Union General


Union General

Samuel Ryan Curtis and Victory in the West

William L. Shea

368 pages
8 photographs, 3 maps, index


January 2023


$34.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

January 2023


$34.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

January 2023


$34.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

2023 A. M. Pate, Jr. Award in Civil War History

Union General is the first biography of Samuel Ryan Curtis, the most important and most successful general on either side in the Civil War west of the Mississippi River. Curtis was a West Point graduate, Mexican War veteran, and determined foe of secession who gave up his seat in Congress to fight for the Union. At Pea Ridge in 1862 and Westport in 1864, he marched hundreds of miles across hostile countryside, routed Confederate armies larger than his own, and reestablished Federal control over large swathes of rebel territory.

In addition to his remarkable success as a largely independent field commander, Curtis was one of only a handful of abolitionist generals in the Union army. He dealt a heavy blow to slavery in the Trans-Mississippi and Mississippi Valley months before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. His enlightened racial policies and practices generated a storm of criticism and led to his temporary suspension in the middle of the conflict—but he was restored to active duty in time to win a crushing victory at Westport, where he saved Kansas and put an end to Price’s Raid.

Before the war Curtis was an accomplished civil engineer, a prime mover of the transcontinental railroad, and an important figure in the emerging Republican Party and was elected three times to the House of Representatives from Iowa. After the war he participated in pioneering efforts in peacemaking with the Plains Indians and helped oversee construction of the Union Pacific across Nebraska. This biography restores Curtis to his rightful place in American history and adds significantly to our understanding of the Civil War.

Author Bio

William L. Shea is author and coauthor of numerous books on the Civil War, including Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign, and Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River (Nebraska, 2005).


"Deeply researched and extremely well written, Union General is an excellent biography that should appeal to all readers who are interested in the Civil War."—Roger D. Cunningham, Journal of America's Military Past

"Highly celebratory while remaining judicious, William Shea's Union General is a fine biography that should go a long way toward fostering a wider recognition and appreciation of Samuel Ryan Curtis's substantial historical legacy."—Civil War Books and Authors

"Those interested in the Civil War, the West, or the nineteenth-century United States generally will find Union General informative and worthwhile."—Michael A. Hill, Western Historical Quarterly

"Samuel Ryan Curtis was a Civil War officer who never received the recognition that he deserved. After authoring campaign studies of Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, and Vicksburg, William L. Shea delivers a full-length study that appraises the military actions of Curtis, the most successful Union general west of the Mississippi River."—Brad D. Lookingbill, Nebraska History

"Union General, Samuel Ryan Curtis and Victory in the West is a well-researched book that provides readers with a thorough examination of Curtis's life. Shea offers convincing evidence to prove his argument that Curtis played a critical role in Union success in the Trans-Mississippi Theater while also writing a study that enthusiasts will enjoy reading. Thanks to Shea, Curtis is able to reclaim at least a measure of deserved attention previously so long denied."—Phill Greenwalt, Emerging Civil War blog

"Shea has successfully restored Samuel R. Curtis to a well-deserved place in the study of the Civil War."—James R. Jewell, Journal of Southern History

"Shea's writing style makes Union General an excellent read. The narrative and quotes Shea provides gives the reader a real sense of Curtis's character and moments of pride and disappointment. . . . Union General is an obvious good choice for military and Civil War historians and anyone who enjoys a good book."—In CONGRESS - Brief

"This book, a well-written study of one man's life,  is both meticulously researched and a fascinating story, written in an engaging way."—Ricochet

"Samuel Curtis lived a truly remarkable life and deserves Shea's remarkable biography."—Ethan S. Rafuse, Missouri Historical Review

"Union General is a worthy addition to the scholarship on military leadership and will appeal to readers seeking a traditional military biography of an understudied but impactful commander."—Lindsey R. Peterson, thestrategybridge.org

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Beginnings
2. Mexico
3. Engineering
4. Business and Politics
5. General
6. Ozarkia
7. Pea Ridge
8. March to the Mississippi
9. Missouri
10. Inquisition and Interlude
11. Fort Leavenworth
12. Westport
13. Race to the Arkansas
14. Peacemaking
15. Union Pacific
16. Memory


2023 A. M. Pate, Jr. Award in Civil War History

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