. Their lines had been stretched thin on the march north and the Union supplies in Santa Fe had either been moved west to Las Vegas with the Governor’s baggage or skillfully hidden.

The Confederates’ stores were dangerously low. Although getting to Santa Fe had been quite an accomplishment, they badly needed Fort Union’s supplies if they were going to make it all the way to Denver.

But on March 10, they didn’t have a lot more time to worry about their situation. In less than two weeks, the thin-skinned and arrogant Slough would begin moving his men south out of Fort Union, then west toward Santa Fe. What would become known as the Battle of Glorieta or, more dramatically, the Gettysburg of the West, was about to begin.

Sources: Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishing, 1988; Jacqueline D. Meketa, Louis Felsenthal, Citizen-Soldier of Territorial New Mexico, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1982; David Grant Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts & Trails: A guide to New Mexico’s past. Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1994; Leo E. Oliva, Fort Union and the Frontier Army of the Southwest, Santa Fe: Southwest Cultural Resources Center Professional Papers No. 41, Division of History, National Park Service, 1993; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia¸ Albuquerque: UNM Press, 2015.