Fire in the Cane Field: The Federal Invasion of Louisiana and Texas, January 1861-January 1863
by Donald S. Frazier, State House Press
Donald Frazier brings a landscape artist’s eye and a dancing master’s rhythm to his narrative of the war’s first two years in the swamps, bayous, canebreaks and salt grass marshes of western Louisiana and the Texas Gulf Coast. Because of the area’s geography, the fighting there often devolved into amphibious hit-and-run raids at places like Bayou des Allemandes, Bonnet Carré, Georgia Landing and Galveston Bay. The war Frazier brings so vividly to life was often conducted by swashbuckling buccaneers whose reputations have never gained the historical traction of some others.
All the same, Frazier’s portrait of Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin “Beast” Butler, the scourge of occupied New Orleans, is both nuanced and fair. And the reader can almost feel the frustration of Confederate Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor, the privileged and prideful son of a former president, who struggled to find and organize the men and material he needed to defend his native soil.
But it is the line officers who come most vividly to life thanks to Frazier’s evocative narrative. They are men like hard-riding Texan Tom Green, a veteran of Henry Sibley’s quixotic New Mexico campaign who on the eve of the Battle of Galveston announced, “I want 300 volunteers who are willing to die for Texas, and are ready to die right now.” A master of finding the telling detail in a letter, diary or newspaper, Frazier gives life even to soldiers in the ranks, men such as Medal of Honor recipient Private Lewis J. Ingalls, who probably saved the lives of many in the 8th Vermont Infantry. Although he had already been wounded three times, Ingalls ran to throw a railroad switch that allowed a train carrying his regiment to escape an ambush at Boutte Station.
Fire in the Cane Field is a richly rewarding page-turner. State House Press has done justice to Frazier’s research and writing with an abundance of illustrations and maps.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.