War In The Mountains

The Macbeth Light Artillery at Asheville, NC 1864-1865

Non-Fiction - Historical
538 Pages
Reviewed on 07/22/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Tom Gauthier for Readers' Favorite

War In The Mountains is an erudite work recording the history of a little-known piece of the war we know as the Civil War, but known to J. L. Askew and the South as The War Between the States. Inspired by his own second great-grandfather, a veteran of the subject unit, and the surviving chronicles of another veteran of the Macbeth Light Artillery, Lieutenant Hazel Furman Scaife, who wrote under the pen name VIDI, Askew produced this detailed history of the Macbeth’s final year of the war at Asheville, North Carolina. His reporting in detail of the final months of conflict in the spring of 1865 lays bare the raw emotions as the soldiers of the Macbeth cope with rampant rumors and desertions during the disintegration, capture, surrender, and evasion of the Confederate forces under the overwhelming onslaught of Federal troops. Giving the detailed plight of the Macbeth Light Artillery a proper context, Askew expands the scene to cover the military campaigns and defenses of the Confederate Army’s 1864-1865 theater of operations in surrounding territory commanded by Colonel John B. Palmer, including the Western District of North Carolina from the Blue Ridge Mountains westward to abutting state lines. The descriptions of events and the identification of a long list of participants provides an excellent base for study. This work is of the highest caliber, complete with footnotes, references, bibliographies, and attributions, for the study of the minutia of the Civil War at the most human level.

When one sets out to write about an obscure event in history that is meaningful to the author, invariably the research produces a treasure trove of gems long buried but now revealed and becomes the catalyst for dedicating the effort to create the final work.
J.L. Askew has proven this point with his excellent book highlighting the experiences of the soldiers and officers of the Macbeth Light Artillery. We’re told that “the winner writes the history” and the many histories of the Civil War reflect the veracity of that adage. Askew provides us with a valuable perspective, both valid and insightful. As the great-grandson of a Confederate veteran, Askew’s motivation to record, and his dedication to doing it accurately, are visible and commendable. His view that the war was less about slavery and more about the free (northern) states prospering at the expense of slave (southern) states has some historic validity. This book is sometimes a challenge to read or keep track of a plethora of characters, but this does not detract from its well-written core story of men at war. In my opinion, he succeeded in giving us a clear view of war from the less reported and very human perspective. I wholeheartedly recommend J.L. Askew’s War In The Mountains to students of this important point in our shared American history.

Jamie Michele

War in the Mountains: The Macbeth Light Artillery at Asheville, NC 1864-1865 by J. L. Askew is a non-fiction portrayal of conflicts that swept Western North Carolina during the American Civil War. With the mountains as a backdrop, Askew reveals a civil war within a civil war, a fratricidal conflict characterized by strife and resistance. At the center is General Robert Vance and his successor, Colonel John B. Palmer, tasked with defending the Western District. After Vance's capture and Confederate General James Longstreet's withdrawal, the area was vulnerable to Union incursions. Enter the Macbeth Light Artillery, hardened soldiers relocated from Charleston to Asheville who faced not only Union forces but Southern deserters and dissenters. Askew gives an exhaustively researched account of the military operations in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee from 1864 to 1865, placing particular emphasis on the role of the Macbeth Light Artillery.

I believe that my reading of War in the Mountains by J. L. Askew may have been the first time in years that I actually learned something new in a Civil War non-fiction book. The brigade known as the Governor's Guard was formed under Andrew Johnson, who later became the 17th President of the United States, to address the issue of unlawful bands in East Tennessee. Militia containment tends not to be thoroughly addressed and I loved that Askew went there. Askew's writing is both professional and accessible, and the detailed accounts of specific events are visually depicted. The standout to me were the movements and actions of Colonel Palmer and Colonel George W. Kirk, and Palmer's orders to assemble a force to aid Vaughn's Brigade. The description of the battle at Red Banks where Kirk's 3rd North Carolina regiment clashed with the 64th North Carolina regiment was excellent enough that I sidelined to look into it more. Askew's work is an informative and insightful look at the lesser-known moving pieces of a well-known war. Very highly recommended.

Asher Syed

In the war between the states, North Carolina's mountains saw internal strife and the Confederate government established the Western District under General Robert Vance in 1863. Following Vance's defeat and capture, Colonel John B. Palmer took command, facing the rising Union presence in Knoxville. Palmer, and, needing reinforcements, secured the Macbeth Light Artillery from Charleston. Arriving in late May 1864, these veterans confronted "Tories" and "Homegrown Yankees," Southerners disloyal to the Confederacy. This book offers a panorama of the mountain war, covering raids, skirmishes, battles, and key figures like Palmer and Yankee Colonel George W. Kirk. War in the Mountains by J. L. Askew provides a comprehensive study of 1864-1865 military operations in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, and the Macbeth Light Artillery.

War in the Mountains by J.L. Askew harks back into Civil War history. The narrative is a combination of researched facts, some of Askew's opinions and insight, and a book rooted in the author's quest to unearth the history of his ancestor's role in the conflict. The book effectively highlights the path of the Macbeth Light Artillery, mapping their journey from the Carolinas' coast to the hills. Despite the occasional deviation into speculation, Askew's meticulous research paints a vivid image of the battles, often bringing readers close to the action. The book balances well-detailed military specifics with personal looks into soldiers' lives, giving the text a human touch. While some sections could be condensed for brevity, Askew's work is a commendable addition to Civil War literature, capturing the essence of an artillery unit's life.

K.C. Finn

War In The Mountains: The Macbeth Light Artillery at Asheville, NC 1864-1865 is a work of non-fiction in the historical, American military, and personal accounts subgenres. Penned by author J. L. Askew for the general adult audience, this is a captivating and well-researched historical account that sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of the War between the States. The book delves into the tumultuous events in the mountains of North Carolina during the Civil War, where internecine strife and brother-against-brother conflicts were common.

Author J. L. Askew has crafted a detailed account of the political and military developments of the region, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by Confederate forces in the Western District of North Carolina. The heart of the book lies with the Macbeth Light Artillery, a battle-hardened unit that arrives in Asheville to face a different kind of enemy in the mountains. Filled with skirmishes, raids, and battles, the book vividly portrays the struggles faced by the Macbeth Light Artillery in defending against notorious Yankee Colonel George W. Kirk and his raiders, and this comes to life gorgeously thanks to the author’s eye for detail and atmosphere. History enthusiasts and those interested in military strategy will find this book both enlightening and engaging, whilst its narrative style will invite newcomers to the topic to engage with easy, enjoyable access. Overall, War In The Mountains offers a panoramic view of the military operations in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee during 1864 and 1865, providing readers with valuable insights into this often-overlooked aspect of the Civil War.

Grant Leishman

War in the Mountains: The Macbeth Light Artillery at Asheville, NC 1864-1865 by J. L. Askew is a well-researched and detailed account of the battles that took place between the Union Forces and the Confederate Rebels in and around the town of Asheville, North Carolina in the latter years of the Civil War. The Macbeth Light Artillery unit had been based in Charleston, South Carolina for the past nine months but had been in an auxiliary role and had seen little action during that time. The officers and men were thrilled to receive orders to move to the town of Asheville in North Carolina for several reasons. First, they would be passing through territory where many of the unit’s men came from and would have the opportunity to briefly furlough and visit their homes and families. Second, they would finally see some serious action as they attempted to halt the Union forces in their incursions into North Carolina, from East Tennessee. Third, they would exchange the fetid, mosquito-ridden flatlands of South Carolina for the cooler, fresher mountain air of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which was conducive to their health and well-being. What they found in the mountains was a very different kind of warfare than that which they had experienced during the second battle of Manassas and the battle of Antietam.

War in the Mountains is an extremely readable account of some major historic battles. J.L. Askew has researched this book assiduously and what I appreciated most was that he puts a human face to both the Rebel and Union forces. This story is much more than just a bare recounting of the facts, the geographical locations, and the casualties of the war. The author attempts to interpret the participants’ motivations and their mindsets by analyzing the reports written for their superiors as well as eye-witness accounts later diarized by some of the witnesses and active participants in the battles. This is an extensive and exceedingly valuable piece of work as it adds immensely to the store of knowledge of such a defining moment in United States history. I particularly appreciated that much of the narrative, including the story of the Macbeth Light Artillery, came from the Confederate perspective. As we all know, history is usually written by the victors but this author attempts to balance the account by showing the Rebels as honorable soldiers and men just performing what was their duty. Equally, the author does not shy away from pointing out the many despicable and depraved acts committed by the victorious Union Army. As history books go, this is an easy and enjoyable read that I can highly recommend.