Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table

Education and Preservation


Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table

Unlike Anything That Ever Floated, the Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862

Unlike Anything That Ever Floated, The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862, by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes, Savas Beatie, 194 pages, a Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table review by Arley McCormick

This is another instalment in the Emerging Civil War Series that will delight Navy enthusiasts and others. The author, Mr. Hughes, is a former Naval officer and well suited for describing one of the most exciting innovations to America’s sea power. In ten quick chapters he describes the technical aspects of the CSS Virginia and Monitor, the people that dared to dream what was possible, man it in war, and make history.

Contrasts of technology innovation compared to the standard ship of the line, the maneuver limitations and challenges, and the impact of weather and shipmates on the days and hours preceding the fight that has inspired writers for decades is well defined. There is ample discussion of the impact and context of war facing the Confederacy in the early months of 1862 and the administrative decisions and actions that proceeded construction and destruction of vessels in the fight. Excellent narratives detail the fight with supporting maps and topics that aroused the press, military leadership, and future historians and give clear unequivocal clarity to the events of the fight.

Readers will appreciate the abbreviated biographies of many key people who influenced and fought the battle on the water as they represent the character of America’s fighting men of the day. There is ample insight from various participants on the day that illustrate the fear, training, and memorable events. John V. Quarstein provides an excellent Afterword describing events most readers seldom pursue regarding ships, technology, and presidential guidance. And, Annexes provide ample tour guidance and orders of battle.

This is certainly a useful primer from the Emerging Civil War Series to add to your collection.

Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station, The Army of the Potomac’s First Post Gettysburg Offensive, from Kelly’s Ford to the Rapidan, October 21 to November 20, 1863

Meade and Lee at Rappahannock Station, The Army of the Potomac’s First Post-Gettysburg Offensive, From Kelly’s Ford to the Rapidan, October 21 to November 20, 1863, By Jeffrey Wm Hunt, Savas Beatie, 283 pages, 2021. A Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table Review by Arley McCormick.

There were many more battles to fight in the Eastern Theater (1863) after Gettysburg and there were distractions in the Western Theater and Trans-Mississippi Theater. This title is the third of a four-volume series devoted to the war in Virginia after Gettysburg and focuses on the Army of the Potomac (AoP) and the Army of Northern Virginia (AoNV) meeting at Rappahannock Station and Kelly’s Ford. The commanders are General George Gordon Mead, commander of the AoP, and General Robert E. Lee, commanding the AoNV.

The author, Jeffrey William Hunt, illustrates the characters that play key roles in these contests and frame their action with strategic considerations offered from General Halleck and President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, adding well documented operations analysis considered by both Commanders and some of their subordinates. The drama eventually played out on the battlefield is antagonized by the national press and Washington bureaucrats judging General Meade’s inaction and comparing him to the previous AoP Commander, General McClelland, suggesting General Lee’s superiority.

Jeffrey William Hunt is Director of the Texas Military Forces Museum and an adjunct professor of History at Austin Community College, where he has taught since 1988. His experience is clearly evident as he transitions easily from the a discussion on operational art to unit movements such as Longstreet’s departure to the Western Theater with his 19,000 First Corps troops reducing General Lee’s troop strength facing the AoP. He addresses General Mead’s consideration of moving behind the repair of the O&A railroad, posting formations along the way to protect supply lines from Confederate raiders, and the personal overt criticism of allowing Lee to get away from Gettysburg and not aggressively pursuing him until November.

Mr. Hunt’s description of each tactical scene is accompanied with antidotes of soldiers that experienced the contest as documented in diaries, letters, and other recorded formats of the era including the official records. He, in dramatic fashion, illustrate both the courage and the sacrifice soldiers in blue and gray willingly contributed to win the day.

This is an exceptionally well written and documented publication and the challenge of troops on the ground and the maps depicting the assorted positions of the Armies are sufficient to illustrate troop movement and contact.

Siege of Vicksburg: Presentation and Lecture Notes

Patriots Twice – Former Confederates and the Building of America after the Civil War

Patriots Twice: Former Confederates and the Building of America after the Civil War, Stephen M. Hood, 341 pages (e-book/Kindle); 256 pages (hardcover), Savas Beatie Publishing, 2020. This is a Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table review by Lee Hattabaugh.

The men who fought and served so bravely for what they believed in the War Between the States continued that service to rebuild their reunited country long after the fighting ended in 1865. They were farmers, merchants, soldiers, lawyers, politicians, and leaders before the War and when they returned to their homes following the surrender of the Armies, they continued in these roles. They founded cities, companies, and universities. They were governors, judges, ambassadors, and some even answered the call to became soldiers again. Mr. Hood presents these stories and so much more in this unique and timely book.
For over forty years following the cessation of hostilities, Americans from both sides of the conflict struggled to rebuild and reunite the States under a single government. To accomplish this, the former enemies worked toward this common goal and did so in a time-honored tradition of loyalty, duty, and selfless-service. Mr. Hood’s exhaustive research has identified many of the former Confederates who served the new United States of America.

Following the author’s acknowledgement of those who helped in with research, including a few names your reviewer recognized as personal acquaintances, the book contains eight parts which are defined by the various roles filled including: presidential appointments, Congress, military, state governors, city founders, officers in professional societies, higher education/universities, and Native Americans/others. Also included are an appendix with additional names and information, a full bibliography, and an index. Some of the men who impacted and affected multiple sections of American society are found in appropriate chapters, often with additional information when they are mentioned more than once. This creates some repetition in the text, but it serves to highlight the importance of these men to the new American society; there are also many photographs included.

In correspondence with the author, I was told that over three years of research went into this particular work and the response to it has been tremendous on several fronts. Mr. Hood included a quote from Robert E. Lee written during the post-war years during his tenure as president of Washington & Lee University. Lee wrote, in words that still apply today, “I think it the duty of every citizen in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony.” I believe Mr. Hood has done his part to live up to these ideals in Patriots Twice.

Inspired by the current cultural, political and scholastic movements, the stories and information provided by Mr. Hood in Patriots Twice are especially poignant and important in light of the removal, relocation, and destruction of Confederate monuments and cemeteries we see in our country today. Reading about how our ancestors were able to set aside their differences to rebuild their broken country is a lesson worth learning for all Americans. I strongly encourage you to read this book and learn these lessons for yourself.

Interview with the Author, Sam Hood, by the TVCWRT reviewer Lee Hattabaugh

Lee Hattabaugh: What prompted you to write this book?
Author: Sam Hood: Like most rational people, I was appalled at the destruction of Confederate (and other) history by extremists. I thought surely former Confederates accomplished much in the reunited nation.

Lee Hattabaugh: How long did the research take?
Author: Sam Hood: I spent two years–off and on–researching, and a year organizing, writing, editing, and prepping the book for publication.

Lee Hattabaugh: I noted some repetition in your book. Could you elaborate on your intent?
Author: Sam Hood: You are right, but it was necessary due to the organization and presentation that I chose so the book could not only be something to be read for pleasure, but also as a tool for those fighting to save specific Confederate landmarks and monuments. I wanted to present my research not as a simple alphabetical list/roster, but in categories. The reason is that–for example–someone at a university is trying to save a building named for a Confederate veteran, they can go to my book, find the university, and see the CS veterans who were involved in the founding or development of the school. The same with a US military base…you can go to my chapter on “US Military” and read of the postwar US Army officers that had been Confederates. Thus, I organized the book to be a useful tool for those working to save Confederate memorials.
One problem; many Confederates show up in multiple categories/chapters. For example, some Confederates were presidents of the AMA, American Surgical Society, etc, and also founded medical schools. So I had to present them in the “Higher Education” and “National Professional Organizations” categories. Also, there were former Confederates who were college administrators and also US diplomats. And, of course, even inside a chapter, if a Confederate taught at multiple universities, I had to show him in each university’s section. Take for example, people are trying to save Confederate-named buildings at Virginia Tech, and others are trying to save Confederate memorials at the US Naval Academy. Former Confederate Scott Shipp was involved in both institutions, so he had to be listed as a president in the Virginia Tech section, and also in the US Naval Academy section because he served on the Board of Visitors.
I listed a veteran in every category and section where he would apply, but I only gave a detailed biography of the veteran in one place…not everywhere he appears.

Lee Hattabaugh: What impressed you most during your research that you didn’t feel fit the purpose of your narrative?
Author: Sam Hood: I only wished that I could have included more accomplished ex-Confederates. Book size constraints dictated that I limit the number of characters.

Lee Hattabaugh: What is your next project?
Author: Sam Hood: I have no Civil War history projects on the horizon right now. The college soccer program that I founded and coached in the late 1970s-early 80s, Marshall University, just won its first NCAA Div. 1 national championship and I am organizing a pictorial book on the rise of the program.

Defending the Arteries of Rebellion; Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865

Defending the Arteries of Rebellion; Confederate Naval Operations in the Mississippi River Valley, 1861-1865, by Neil P. Chatelain, Savas Beatie, 339 pages, 2020, Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table review by Arley McCormick

This book may become the “go to reference” documenting the Confederate Naval Operations in the Western Theater. Hundreds of pages are on the shelves of the War Between the States enthusiasts and historians that address the belligerent Army’s effort to secure or defend the influential waterways of the Western Theater, but none concentrate as comprehensively on the Confederate Navy.

Many of the most decisive moments documented by the author are accented by the personal accounts of those who were responsible or close to the action, and he addresses both the strategic aims of President’s Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. He includes the Confederate innovations that ultimately failed to secure the tributaries from Union control, but startled the U.S. Navy and opened the door for increased emphasis on remotely detonated torpedoes and armament.

Confederate defensive measures are explained in the context, scope, means, and performance of Confederate Naval and Army forces defending the Mississippi River, its tributaries, and more detail regarding the defense of fortified towns of Vicksburg, Mississippi and Port Hudson, Louisiana.

The author documents both Confederate and Union governments logic behind building a riverine force that contributed to the campaigns on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers in Tennessee as well as the Yazoo in Mississippi, the Arkansas River in Arkansas, and the Red River campaign of 1864; and of course the Navy view of the capture of New Orleans. With few exceptions, all of these areas are frequently analyzed, debated, and illustrated from the Union forces perspective and casually address the Confederate Navy effort. The authors research certainly provides comprehensive coverage of the courage and initiative invested by Confederate sailors, marines, soldiers and contractors to challenge the more numerous and better armed U.S. Navy.

Many authors have chronicled the effort of the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, but Neil Chatelain clearly achieved his goal of documenting the Confederate effort to organize a Navy both on the high seas and inland waterways and is nothing short of a monumental achievement.

Embattled Capitol; a guide to Richmond during the Civil War

Embattled Capitol; a guide to Richmond during the Civil War, by Robert M. Dunkerly and Doug Crenshaw, Savas Beatie, 194 pages, Emerging Civil War Series. A Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table review by Arley McCormick

Embattled Capitol is another installment of the Emerging Civil War series published by Savas Beatie. It is a quick, informative read. Robert M. “Bert” Dunkerly is a historian, award-winning author, and speaker who is actively involved in historic preservation and research. He works as a park ranger at Richmond National Battlefield Park and Doug Crenshaw, a longtime volunteer for Richmond National Battlefield, leads tours of the battlefields around the former Confederate capital and is a member of the Richmond Civil War Roundtable.

Richmond encapsulates a mini history of the Confederacy complete with involvement in the slave trade, home to local units that fought the good fight, hospitals, prisons, cemeteries, and an abundance of battles and battlefields that surround the city testify to the intent to preserve the city and government. And, this guide also addresses more recent museums and landmarks including reconstruction and life after the confederacy.
Most casual and committed students of the Civil War are aware of the cry from the New York Tribune citing “On to Richmond” as a quick end to the Southern rebellion. And why not, it was the symbol of an unacceptable government; its capitol. Richmond’s story is the story of the Confederacy in a single land mark. It suffered famine, riots, possessed notorious prisons, Confederate martial law, extensive construction for defense and eventually Federal occupation. It was the home of Libby and Belle Isle Prison, industry, (Tredeger Iron Works), and the White House of the Confederacy. The dreams of an independent nation crushed by assorted reasons that capture the imagination of historians, novelists, and cinema
The authors begin with Richmond’s journey long before the Civil War and recount the February 1861 failure of Virginia to leave the Union and how Lincoln, with a call for troops to put down the rebellion, pushed Virginia into the Confederate fold and ultimately by May was its Capitol.
The authors very succinctly review the impact of war on the community as train loads of wounded and captured Union soldiers changed the landscape of Richmond after First Manassas and they continue the narrative, supported by maps, short descriptions of battles near the city and the ultimate fall to the Union Army.

Appendix C – The Most Important Convention That Has Been Assembled in This State Since the Year 1776: The Virginia Secession Convention, stands out. Rob Orrison lays out the Secession Convention in detail.
Anyone taking a trip to Richmond needs this guide.

Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous POW Camp of the Civil War

The history of prisoner of war (POW) treatment was abysmal world-wide until years after the War Between the States. Although efforts had begun near the end of the Napoleonic wars, true reform on the treatment of POWs was decades in the future. Nothing substantive had been done by 1861 so when both sides began taking each other’s soldiers as POWs, problems immediately began to emerge. The last major American experience of taking large numbers of prisoners in combat was 80 years prior to the War Between the States and the examples from that war were nothing to emulate.

As the war began both armies fell-back onto the age-old process of exchanging prisoners. The Dix-Hill Cartel concluded an agreement in the summer of 1862 for the exchange of prisoners. A series of different and complex permutations made allowances for the exchange of different ranks and it actually worked for a few months until the Emancipation Proclamation. The Confederates objected to the exchange of black POWs as many were still considered escaped, or freed, property. After this, the system started and stopped largely based on locations and commanders. The end result is that many POWs on both sides were stuck interminably in POW camps until they could be exchanged—-or freed. GEN Grant stopped the exchanges in 1864 which was a death sentence to many POWs on both sides.

Neither side was prepared for the huge number of POWs and it caused massive problems that had never been imagined for both sides. Overall, prisoner deaths of Confederates in Northern POW camps ranked at 12% of those incarcerated while 15% of Northerners perished. The difference of 3% is certainly a nominal difference in the big picture, almost within a standard deviation from the mean. The biggest difference is that the North exercised a deliberate policy of retribution and revenge against the Confederate POWs. It was officially called “retaliation”. While the Southern POW camps suffered from the massive shortages’ endemic in the South, Northern prisons were well-able to provide the necessities for their POWs. They refused to as a deliberate policy.

During the less than one year Elmira was in operation from 1864-1865, more than 10,000 POWs were crammed into the former Union Army mustering camp. Beautiful summer weather soon turned foul as early winter arrived and the POWs, clad in only the uniforms in which they were captured began to suffer severely. The camp was built near the Chemung River which meant one side of the camp was marshy with poor drainage. Poor sanitation led to human waste collecting in low areas with poor drainage. In a move to economize, barracks were quickly erected with uncured and unfinished lumber. Totally uninsulated, the buildings were freezing cold in the winter. No blankets were issued and combined with a starvation diet, a huge number of POWs became sick.

Union Army surgeons assigned to Elmira POW camp were overwhelmed and complained through official channels of the terrible conditions. The camp commanders blocked efforts of the surgeons to fix the problems and Dr. Eugene F. Sanger was finally relieved in December after submitting numerous reports criticizing the lack of care of the POWs.

Maxfield does a very commendable job of chronicling the experiences of the POWs by incorporating the entries from the official Union records as well as from the letters and diaries written by the POWs. The remains of the former Union Army mustering camp and POW camp are virtually gone today. The Chemung River is still there and historical markers note the boundaries of the former camp, now over-run by urban sprawl. What does remain is the Woodlawn Cemetery, about two miles from the former POW camp. The cemetery holds the remains of the nearly 3,000 Confederates who died far-away from their homes.

The book has several appendices, A through G with interesting maps and stories about the POW camp. One of the appendices is about the escaped slave, John W. Jones. Jones’ efforts as the cemetery sexton insured the decent burial of the Confederates as well as the marking and recording of all graves. Without his efforts, most of the POWs would have been lost to memory. Another appendix discusses the burial of Samuel Clements —- Mark Twain the Missourian who ended-up in Elmira, New York. The last appendix is written by the sister of a member of our Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table. Retired LTC Tom Olszowy’s sister, Terri, wrote an excellent account of the restoration efforts of the“Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp”. Efforts include fabricating or restoring buildings as historical representations of wartime structures.

Over 400,000 POWs were held during the war. 55,000 died in captivity on both sides, a horrible figure. Two thousand nine hundred and fifty dead of 10,000 POWs produced a death rate of 24% making Elmira aptly labeled as the“Andersonville of the North” (a death rate of 29%) and garnering the name “Hellmira”. What everyone learned from our shared American experiences with POWs during our War Between the States is that man’s inhumanity to man caused much needless suffering and left bitter memories for years after the war. A number of changes were instituted just over a half century later, the US military incorporated massive changed to how it kept its prisoners in WWI. Many of those lessons are incorporated into our POW policies today.

Derek Maxfield has done an excellent job telling the story of Elmira. Every POW camp was different and their circumstances led to different outcomes. The one common thread however was the official policy of “retaliation” which the U.S. has since renounced, now practicing humanitarian benevolence to prisoners of war. I highly recommend this book for those wishing to gain a perspective of what prisoners suffered through during the war and the policies that led to their treatment.

Reviewed by Ed Kennedy

Seceding from Secession: The Civil War, Politics, and the Creation of West Virginia

The travel to statehood for West Virginia is not a hot topic for most Civil War enthusiasts and particularly the boots and bayonet variety. But like every significant historical moment surrounding the Civil War, the impact upon the nation was significant if not fleeting. The authors comprehensively characterize the circumstances from an, economic, military, political, and legal perspective, and clearly illustrate the collective impact of the decisions of the West Virginia citizens.

The authors layout the Sectional differences that existed between the Virginia counties west of the Allegheny Mountains vs. east of the mountain range since before the American Revolution and that grew as the eastern counties political power supporting slavery isolated the western counties from economic opportunity.
The western counties economic activity was closely connected to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland and with railroads and the nation’s population expanding westward, access to the Ohio and the Mississippi River was significant. The B&O Railroad, having supported the western counties immensely since 1828, was derailed by eastern politicians when the authority to expand the B&O to the Ohio River failed. Consequently, in 1851 serious discussions centered upon separating from Virginia. The US Constitution included a provision for establishing a separate state and there was precedent. Yet the effort fell short until 1861.

Virginia’s Secession decision in April 1861 kicked off aggressive descent and this time the stakes reached beyond the few Virginia counties west of the Allegany Mountains. President Abraham Lincoln, desperately trying to keep border states in the Union, poled his cabinet. Salmon P. Chase of Ohio aggressively supported creating a new state and five years later was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when the legal issue was settled.

The authors highlight it all and even satisfy the boots and bayonet enthusiasts with details regarding the B&O Railroad’s significance as a military objective and target for both Union and Confederate cavalry raids till March of 1865. And while the authors draw conclusions based upon their study, the Appendix includes significant documents: the letters to the President from his Cabinet regarding the West Virginia question, the complaint from the State of Virginia to West Virginia that preceded court action, and the two Supreme Court decisions on the subject.
There were movements in many states to abandon the South after secession, but at the end of the day, West Virginia succeeded and was the first slave state to join the union.

Digesting this comprehensive effort, the road to West Virginia statehood will now rate more than a passing footnote to Border state discussions and secession.


Reviewed by Arley McCormick

The Book of Lost Friends

It’s a split time novel that does not feature the boots and saber format normally associated with characters that fought the battles, died on their own front lawn, or suffered debilitating disease. It is a story of seeking family and friends sold as slaves or lost in the confusion of the Civil War’s after math and Reconstruction. The empty chair at their table and their trauma woven into stories that will keep you turning the pages and reacquaint you with suffering in the South under the uncontrollable and devastating circumstances unleashed after the Civil War.

Lisa Wingate is a nationally renowned writer who has authored over 40 non- fiction and fiction books and at least one a New York Times best seller. The focus of this effort is the search initiated to find lost acquaintances and family as solicited in Southern newspapers after the Civil War. Three friends from Louisiana in 1875, a former slave, a destitute former plantation heir, and her half sister set out in the midst of dangerous and uncertain times, each burdened with the scares of their past, attempt to find their place in Texas. And in 1987 an indebt school teacher finds employment in a Louisiana Mississippi River town that is resistant to change, new ideas, and new people. The characters are inspired by real-life documented drama that challenged society in their day. It will be difficult to abandon the book on the night table.


Reviewed by Lynda McCormick

The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown’s Hanging to Appomattox, 1859-1865

A rousing good history of one of the iconic regiments of the Civil War, one that ranks up there with the likes of the 20th Maine, the 24th Michigan, and the 15th Alabama, the 12 Virginia Infantry, a.k.a. the “Petersburg” regiment, went the distance, finding itself in most of the key battles in the Eastern theater – Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, and battles around its namesake, Petersburg, to name a few.

  Horn traces the regiment’s formation from militia units in and around Petersburg and Richmond – the Petersburg Guard, the Petersburg Grays, the Lafayette Guards, the Huger Grays, the Richmond Grays, among others – in the late 1850s to its activation in July 1861.  Filled with photos, drawings, and maps, this history ranges from individual stories to the whole regiment, in the process spanning privates to generals, the brave and the self-serving, and those that lived and those that did not survive.  It is filled with cogent insights and nuggets throughout. Take, for example, the regiment’s early brush with Major Thomas Jonathan Jackson, a professor at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.  Looking for an assignment that would best use Major Jackson’s talents, Governor John Letcher considered him for command of the newly forming regiment.  The 12th would be a plum assignment, but Jackson’s representation as an officer of “an eccentric and ascetic disposition” preceded him.  The regiment’s officers protest so strongly that Governor Letcher assigned him elsewhere.  It eventuated that the 12th was assigned to defend Norfolk.  One can only imagine how the spring and summer of 1862 in the Valley and on the Peninsula might have been different had Major Jackson received the assignment.

  History is a great playground for the imagination, and nothing serves one’s imagination better than eyewitness views and unit stories. Horn takes us on just such a journey — the toils and foibles; successes, failures, and fears; tragic incompetence and occasional brilliance.  It’s all here.  

  This story finishes with casualty comparisons (appendices) of the 12th Virginia with other Confederate and Union regiments.  A quick scan evidences the intensity of the fighting the Petersburg Regiment endured during the war. This is a great read.  Enjoy.

  As for John Horn, a native of Illinois, he received a B.A. in English and Latin from New College (Sarasota, Florida) in 1973 and a J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1976. He has practiced law in the Chicago area since graduation, occasionally holding local public office.  He resides in Oak Forest with his wife and law partner, H. Elizabeth Kelley, a native of Richmond, Virginia. They have three children. He has published articles in Civil War Times Illustrated and America’s Civil War, and his books include The Destruction of the Weldon Railroad (reissued in 2015 in a revised and expanded Sesquicentennial Edition as The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864) and The Petersburg Campaign (1993). With Hampton Newsome, Horn co-edited Civil War Talks: The Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard & His Fellow Veterans, published by the University Press of Virginia in 2012, which was extensively drawn upon for this regimental history.

Your reviewer is Emil L. Posey, former Vice President ofthe TVCWRT, now continuing to support as Secretary. His work history spans almost 45 years of military and civilian service to our country.  He retired from NASA/George C. Marshall Space Flight Center on December 27, 2014.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Hood College, Frederick, Maryland; is a former president of the Huntsville chapter of the National Contract Management Association and is a life member of the Special Forces Association and the 1756h Infantry Association.  He is also a member of Elks Lodge 1648 (Huntsville, AL) and the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society.  He is a dedicated bibliophile and a (very) armchair political analyst and military enthusiast.

Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign

Historian-author, David Powell’s thesis is contained in the title of the book.  This excellent book leads the reader through the Tullahoma Campaign to the siege of Chattanooga.  It focuses on the actions of the Confederate cavalry of General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee.  The events are meticulously covered and Powell’s attention-to-factual details is superb.  Powell is also the author of the “Maps of Chickamauga”, another incredibly detailed piece of work.  I have only been able to find two minor, largely inconsequential errors of facts in his books which is extremely impressive, especially with the hugeamount of information that he covers.

  Powell does a very credible job of establishing the context of the September 1863 Chickamauga campaign.  He ends the book with the siege of Chattanooga and surrounding cavalry operations to November 1863.  Beginning with Rosecrans’ movement out of central Tennessee in June 1863, Powell explains the problems with the cavalry under both Forrest and Wheeler. Wheeler’s total failure to follow explicit orders is baffling.  The failure of Bragg to relieve him under those circumstances was likely due to the high esteem which Bragg inexplicably held for him.  Forrest, a new corps commander, had problems as well but there are mitigating circumstances.  Both commanders suffered from serving in a dysfunctional command climate that produced unclear concepts and contradictory orders.

  I find absolutely no fault with the facts in the accounts of the units’ actions.  Outstanding citations and substantiation are a forté of Powell’s.  His extensive footnotes are detailed and the bibliographical sources are first-class. However, two former directors of the history department at the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas penned outstanding documents regarding Chickamauga.  Unfortunately, neither are mentioned in the bibliography.  

  MAJ Jerry D. Morelock (now, U.S. Army colonel, Ph.D. retired) wrote an award-winning article published in Military Review magazine in 1984.  “Ride to the River of Death: Cavalry Operations in the Chickamauga Campaign” (the article won the prestigious Arter-Darby History Writing Award) is an excellent overview of the cavalry organization and leadership in both armies.  Morelock gives equal criticism to the cavalries of both armies which allowed the massive “movement to contact” to blindly occur for both sides.  Morelock’s analysis is that cavalry leaders failed to follow “the doctrine”.  I believe that Powell could have expanded on this issue much more completely.

  “Cavalry at Chickamauga:  What Went Wrong?” was missing from the bibliography.  MAJ Lawyn Edwards (now, U.S. Army colonel, retired) penned this thesis 30 years ago.  Edwards finds some of the same issues that Powell does with the Confederate cavalry.  But, he also considers issues not addressed by Powell.  Edwards’ conclusions are somewhat different and he gives much more weight to Bragg’s failings than Powell does.

  I discern a problem in Powell’s interpretations that indicate a confirmation bias.  Interpretation of historical events is always a consideration when reading or penning history accounts.  In the case of “Failure In The Saddle”, it is no different.  Interpretations of facts by commission versus the lack of interpretation of facts, by omission, fall within the realm of the author’s narrative.  In other words, only considering one set of possibilities to support one’s thesis is an interpretation by commission.  Historians, in order to be fair and impartial, as well as to follow the standards of critical thinking, should legitimately consider both sides of an issue.  In other words, only presenting the information that supports one’s interpretation of facts and ignoring the other side is biased.  While proving one’s thesis is the ultimate goal of the historian, it should comprehensively address conflicting interpretations to counter the natural arguments that may arise.

  This is where I part ways with Powell on a number of hisinterpretations, not with his supporting documentation and facts which are of the very highest quality. “Interpretations” of the facts are what historians do in an attempt to logically reason why events occurred.  However, I think that Powell demonstrates a bias in his interpretations of the facts by overlooking (intentionally, or not) alternative explanations to events.  Cross-referencing “Failure In the Saddle” with another superlative book covering one of the two Confederate cavalry corps commanders at Chickamauga, “The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest: 1861-1865” (2017), BrigGen (ret) John Scales discusses logical alternative views to Powell’s.  Rather than address all the specific issues I have with Powell’s multiple analyses, I would highly commend Chapter 6 of BrigGen (ret) John Scales’ book as a counterpoise to Powell’s explanations.  I totally agree with Scales’ points addressed largely in his notes.  He writes his interpretations as an experienced military veteran and on facts not mentioned by Powell (acts of omission).

  Finally, Powell’s failure to use the doctrinal language adopted by the military in 1982 is a minor issue that, if addressed, makes the discussions much more clear.  The levels of war were enumerated in the Army’s Airland Battle doctrine and have since been retained.  They are:  tactical, operational, and strategic levels.   Powell leaps from the tactical to the strategic without consideration of the operational which binds the tactical to the strategic level.

  Overall, “Failure In The Saddle” is an outstanding book and tremendous reference, notwithstanding my disagreements with some of the author’s interpretations.  The five appendices are outstanding.  The fourth demonstrates intellectual rigordiscussing the Bragg-Forrest relationship.  I don’t fully agree with it but the logic is excellent.  The directions and descriptions of the campaign and battle sites around Chickamauga are superlative and very useful for visitors and scholars of the battle.  Powell is a first-class historian and this book provides another great resource on the campaign and battle of Chickamauga.  I highly recommend it for serious scholars of the campaign and battle.

LTC (ret) Edwin L. Kennedy, Jr., taught in three departments over 19 years at the US Army Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth: history, tactics and command and leadership departments.  He has conducted staff rides to Vicksburg and Chickamauga for military units and business organizations to study the campaigns and battles for 25 years.

Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865

Dr. Clint Crow captures the essence of a civil war within the Civil War by explaining tribal conflicts that began long before 1861. The Five Civilized Tribes—the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole—were divided internally between a faction that resisted signing treaties with the United States government that gave up land for settlement by the expanding population of the United States and those that supported signing treaties as a means of preserving the tribe and avoiding further confrontations. 

   He adeptly develops the character of leaders representing all factions and particularly Cherokee’s Stand Watie (the only native American promoted to general in the Confederate Army and the last general to surrender his command upon the conclusion of hostilities) and John Ross, and the Creek, Opothleyahola.

   The Civil War west of the Mississippi River, the area designated as the Trans Mississippi Theater, has not generated as much interest by scholars of the Civil War as the Western Theater, the area from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, or the portion of the country east of the Appalachian Mountains, the Eastern Theater. But, the Trans Mississippi, as Dr. Clint Crowe illustrates, is conflicted with political intrigue, both National and Tribal, personal vendettas, and all the challenges military operations present to a population caught in the path.  

   Dr. Crowe describes the military and political decisions that impacted upon the ebb and flow, and the losses and success on the battlefield that impacted the population long after the War Between the States ended.  The maps and illustrations provide ample support to the battle narratives and leadership assessments.  Caught in the Maelstrom is an excellent narrative that may entice further study regarding the area of operation known as the Trans Mississippi Theater.

Reviewed by Arley McCormick

Gettysburg: Kids Who Did the Impossible!

The book, Gettysburg Kids Who Did The Impossible by Gregory Christianson, is about a bunch of kids who risked their lives to either help soldiers or just keep their family and animals safe. This book also gives some perspective on what life was like during the war and battles. As I was reading this book I found that is was very interesting to me. I feel like both adults and kids could enjoy this book. There were pictures and stories to satisfy readers of all ages. There were facts about generals in the war, about Abraham Lincoln, and more. 

I cannot think of a single bad thing about this book. It was very well organized and had many paintings and pictures showing what was happening. I feel like this is an important book because all the time the only people mentioned were the adults who fought (and don’t get me wrong, they deserved to be mentioned for their actions) but everyone forgets about kids who also played an important role in the wars and battles. For ever person who bought a loaf of bread for a soldier and every young woman who helped at a hospital, they should have a chance for their story to get told. I feel that this is what the book did. It let their stories be told.

Reviewed by Emily Creekmore, 7th grade.

Confederate Soldiers in the American Civil War: Facts and Photos for Readers of All Ages

 Mark Hughes has written a great primer for those who are new to studying the War Between the States.  Chocked full of period “images”, this book gives a great overview into the culture of the period.  It is not a definitive history but serves to whet the appetite of those who do not have an in-depth understanding of the war.  It is a “picture book”.  The table of contents gives a fast overview of the topics illustrated.  They range from enlisting in the armies to technology, and POWs among other topics.

   What should be interesting to the reader are the numerous descriptions and captions for images not usually seen in other publications.  One would think that after all the books being printed, the images would be the same ones.  Not so with this book.  There are a plethora of images and they are well-annotated with interesting narratives.

   Hughes does a very good job of tying the images to historical facts regarding the war.  Prisoners are not just soldiers who are captured —- they are used as teaching points.  He uses the POW images to describe prisoner camps on both sides and the “exchange” system which eventually broke-down.  The images serve as a means by which to discuss the war in finite “bytes”.   For example, the war at sea is concisely addressed by giving the history of specific ships —- such as the CSS Chicora.  The Chicora’s history is the background for an explanation of the blockade.  Hughes even includes an image of one of his ancestors, Andrew Jackson Hughes explaining what happened to each veteran.

   The end of the book has interesting information on the “last” Confederate soldier; researching Confederate ancestors; an excellent glossary of period terms; and geographic points of interest in the South (including short descriptions, website addresses and locations).

   I highly recommend this book for high school students to senior citizens who don’t have a depth of knowledge regarding the war but would like to learn more.  


Reviewed by Ed Kennedy

Targeted Tracks: The Cumberland Valley Railroad in the Civil War, 1861-1865

 Admittedly, at first glance the thought may occur regarding why the Cumberland Valley Railroad, with its origin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and terminus only about 25 miles inside the Maryland border at Hagerstown be of any consequence or interest with Civil War enthusiasts. The answer is revealed.

   The authors illustrate why every great military commander understands the value of a strong logistics support structure and they very ably address how a fledgling nation, recognizing the need to move goods from their point of origin to the American market and beyond to Europe, needed faster and more efficient transportation alternatives than road and rivers. They also address the contrast between the quality and quantity of rail in the North and the South and the use of rail as a force multiplier by rapidly transporting troops and war supplies by using interior lines i.e., rail but always subject to enemy interdiction. General Joseph E. Johnston demonstrated the concept at first Bull Run. 

   They describe the difference between the Federal government’s practice of nationalizing the use of rail and the Confederacy’s less aggressive management that conceded to States Rights doctrine by relying on patriotism to support an essential military need.

   Substantial research supports the narrative and the authors describe the various incidences with direct Civil War implications from John Brown’s clandestine shipment of arms to support his aggressive action in Kansas and Harpers Ferry, the Confederate raid on Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and the impact on the Union Army resupply after the Battle of Gettysburg. 

   Unlike the South, where the limited industry was devastated by war, in the North, the economy flourished and the railroads benefited financially adding to the economic benefits of westward expansion.

   The author’s respective skills complement and benefits the narrative with Scott Mangus’ skills as a consultant as well as his research and writing regarding slavery and the Underground Railroad. Cooper Wingert is also an accomplished author of Civil War related topics that complement the scientific background of Mr. Mangus. They provide a compelling analysis of the Cumberland Rail line in the era of national growth and war.


Reviewed by Arley McCormick

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