Book Review: The Three-Cornered War

The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West, by Megan Kate Nelson, Scribner, New York, 2020, $28

Megan Kate Nelson focuses on Confederate Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley’s invasion of New Mexico Territory and the Civil War–era campaigns against the Apaches and Navajos—a “three-cornered war,” as one soldier called it, involving Yankee and Rebel soldiers as well as American Indians. These subjects have been well-chronicled: Mangas Coloradas and Cochise in Edwin R. Sweeney’s Mangas Coloradas: Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches (1998) and Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief (1991); Glorieta Pass in Don E. Alberts’ The Battle of Glorieta: Union Victory in the West (1998); the Apache wars in Paul Andrew Hutton’s The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History (2016); and the Navajo campaigns in Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West (2006).

But Nelson combines the topics into one easy-to-read volume that provides good information about the fighting in the Southwest as well as such individuals as Mangas Coloradas, the celebrated Apache leader; John R. Baylor, a Texas legislator who established the Confederate Territory of Arizona; Union officer James Henry Carleton, who campaigned against Navajos and Apaches; Juanita, a Navajo weaver who resisted Union actions against her people; and Bill Davidson, who fought for the Confederacy in New Mexico. Nelson’s smooth narrative style brings the characters to life and makes the story easily accessible for casual readers, while her intensive research should please serious history buffs.

—Johnny D. Boggs

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