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Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table

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Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table

Challenges of Command in the Civil War: Generalship, Leadership, and Strategy at Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Beyond, Volume I: Generals and Generalship

Richard Sommers’ fame as a historian rests on forty years of service as the Senior Historian of the Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle Barracks, PA. His enduring contribution to civil war scholarship rests with his first publication, Richmond Redeemed (1981), a massive study of the Fifth Federal Offensive against Petersburg. This work set a new standard for tactical study of civil war battles and was the first of a new genre of narrative history, the ‘micro-tactical’ history (still a popular genre, represented by works such as Henry Pfantz’s Gettysburg the Second Day, and Dave Powell’s very recently published three volumes on the battle of Chickamauga).

  Challenges of Command in the Civil War, first of a two-volume set, provides a distillation of his thoughts about Generalship in the American Civil War. The book is written in two parts, each composed of chapters that are nearly self-contained essays. All of them were written separately as lectures or papers delivered to the United States Army War College and various Civil War convocations. The first half of the book discusses the generalship of Grant and Lee, and these five chapters use examples drawn almost exclusively from the 1864 Virginia Overland and Petersburg Campaigns. Mr. Sommers writes more about Grant than Lee, but in discussing Lee he makes a very interesting argument: That Lee was not being overly-parochial or short-sighted when insisting on remaining in Virginia with his army throughout the war, but was correctly recognizing that Virginia, the most populous and economically developed southern state, was the actual heartland of the Confederacy.

His discussion of Grant’s generalship, the subject of four of the first five chapters, is an excellent review of the general’s strengths and weaknesses as a commander. Sommers’ does not consider Grant a genius, but delivers a very complete appreciation of Grant’s broad perspective, persistence, adaptability, and his mastery of logistics. Sommers also highlights Grant’s ability to learn from mistakes and take corrective action. Grant continuously modified his tactical and operational methods until he found the winning combination; first in the west and then in the east.

The second part of the book covers the origins and careers of Federal Army Corps Commanders between 1862 and 1865. In this section Sommers’ makes a very useful distinction between “political generals” and “citizen-soldiers.” Using chapters focused on the Battles of Antietam, Gettysburg, and the Fifth Offensive against Petersburg he shows how the senior Federal leadership changed from 1862 through 1864: From older men to younger, from career Regular Army and former politicians to citizen soldiers, from men raised suddenly and with no preparation into supreme command to men who had time to develop professionally before taking senior positions in the army.  He provides very detailed background information, wartime service, and the post-war accomplishments of a very large number of Federal officers. He also provides a very short evaluation of each man.

Finally, there is one chapter devoted to those Civil War Generals (Union and Confederate) with Revolutionary War commanders as ancestors. This should interest the genealogist’s among us.

Sommers’ interpretations were developed through considerable research and consideration of other historian’s opinions, but he does not compare or contrast his ideas with those of other historians. He is at the climax of his career, and is stating his conclusions. This is a useful book for anyone interested in the generals and the generalship, mostly Federal, of the eastern theater of the American Civil War. The second volume of the set will be published soon, and will deal with grand strategy, strategy, and operations.

Reviewed by David Lady

Grant

Ron Chernow’s Grant (New York: Penguin Press, 2017; ISBN 978-1-59420-407-6) ranks among one of the best biographies I have read.  A sympathetic but not adulatory attitude to his subject, the book is obviously grounded in deep research. Military biographies often can be a bit harder to write than the standard sort simply because the author cannot assume that the reader has a deep background of military expertise and must set out the facts relating to this clearly and concisely.  This Chernow does.  I was most impressed by the way in which he kept the overall descriptive level on an even keel, never getting bogged down in excessive detail, but providing just enough information for the reader to grasp the gist.

The book is divided into four sections: one covering Grant’s early life, one on his Civil War experiences, one on his presidency, and the last on his final days, which must have been excruciating, and he faced this trial with magnificent courage. Chernow is an able, accomplished, and accurate writer.  One of his particular gifts is to provide vivid sketches of almost everyone with whom Grant dealt in any significant way, so you understand their characters, backgrounds, and also their cast of mind.  He clearly sees where bias and self-serving testimony is involved.  While most people who are well-read on the USA Civil War probably will learn little new about that in this book, the section on Grant’s presidency is a real eye-opener. When we remark on slanted and vituperative media commentary on President Trump, comparing it to how the press sometimes treated Grant and his political contemporaries, the current atmosphere takes on something of the aspect of an afternoon tea party!

Each of the sections of the book highlights something interesting and valuable in Grant’s life—

His early years were permeated by his father and father-in-law, both men of outsize egos and a reach which far exceeded their grasp.  Learning how to stand up to such men was essential for Grant’s development and also shaped his character — he wanted to be nothing like either of these men.

His Civil War years were marked by two traits which seem straightforward until you realize how few generals actually display either or both: a profound, instinctual understanding of the strategic situation, and the capacity for rapid decision-making, which Grant had in spades.  One chestnut which gets a perennial cooking is whether a general is great on his own account, or is great because his opponents were so bad.  Grant had the fortune to meet opponents like Pillow, Pemberton, and Bragg, and whipped them like cold cream, but even against first-rate opponents like Lee and Johnston, he prevailed.

His commitment to civil rights and the franchise for freed slaves [and indeed, Grant was generally enlightened about this whole spectrum of issues] stands out as a highlight of his presidential administration; Grant himself was the root of the matter in developing and implementing policy.  Chernow particularly shines here in seeing past the ‘reconstruction myth’ to give an accurate account of what happened.

Not least of the factors in Grant’s life, which Chernow presents throughout the book, was his good fortune in marriage.  Ulysses and Julia were perfectly matched and remained faithful supporters of each other throughout their entire lives; she was of cardinal importance to his well-being.  It is altogether fitting then that she lies beside him in his monumental tomb in New York City.

The text is supported by effective maps, a judiciously-chosen set of pictures, and a well-honed index.  Ultimately, this is a good book about a fundamentally good man, well worth reading for anyone interested in the force of character on events in a life filled with more accomplishments than any other ten men might have accomplished.

Regards,

John Howard Oxley

John Howard Oxley was born right after WWII ended, which may account for his lifelong interest in military matters, with particular reference to technical naval history [he is a major battleship fan].  Apart from three years of service in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve’s University Naval Training Division, where he completed service as a sub-lieutenant, he has had no connection with the military whatsoever, apart from a two-year stint in the early 1990s as Research Director for Crisis Simulations Inc., which developed computer-assisted simulators for the Canadian Army and for civilian disaster relief organizations.  He retired from a 17-year career teaching IT at a private, for-profit university in Atlanta in 2014, relocating back to his native Canada in the following year.

Being single, with no responsibilities except for his cat, in retirement he indulges his passions for reading military and naval history along with lots of sci fi, board wargaming (including extensive re-design of existing naval war games), drinking good brandy, and smoking far too many cigars.  For over three decades, he has published reviews, mostly on military books, for The American Reference Book Annual, and is currently the feature editor of the Ships’ Library for the International Naval Research Organization. He also has an abiding affection for bad puns.

A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg: The Aftermath of a Battle

Gregory Ashton Coco (May 4, 1946 – February 11, 2009) was a student of and a prolific writer on the Civil War.  In these two volumes (each a 2017 reprint by Savas Beattie of the originals), Greg gives us an enlightening tour of too often-neglected aspects of the Battle of Gettysburg – battlefield medical care (Union and Confederate) and the aftermath of the battle.

The Civil War was the bloodiest war in the history of the United States. Two percent of the population at the time (approximately 620,000) died during the conflict. These numbers may actually be an underestimate of the death toll, given that much of the data regarding deaths of Confederate soldiers was destroyed when Richmond burned on April 2, 1865. More recent estimates based on comparative census data put the figure closer to 752,000.  In any event, more Americans died in the Civil War than in all other wars combined.

The Civil War left about 1 in 10 able-bodied Union soldiers dead or incapacitated, versus 1 in 4 in the Confederate Army.  Countless soldiers were left disabled in one way or another. Amputations were prolific.  The year after the war ended, the state of Mississippi spent 20% of its annual budget on artificial limbs for its veterans.  We don’t have accurate figures on what today we call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so one can only presume its extent and the lingering suffering it caused.

At Gettysburg, alone, casualties totaled 23,049 for the Union (3,155 dead, 14,529 wounded, 5,365 missing). Confederate casualties were 28,063 (3,903 dead, 18,735 injured, and 5,425 missing), more than a third of Lee’s army.

This era is often referred to in a negative way as the Middle Ages of medicine in the United States. Physicians were practicing in an era before the germ theory of disease was established, before sterile technique and antisepsis were known, with very few effective medications, and often operating 48 to 72 hours with no sleep.  Layer that on something over 33,000 injured in three days of hard fighting, and you can begin to imagine the scope of what Mr. Coco covers in these two books.

Based upon years of firsthand research, Greg’s A Vast Sea of Misery introduces us to 160 field hospitals.  He uses the term broadly, applying it to the complete network of field aid stations and anywhere else that casualties were collected for medical treatment – the full gamut of what today is known as a combat service support system – battlefield medical care.  His is an exhaustive treatment, describing each site by name and location, often supplemented with recollections and first-hand accounts to provide context and flavor.  With his maps and inventory of sites, one could spend days at the battlefield studying this aspect of the battle alone.  In the book’s one appendix, Greg, himself a National Park Service Ranger and a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg, provides a concise history of how battlefield guides came to be an organized and certified service at Gettysburg.

In the companion book, A Strange and Blighted Land, Greg deals with the death and destruction that littered the landscape after the battle.  He discusses how the dead and wounded were handled, how prisoners were handled, and the fate of the thousands of stragglers and deserters left behind once the armies departed.  Along the way he describes how and why the Gettysburg National Cemetery and the Gettysburg National Military Park were established.

These are not easy reads, but they are interesting books and necessary for anyone who wants to be well-informed about the American Civil War or even about war in general. A wealth of information in each, Greg did us a great service in writing them, as did Savas Beatie for re-issuing them for today’s audiences.  For an awareness skim-through or a deep dive, these books will serve you well.  Enjoy!

PS, if you are interested in delving more deeply into either of these topics, let me suggest Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign(Kent Masterson Brown) and Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (Megan Kate Nelson).  Reviews of both books are available on our website (www.tvcwrt.org).

  Your reviewer is Emil L. Posey, former Vice President of the TVCWRT, now continuing to support by being part of the Stage Crew. 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.  He is also a member of Elks Lodge 1648 (Huntsville, AL) and the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society.  He is a dedicated bibliophile and is a (very) armchair political analyst and military enthusiast.

A Vast Sea of Misery: A History and Guide to the Union and Confederate Field Hospitals at Gettysburg, July 1-November 20, 1863

Gregory Ashton Coco (May 4, 1946 – February 11, 2009) was a student of and a prolific writer on the Civil War.  In these two volumes (each a 2017 reprint by Savas Beattie of the originals), Greg gives us an enlightening tour of too often-neglected aspects of the Battle of Gettysburg – battlefield medical care (Union and Confederate) and the aftermath of the battle.

The Civil War was the bloodiest war in the history of the United States. Two percent of the population at the time (approximately 620,000) died during the conflict. These numbers may actually be an underestimate of the death toll, given that much of the data regarding deaths of Confederate soldiers was destroyed when Richmond burned on April 2, 1865. More recent estimates based on comparative census data put the figure closer to 752,000.  In any event, more Americans died in the Civil War than in all other wars combined.

The Civil War left about 1 in 10 able-bodied Union soldiers dead or incapacitated, versus 1 in 4 in the Confederate Army.  Countless soldiers were left disabled in one way or another. Amputations were prolific.  The year after the war ended, the state of Mississippi spent 20% of its annual budget on artificial limbs for its veterans.  We don’t have accurate figures on what today we call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so one can only presume its extent and the lingering suffering it caused.

At Gettysburg, alone, casualties totaled 23,049 for the Union (3,155 dead, 14,529 wounded, 5,365 missing). Confederate casualties were 28,063 (3,903 dead, 18,735 injured, and 5,425 missing), more than a third of Lee’s army.

This era is often referred to in a negative way as the Middle Ages of medicine in the United States. Physicians were practicing in an era before the germ theory of disease was established, before sterile technique and antisepsis were known, with very few effective medications, and often operating 48 to 72 hours with no sleep.  Layer that on something over 33,000 injured in three days of hard fighting, and you can begin to imagine the scope of what Mr. Coco covers in these two books.

Based upon years of firsthand research, Greg’s A Vast Sea of Misery introduces us to 160 field hospitals.  He uses the term broadly, applying it to the complete network of field aid stations and anywhere else that casualties were collected for medical treatment – the full gamut of what today is known as a combat service support system – battlefield medical care.  His is an exhaustive treatment, describing each site by name and location, often supplemented with recollections and first-hand accounts to provide context and flavor.  With his maps and inventory of sites, one could spend days at the battlefield studying this aspect of the battle alone.  In the book’s one appendix, Greg, himself a National Park Service Ranger and a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg, provides a concise history of how battlefield guides came to be an organized and certified service at Gettysburg.

In the companion book, A Strange and Blighted Land, Greg deals with the death and destruction that littered the landscape after the battle.  He discusses how the dead and wounded were handled, how prisoners were handled, and the fate of the thousands of stragglers and deserters left behind once the armies departed.  Along the way he describes how and why the Gettysburg National Cemetery and the Gettysburg National Military Park were established.

These are not easy reads, but they are interesting books and necessary for anyone who wants to be well-informed about the American Civil War or even about war in general. A wealth of information in each, Greg did us a great service in writing them, as did Savas Beatie for re-issuing them for today’s audiences.  For an awareness skim-through or a deep dive, these books will serve you well.  Enjoy!

PS, if you are interested in delving more deeply into either of these topics, let me suggest Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign(Kent Masterson Brown) and Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (Megan Kate Nelson).  Reviews of both books are available on our website (www.tvcwrt.org).

  Your reviewer is Emil L. Posey, former Vice President of the TVCWRT, now continuing to support by being part of the Stage Crew. 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.  He is also a member of Elks Lodge 1648 (Huntsville, AL) and the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society.  He is a dedicated bibliophile and is a (very) armchair political analyst and military enthusiast.

“Atlanta Campaign; Peach Tree Creek to the Surrender”, Dr. Stephen Davis

Dr Stephen DavisOn 14 June, Dr. Stephen Davis speaks on the “Atlanta Campaign; Peach Tree Creek to the Surrender”.  Dr. Stephen Davis is no stranger to the TVCWRT and always provides stimulation presentations. A longtime Atlantean, he has been a “Civil Warrior” since the fourth grade.  He attended Emory University and studied under the renowned Civil War historian Bell Wiley. After earning a master’s degree in American history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he taught high school, then earned his Ph.D. at Emory, where he concentrated on the theme of the War Between the States in Southern literature. He is the author of more than a hundred articles on the War Between the States. He is the author of a book on the Atlanta Campaign, Atlanta Will Fall: Sherman, John Johnston and the Heavy Yankee Battalions (2001). He served as Book Review Editor for Blue & Gray Magazine from 1984 to 2005 and is the author of more than a hundred articles in such scholarly and popular publications as Civil War Times Illustrated and the Georgia Historical Quarterly.  He is also the author of What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman’s Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta published by Mercer University Press in 2012. In a review in Civil War News, Ted Savas calls this book “by far the most well-researched, thorough, and detailed account ever written about the ‘wrecking’ of Atlanta.”  Dr. Davis served as a speaker and consultant for the television documentary, “When Georgia Howled: Sherman on the March,” a joint production of the Atlanta History Center and Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Dr. Davis writes a regular column, “Critic’s Corner,” on Civil War bibliography, for Civil War News, the monthly newspaper, for which he also serves as Book Review Editor.  He is a frequent and popular speaker to Civil War Round Tables and historical societies. He has spoken on What the Yankees Did to Usto the Civil War Round Tables of Buffalo, New York and Providence, Rhode Island. He has given talks at the annual meeting of the American Civil War Round Table in London (UK). In May 2016, Savas Beatie published a new paperback written by Dr. Davis:  A Long and Bloody Task: The Atlanta Campaign from Dalton through Kennesaw Mountain to the Chattahoochee May 5-July 18, 1864. His companion volume was released early in 2017: All the Fighting They Want: The Atlanta Campaign from Peach Tree Creek to the Surrender July 18-September 2, 1864.  Savas Beatie will release Dr. Davis’ next book, tentatively titled: Spurs Without Greatness: A Study of John B. Hood’s Generalship in 1864 is pending publication.

The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865

The War Outside My Window is a very interesting and entertaining find, a diary written by a teenage boy who lived in Macon, Georgia during the Civil War. Son of very wealthy parents, LeRoy Wiley Gresham was bright, perceptive, and mature well beyond his years. He also had been crippled by a falling chimney – and was slowly dying due to tuberculosis. Unaware until near the end that he is under a death sentence, LeRoy recounts in detail local and national events, exhibiting an increasing awareness not only of the war but of the unreliability of the news. He also documents the various treatments he underwent and the pain he endured, but his optimistic nature and lively interest in his surroundings, as well as his religious faith, shine through. Many interesting details from the daily weather and details of his life to incidents of houses burning (apparently there were arsonists at large) and deaths due to illness are documented in the diary. The diary ends a few days before his death, which occurred on June 18th, 1865, almost simultaneous with the death of the Confederacy.

The editor has done a fantastic job not only merely transcribing LeRoy’s notes but, with liberal use of footnotes, painting the real events that underlay the news in those notes. The result is a fascinating window into a lost era. I highly recommend this book, particularly to those seeking insight into the “home front” of the war.

Reviewed by John Scales

Silent Sentinels: A Reference Guide to the Artillery of Gettysburg

In the US Army, Field Artillery is known as the “King of Battle” since, as the saying goes, it lends dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl.  Another theory around the US Army Field Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma is that field artillery has this moniker because the Infantry is known as the “Queen of Battle”, and the artillery’s role is “to put the balls where the Queen wants them”.   Crude, but more accurate.  The mission of field artillery is to “destroy, defeat, or disrupt the enemy with integrated fires to enable maneuver commanders to dominate in unified land operations” – in other words, to rain shot and shell on the enemy.  Gettysburg was a prime example of how this mission was managed and accomplished during the Civil War.

The overarching purpose of Silent Sentinels is to facilitate a visit to the Gettysburg battlefield. In that sense, it is a travel guide but more so; Newton provides a wealth of visual, technical, and performance data on the various types of artillery and ammunition used in the battle and, thereby, helps the visitor understand the decisive role artillery played on both sides.

The book gets off to a fast start with the Foreward, in which Bradley Gottfried warms us up with an excellent thumbnail comparative assessment of Union and Confederate artillery at Gettysburg.  He speaks to the famous charge on Day 3 as an example of the lethality field artillery properly employed had achieved by the time of the Civil War.

Newton picks it up well from there.  After a brief Introduction that includes suggestions on how to use this book while touring the battlefield, he provides an overview of the campaign leading up to the battle, the battle itself, and its aftermath.  He introduces us to some of the key players in the battle, including some revolving around artillery.  While he uses some good maps to aid his narrative (including a detailed map showing both sides’ battery locations on Day 3), he doesn’t go into much detail concerning the how and why – the tactics and the thought behind them – of employment by either side during the battle.  He goes on to provide extensive data on types of Civil War artillery pieces and ammunition, and even characteristics of artillery horses, and talks (again, all to briefly) on artillery organization on both sides during the war and loading and firing procedures.  Throughout, his discussion is supported by terrific schematics, diagrams, and charts.

Newton then talks about the guns on the battlefield today, with extensive background on sources and how they came to be there, before walking us through a suggested tour of the battlefield.  His tour description makes up somewhat for the lack of employment detail in previous parts by pointing us to personalities and circumstances at each of his recommended stops, often with quotes from period reports, letters and journals – some really fascinating first-person material.  He ends the main body of the book with a trivia chapter full of delightful insights and details.

The appendices are treasure to most military history enthusiasts:  a detailed artillery order of battle (OB) for both sides (including commanders, number and types of gun, unit strengths, and casualties), a breakdown of each side’s batteries by state (including commander, armament, and higher unit of assignment), and biographical sketches and official reports from a selection of artillery commanders on each side.  The reports are most helpful in catching up on some of the how and why of employment.  Finally, he provides a brief glossary.

This book is a valuable resource even if you aren’t going to the battlefield, and I recommend it highly.  It is an easy, quick read.  More importantly, it is a book that you will return to again and again as a reference on artillery used at Gettysburg.  Enjoy!

Your reviewer is Emil L. Posey, former Vice President of the TVCWRT, now continuing to support by being part of the Stage Crew. 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.  He is also a member of Elks Lodge 1648 (Huntsville, AL) and the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society.  He is a dedicated bibliophile, and is a (very) armchair political analyst and military enthusiast.

“The Battle of Port Royal”, Mike Coker

Mike Coker describes the battle of Port Royal; On Nov. 7, 1861, a massive U. S. Naval fleet and U. S. Army expeditionary force sailed into Port Royal Sound, South Carolina defeating the outnumbered and outgunned Confederates defending Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard.  This pivotal battle shaped the direction of the Civil War and had a lasting impact on the postwar period known as Reconstruction.  Using a variety of historic images, this program explores the legacy of this nearly forgotten point in the history of the United States.

A bit about the speaker; As a South Carolina native Michael D. Coker grew up surrounded by history.   Visits to the areas many old homes, battlefields and historic sites convinced him to pursue a career in a field where he could continue to learn more.  From 2000-2009 he served as the curator of the visual materials collection at the South Carolina Historical Society.  During that time he authored numerous articles for “Charleston Magazine” covering various topics of South Carolina history. In 2006 he was a co-author of the S.C. Historical Society publication “Historic South Carolina- A Pictorial History.” In 2008 his first book “Charleston Curiosities: Stories of the Tragic, Heroic and Bizarre” was released, followed by “The Battle of Port Royal” in 2009.   He contributed the essay “The Civil War at Charleston” for The City of Charleston Tour Guide Training Manual.  From 2010-2015 he served as Assistant to the Director at the Old Exchange Building and the Old Slave Mart Museum.  For nearly 20 years he has introduced travelers to his home as licensed tour guide for the City of Charleston. He has been featured on NPR’s “Performance Today” and appeared on the Smithsonian channel. He currently serves as the Executive Director at the Berkeley County Museum located at the Old Santee Canal Park in Moncks Corner.

Death, Disease, and Life at War: The Civil War Letters of Surgeon James D. Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865

This book was originally published in 2011 as A Surgeon’s Tale: The Civil War Letters of Surgeon James D. Benton, 111th and 98th New York Infantry Regiments, 1862-1865 and Dr. Benton captures not only the soldiers life in camp but brigade movement, general engagements and his perceptions of events. The author precedes Dr. Benton’s observations with more expansive discussion of the events that surrounded the Doctor’s experience.

The Army leadership struggled with structure of medical service support for the entire war and the Mr. Loperfido illustrates the changes in unison with Dr. Benton’s observations.

For those interested in Civil War medicine there is much to learn and for those who have an interest in how the Army was organized and elements of support were structured to maximize success and reduce the staggering loss of life during engagements will find ample food for thought and debate. Frequently, the memoirs of soldiers on the line illustrate the frustration of rumors becoming a daily source of information the results of which is a source of some truth but mostly fiction.

Mr. Loperfido adds to the understanding of the impact of medical support, structure, and management in the Union Army throughout Dr. Benton’s experience.

 

Reviewed by Arley McCormick

“The Bloody Fifth” – Volume 2: Gettysburg to Appomattox

This is the second installment by author John F. Schmultz on the Texas Brigade. Volume 1 addressed the brigade from Session to the Suffolk Campaign and outlined the basic tenants of a great history; the brigade origin, structure, leaders, and ample commentary from the most critical element of the Brigade – the soldiers in the ranks.

Volume 2 continues in similar fashion and includes campaign planning agreed upon by President Davis and General Robert E. Lee. Operational and tactical decisions that challenged the brigade’s success and have been debated for over 150 years. But, the critical part of any organization is the rank and file that must execute the orders of their officers. The author portrays their roll, not only in battle, but on the march, through the wants of food, water, rest and the inadequacies experiences as a result of Confederate government, Army of Northern Virginia policy and their adversaries in blue. The sentiment of the soldiers on life, religion, family, and their fellow soldiers combine to illustrate the complex dynamics of a Brigade in the formation of the Army of Northern Virginia.

For those that follow the tactics and battle drama there are ample maps illustrating the movement of the Brigade from Gettysburg to Appomattox. The authors extensive bibliography adequately captures the long standing authors and more recent illustrations of the circumstances that faced the Brigade to illustrate all its glory, its human loss, and conflicts in leadership.

“The Bloody Fifth” is one of those Regimental histories that deserves to be read, referenced, and enjoyed for many years.

 

Reviewed by Arley McCormick

Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table’s 25th Anniversary: Book Sale, Music, Dessert

Plan to join us and bring friends to our special monthly meeting on Thursday evening, May 10.

It’s our 25th anniversary! Come early and stay late! Wear your period dress!

Who: Our meetings are free and open to the public. This month, our regular “battlefield bucket” free-will donation will be offered to honor our special guests, the Huntsville Traditional Music Association. HTMA preserves our history by studying, preserving and playing period music and instruments for all to enjoy. Our speaker Mike Coker from Charleston, SC, will be described in a separate email to members. Details about his topic will be posted on our web at www.tvcwrt.org

What: In addition to our expert speaker, we’ll be celebrating our 25-plus years as a Round Table. We’ve lined up some special treats, including period music, our annual book sale, and free birthday dessert.

When: NOTE we’ve changed the schedule slightly to accommodate additional activities. Please try to be seated by 6:15 to enjoy the music.

5:30-6:30 Annual book sale–with bargains on diverse-era history books galore

5:30  Chicken buffet opens (for separate charge)

6:15-6:45 Civil War era string music by Round Table members of HTMA, including Dan Charles, Marcia Chesebro, Bill Cassels, and their guest singers

6:45-7  Welcome and appreciation to founding and long-time members of the Round Table

7-8:15  Speaker, Q and A, and drawing for Nick’s Ristorante gift certificate

8:15-9  Free dessert and more book sale time

Where: Elks Lodge, 725 Franklin St., Huntsville, AL, 35801

The Generals of Shiloh: Character in Leadership, April 6-7, 1862

Author Larry Tagg introduces the General Officer leadership in the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of Ohio, and the Army of the Mississippi in the context of the Battle at Shiloh. General Ulysses Grant, General Don Carlos Buell, General Albert Sidney Johnston, General P.G.T. Beauregard, General Braxton Bragg, General Leonidas Polk were mostly inexperienced commanders of large formations in battle. But, what of the other Generals that fought? Many demonstrated acceptable and commendable leadership and were recognized by their leaders and historians. Others were disgraced by their conduct at Shiloh and other battlefields during the war. Many, possibly the majority, are less recognizable names that essentially are relegated to footnotes indicating they were there, and if nowhere else, were heroes in their hometowns and states.

The author does a commendable job with narratives that explain where and how they reached the level of General in such a short period of time. Even Larry Tagg struggles to find sufficient information on many that would endear them to the Civil War enthusiast and spark energetic research.

The author describes their leadership in the fog of battle where it is not uncommon for orders and directions to be confusing, absent, delayed, or just wrong. During a drama surrounded with piercing noise, obscuring smoke and debris he illustrates how they may have seen the battle unfold and how they reacted.

Each officer is described from the origin of their appointment to their role at Shiloh. A commendable effort that any Civil War enthusiast will appreciate and want to add to their understanding of Generalship in battle.

 

Reviewed by Arley McCormick

The Chickamauga Campaign: Glory or the Grave (vol. 2) and Barren Victory (vol. 3)

The Chickamauga Campaign was a series of battles and maneuvering from Aug. 21 to Sept. 20, 1863 in northwest Georgia, fought between the Union’s Army of the Cumberland and the Confederacy’s Army of Tennessee. The North eventually won the war, but the battle of Chickamauga was a crucial victory for the South.

The Chickamauga Campaign: Glory of the Grave
The Chickamauga Campaign: Glory of the Grave

   Author David Powell has completed the second and third volumes in what is considered the best in-depth study of the Chickamauga Campaign. These are The Chickamauga Campaign: Glory or the Grave, and The Chickamauga Campaign: Barren Victory. Powell’s magnificent study fully explores the battle from all perspectives and is based upon over fifteen years of intensive study and research that has uncovered nearly 2,000 primary sources from generals to private, all stitched together to relate the remarkable story that was Chickamauga. Using a plethora of first-hand accounts and regimental studies, many of which have never been heard of or read about, Powell takes the reader on a journey into the soldier’s lives and actions during their time in Tennessee and Georgia in 1863.

The Chickamauga Campaign: Barren Victory
The Chickamauga Campaign: Barren Victory

   In Glory or the Grave, published in 2015, the actions of September 20, 1863 are presented and discussed. The book was awarded the prestigious Richard B. Harwell Book Award for best book on a Civil War subject published in 2015. Barren Victory appeared in 2016 and provides the close of the battle and the entire campaign from September 21 to October 20, 1863, and contains additional sources for research, an extensive bibliography, and various appendices on the battle, battlefield, and the surrounding north Georgia and southeastern Tennessee areas.

Although not required reading, Mr. Powell’s previously published work, The Maps of Chickamauga, is a very helpful resource when reading the trilogy. The maps really help visualize the action(s) described in the book, especially if you’re reading about the battle for the first time or if you are tracking down the movements of a particular regiment or brigade across the hills and valleys of North Georgia.

Also, for those of you who just can’t seem to get enough information on the battles and events surrounding the Chickamauga and Chattanooga campaigns, David Powell has a blog, Chickamauga Blog (https://chickamaugablog.wordpress.com/).

 

Reviewed by Lee Hattabaugh

Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War: From the Defenses of Washington to Chancellorsville, 1862-1863

Under the Crescent Moon is the first volume of a history of the famous, or infamous, Union army corps that somewhat unfairly received the blame for the collapse of Union lines at Chancellorsville and during Gettysburg’s first day. The purpose of the author is clear: remove the stain associated with the corps by blaming its commander O. O. Howard and anti-German (“Dutch”) prejudice for its sullied reputation. This first volume covers first discusses the officers who initially served under Sigel in the Valley and under Pope at II Manassas and followed him as his troops were designated the XI Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Serving in the defenses of Washington during Antietam and arriving too late for Fredericksburg, the corps was something of a stepchild to start with. Sigel’s resignation and replacement by Howard did not help. After the first hundred pages or so which moved rather slowly, the author delves deeply into the Battle of Chancellorsville for the balance of the book. Apparently, Gettysburg will be treated in Volume II. The author makes a convincing case that Howard was primarily to blame for the collapse of the corps in the face of Jackson’s attack and a somewhat less convincing argument that the corps was militarily very capable. I think he somewhat overstates his case, but he does advance some excellent arguments and the discussion of the battle at the regiment level is very interesting.

 

Reviewed by John Scales

The Overland Campaign of 1864

As described by Gordon Rhea in the Spring 2014 issue of Hallowed Ground, “The Overland Campaign, some 40-odd days of maneuver and combat between the Rapidan and James Rivers, pitted the Civil War’s premier generals — Lt. Gen Ulysses S. Grant for the Union, and Gen. Robert E. Lee for the Confederacy — against one another in a grueling contest of endurance and guile.”  A native of East Tennessee with a BA in history with honors from Indiana University, an MA in American History from Harvard University, and a JD from Stanford University Law School, and currently a practicing attorney, Rhea wrote a series of five books that currently serve as the definitive account of that campaign.  Each of the books were published by the Louisiana State University Press in Baton Rouge, LA. Here is a guest review of the series by a friend of the TVCWRT, John Howard Oxley, “with [his] reactions and conclusions”.  If you want to challenge, have questions or other comments for John, let me have them, and I’ll forward them on.   –Emil L. Posey

The Battle of the Wilderness: May 5-6, 1864/ [1994. ISBN: 978-0-8071-1873-3]. I have always found The Battle of the Wilderness to be a most puzzling encounter, despite owning a wargame on the subject, but this volume makes what happened and why abundantly clear, coming to the justified conclusion that Grant was defeated in the battle.

The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern: May 7-12, 1864/[1997. ISBN: 978-0-8071-2136-8]. This is a very clear rendering of some complex actions, though the battles in question are already well-covered in the literature.

To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 15-25, 1864/[2000. ISBN: 978-0-8071-2535-0]. This volume is primarily about movement rather than combat (although there was much minor fighting going on, none of which was minor to those involved).  Rhea still manages to make this interesting and absorbing, and illuminates what was previously somewhat shrouded to me.

Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864/[2002. ISBN: 978-0-8071-2803-9]. This is an excellent account of a battle which has been badly misunderstood and inaccurately represented in USA Civil War historiography – you emerge from this understanding what happened and why.

On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864 /[2017. ISBN: 978-0-8071-6747-2]. This book brings the campaign to a close, concluding with summary judgments about the two commanders and the armies they commanded.

Overall, this is a model of campaign history: clearly written, accurate, well-sourced, supported with effective maps, while delivering an authoritative account of its subject. I cannot think of any similar history which exceeds it in scope, detail, and insight. This set should be in the library of anyone interested in the USA Civil War. I would say that I have a good grasp of the major campaigns of the USA Civil War, with the exception of the Overland Campaign – and now, having read Rhea, I have that too.

Nits are few and far between:

A) In the first volume, the footnotes, which often contain discursive material, are properly positioned at the bottom of each page, but in the succeeding volumes they are relegated to the end, which impedes effective reading;

B) In the last volume, an over-zealous editor (I assume) has decided that the word ‘refused’, as applied to a formation’s flanks, should be written as ‘re-fused’; and,

C) On p. 120, the author describes Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative as a “historical novel”, which it definitely is not, being one of the best-regarded general popular histories of the USA Civil War.

My conclusions (some of which come from Rhea himself, and some from reading him), from top to bottom:

1) Grant had an excellent strategic plan, which was badly compromised by the bungling of his subordinate commanders (with the singular exception of Sherman, who was making slow and distant progress in this same time). It is nothing short of astounding that such demonstrated incompetents as Sigel, Butler, and Burnside should be given major field commands at this stage of the war. Of course, they were political generals, for the most part, and had to be placated, but surely some sort of ceremonial rear command could have been found for them, and as Rhea points out, there were a number of Union subordinate commanders fully qualified to step up.

2) I admire Grant, both as a man and a general, but my admiration is tempered (for the Overland Campaign, at least) by Rhea’s account of his weaknesses:

I) Grant did not take the time to effectively evaluate the Army of the Potomac’s strengths and weaknesses, and then to devise plans which maximized the former and minimized the latter.

II) Both Grant and Meade were guilty of something approaching the ‘chateau generalship’ of WWI – they did not make any effort to examine the ground in front of them, so their plans were not well-adjusted to the actual facts on the ground – and ultimately this, like the failure again and again to simply ensure that orders were carried out and intentions being followed, is in Grant’s lap, because he was wearing all the stars.

III) Grant did not make effective use of cavalry for scouting and information gathering and seemed content to operate in an environment of information paucity. (Sun Tzu was turning over in his grave quite rapidly at this point, I think.)

I recognize that Meade’s reputation has had something of a rehabilitation over the past decade or so, in the popular history largely from the redoubtable Ralph Peters, but I think it is clear that even as the campaign opened, that Meade’s mental balance was inadequate to his responsibilities – he was badly worn out and needed relief. Of course, the question would be: by whom? As I indicate below, none of the current three AoP corps commanders would have been up to the task, which would have meant bringing in an outsider (e.g. James Birdseye McPherson), which, however effective the general in question might be, would create problems of its own.

IV) Effective communication was obviously a problem for the Army of the Potomac and its associated formations for the whole of the campaign, yet Grant neither acknowledged this fact or took any steps to mitigate it. It astounds me to learn that Grant intended Hancock’s II Corps to support Smith’s XVIII Corps in the attack on Petersburg on 14/15th June, yet Hancock “was never told about it”, by Grant or Meade, or anyone else – was Grant expecting his corps commanders to be mind-readers?

Lee, by contrast, made mistakes and was sick for much of the time, but he had the Napoleonic quality of luck, and was able to recover from potential disasters with resilience. (Many decades ago, before I kept a reading record, I read a book on the medical maladies of the high commands on both sides of the USA Civil War – it requires an act of imaginative strength to realize that pain from injuries in an environment which was full of threats and debilitating illness were the “regu” ar*features of all these men’s lives – and remember they were mostly of the middle- and upper-stratus, so they were as well-provided for health care as was possible in those days.)

3) On the Union side, the decision to re-organize the Army of the Potomac into three large corps appears to me to have been a mistake. These larger corps were simply too heavy and cumbersome to maneuver effectively (the ANV was also in three corps, each of which was only 60% of the size of its Union counterpart), and breaking each one into two, while dissolving Burnside’s corps entirely to make an army reserve, would have worked much better. As already mentioned, there were a number of Union divisional generals who would have made good corps commanders.

4) Neither general was particularly well-served by his subordinate corps commanders.

On the Confederate side, for I Corps, the effective Longstreet was taken out of action early in the campaign, and Anderson, his replacement, was both dull, and seemed incapable of co-operating with his fellow corps commanders. I think Ewell, of II Corps, probably was suffering from debilitating combat stress by this stage of his career. His relief by Early was probably one of Lee’s best moves, as Early proved a sterling corps commander, but of course, both he and his corps were diverted to the Shenandoah Valley (a partial vindication, somewhat belated, of one plank in Grant’s strategy). While Rhea mentions that the III Corps’ A.P. Hill was seriously ill, he is somewhat coy about the illness itself (it was syphilis) – but Hill was obviously not at his best, and temporary replacements did not do anything to ensure corps efficiency. Stuart, of the Cavalry Corps, was just as good as always, but again, was killed fairly early in the campaign, and not replaced for some time.

On the Union side, Hancock of the II Corps was suffering so severely from his Gettysburg wound that he was non compos from opiates much of the time, and far below his usual par at others. (His failure to guard his flanks or reconnoiter effectively at the Battle of the Wilderness would not have been tolerated in a newly-minted shavetail.) Warren of V Corps I was in the same mental state as Ewell and had been promoted above his competence. I have never understood why Sedgewick, of the VI Corps, has had such a high reputation among USA Civil War generals, apart from being efficient and taking care of his men, because he never seemed to show much enterprise or dash.  Again, killed early in the campaign, his replacement, Wright, seems largely to have been a cypher (one of the few cases where Rhea, I think, does not illuminate the personality involved). For the Cavalry Corps, as an offensive fighter, Sheridan had few peers and no superior, but he failed disastrously at the equally important task of information-gathering, and, at least some of the time, in screening. His failure to work effectively with Meade redounds poorly on both men, but ultimately a subordinate has the duty to suck it up and get on with it, which Sheridan manifestly did not – he was obviously better suited to independent command. Of Grant’s other corps commanders (who were not continuously under AoP command through the course of the campaign), sufficiently bad cannot be said against Burnside of IX Corps, although to be fair, the quality of his divisional commanders was poor (only in the Union army in the east could a drunken incompetent like Leadlie be given, and keep, divisional command), as was the general quality of the troops in his corps, who were mostly new recruits. The other is W.F. Smith of XVII Corps.  Grant ranked him highly, perhaps for the wrong reasons, but at least in the Overland Campaign he was nearly debilitated by sickness at times, proved incapable of effective co-operation with his fellow corps commanders, and failed at the culminating point of the campaign.

5) Divisional and formation leadership on both sides was a mixed bag.  There were some bright spots, and some duds – perhaps a few more on the Union side at critical times, but not many.

6) On average, the Confederate soldier was superior to his AoP counterpart – time and time again, the Confederate succeeded in attack and defense, whereas the Union soldier failed at both. This, in part, was the result of the fact that most of the ANV soldiery were experienced veterans (and even with their experience, their numbers were irreplaceably reduced in the course of the campaign), whereas many of the Union soldiers were either untried conscripts or reserve heavy artillery troops hastily converted into infantry. But again, one of the marks of a good general is that he understands the nature of the troops under his command (Montgomery was very good at this) and makes the appropriate adjustments.  I don’t see that Grant did this.

In the end, of course, you have to ask: What was Grant’s objective? It was to pry Lee’s army out of its Rapidan defenses and pin it down to render it impossible for him to assume the offensive.  This Grant did, at the cost of greater casualties and time had the campaign been handled more effectively. So, in the end, Grant was the victor in the campaign, as Rhea concludes, and this was largely the result of Grant’s determined character.

Regards, John Howard Oxley


John Howard Oxley was born right after WWII ended, which may account for his lifelong interest in military matters, with particular reference to technical naval history [he is a major battleship fan].  Apart from three years of service in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve’s University Naval Training Division, where he completed service as a sub-lieutenant, he has had no connection with the military whatsoever, apart from a two-year stint in the early 1990s as Research Director for Crisis Simulations Inc., which developed computer-assisted simulators for the Canadian Army and for civilian disaster relief organizations.  He retired from a 17-year career teaching IT at a private, for-profit university in Atlanta in 2014, relocating back to his native Canada in the following year.

Being single, with no responsibilities except for his cat, in retirement he indulges his passions for reading military and naval history along with lots of sci fi, board wargaming (including extensive re-design of existing naval war games), drinking good brandy, and smoking far too many cigars.  For over three decades, he has published reviews, mostly on military books, for The American Reference Book Annual, and is currently the feature editor of the Ships’ Library for the International Naval Research Organization. He also has an abiding affection for bad puns.

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