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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

Attack at Daylight and Whip Them: The Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862

  The Savas Beatie paperbacks referred to as the “Emerging Civil War Series” are detailed guidebooks of the titled Battlefields. Similar to previous publications in the series a visitor to the site may drive the referenced route of the battlefield and digest the key elements of the fight from the perspective of both the Blue and the Gray. 

   Attack at Daylight and Whip Them, is focused on the leadership, tactical decisions of the Battle of Shiloh on both armies and the impact of national understanding of what the Civil War would become. It is an overview that describes and illustrates the judgment most historians consider the most insightful regarding the battle. It doesn’t challenge previous judgments but does offer explanations regarding the decisions and the personalities of those that made them. 

   The guide highlights the background leading to the battle, and the conflict often written regarding Generals’ Albert Sydney Johnson and P.G. Beauregard, General Lew Wallace, and Generals’ William Tecumseh Sherman and U.S. Grant. Gregory Mertz also highlights notable participants and the order of battle is very useful as well as the appendix listing other accounts of the Battle of Shiloh.

   There are ample photographs, sketches, and maps to prepare the reader for an interesting and informed visit to the battlefield. 

   I recommend this account of the Battle of Shiloh. It continues in the tradition of the series to providing a simplified version of the battle with all the ingredients needed to peak the enthusiasm of the Civil War novas and experienced student alike.  

 

Reviewed by Arley McCormick

“too Much for Human Endurance”: The George Spangler Farm Hospitals and the Battle of Gettysburg

   Libraries, private and public, include shelves of books dedicated to the Battle of Gettysburg. All the fighting at the epic battle is documented in detail but the logistics and medical services have yet to be fully explained and documented. Mr. Kirkwood fills that void with “Too Much for Human Endurance”. 

   Ronald D. Kirkwood is an award winning writer and a docent at the Spangler farm since it opened in 2013. In describing the contribution of the Spangler farm he introduces leaders, surgeons and sergeants, and describes the ebbs and flow of the battle line as it applies to the tenacious attempts to save soldiers lives. He includes 60 photos and 13 sketches and maps with sufficient detail to clearly support his narrative.    

   Mr. Kirkwood describes the medical support that occurred on George Spangler’s Farm and much more. There is no doubt the authors intent to detail the medical support provided on the land associated with the farm and it’s relation to the battle itself is fulfilled. His description of the support structure amplified by numerous narratives provided by those that served as reluctant patients, and provides a description of death such as that of Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead.

   His narrative amplifies the status of medicine, sanitation, and the use of chloroform to mitigate pain and anguish, allowing medical practitioners to apply their skill to save lives.  While the patients on the farm were principally from the XI Corps. Other organizations were treated as well and the annexes detail the biographies of surgeons, elements of the XI Corps, how the artillery reserve at the battle was utilized, specifically the 2nd Connecticut Light Artillery, and an accounting of the Spangler farm wounded and dead. 

   This is an excellent and very detailed look at the activities behind the battle line fighting at Gettysburg and a rare description of the energy exerted to save lives and support the tactical success of the Union Army at Gettysburg.

   As an aside former President Richard Nixon placed flowers at his great-great-great grandfather’s grave in 1953 at Gettysburg.

   Mr. Kirkland’s book is clearly an excellent addition to the Gettysburg story as well as a detailed accounting of military medical practice in 1863.

 

Reviewed by Arley McCormick

Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station: The Problems of Command and Strategy After Gettysburg, from Brandy Station to the Buckland Races, August 1 to October 31, 1863

 Meade and Lee at Bristoe Station is an outstanding book that answers the question: what did Lee and Meade do when both armies were in Virginia after returning from Gettysburg? It will be remembered that Longstreet with two divisions was sent West to reinforce Bragg, leading to Chickamauga, and some may remember the Union countered by sending the XI and XII Corps to reinforce Rosecrans. This left two depleted armies facing each other in Northern Virginia. 

   Lee resolved to take advantage of the situation by trying to replicate the Second Manassas Campaign – and he was partially successful, driving Meade all the way back to Centerville. However, miscues by A. P. Hill and skill mixed with some luck on Meade’s part thwarted Lee’s designs, and by the end of October, 1863, the armies had returned to their previous locations. This book is the story of that campaign.

   The author has done a great job – excellent description with plenty of maps allow you to see exactly what both sides intended and how they executed those intentions. I highly recommend this book as an exposition of both the tactics employed and the campaign strategy (operational art to us Army guys). Great read!

 

Reviewed by John Scales

The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi

Dr. Timothy B. Smith, the author, wanted to tell a good story, describe the events in a social context, and include the operational considerations that fully illustrate the significance of the achievement.  He achieved his objectives.

John Wayne’s cavalry adventure “The Horse Soldiers” was entertaining but not exactly correct. Dr. Smith, also the author of “Champion Hill: Decisive battle for Vicksburg”, explains the considerations and analysis leading to the operational faints and distractions orchestrated in Northwest Mississippi and North Alabama to confuse the Confederate commanders in Mississippi and Richmond allowing Grierson to execute the primary mission; destroy and disrupt the Mississippi Southern Railroad resupply of Vicksburg that passed through the rail hub at Newton Station and distract Confederate action from Grant as he crossed the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg.

Mr. Smith includes a number of simple yet clear maps of the area of operation, essentially Mississippi, that aid understanding the complexity of the operational situation and the audacity of Grierson’s challenge. He provides an interesting character study of Grierson and other officers and men participating. He describes the task organization of the cavalry and detachments and the missions they were assigned and executed on their trek through Mississippi. All topics essential to a complete study of military operations. Readers will also enjoy the prologue that describes journalists, individual participants, Union military leaders, and even the Confederate response to the raid. The author also describes the impact of the raid on the lives of some soldiers for the remainder of the war and in life, providing testimony to how the hazards of war linger with its participants. 

This book will not only impress cavalry enthusiasts, but anyone with a serious or casual interest in Civil War operations and the personalities that experience it.

 

Reviewed by Arley McCormick

Holding the Line on the River of Death: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863

This exceptionally well-researched and written book provides a tremendous view of the opening tactical actions of the battle of Chickamauga, Georgia 19-20 September 1863 from the Federal’s perspective.  The author, Eric Wittenburg writes a detailed account of the actions of two major units involved in the opening stages of the battle: Minty’s cavalry and Wilder’s mounted infantry brigades.   His bibliography is extensive and demonstrates the use of a wide breath of applicable resources.  

The basic premise of the book is that the two mounted brigades of Wilder and Minty “saved” the Army of the Cumberland in September 1863.  Although the army was defeated, it was not destroyed.  I think the author definitively proved his thesis in a clear, logical manner.  Much of the mounted forces’ actions happened in spite of the very confused, and almost panicked response by Major General Rosecrans to the discovery of General Bragg’s army in close proximity.  Rosecrans’s actions to consolidate his widely dispersed forces to meet Bragg’s imminent threat caused units to re-task organize on-the-move and conduct a withdrawal in contact, a less than desirable method of conducting operations.  

Colonel Robert Minty, a former British Army officer and extremely capable cavalry commander, led a cavalry brigade in Major General McCook’s XX Corps (cavalry).  Two of the three regiments were armed with carbines, the third was armed with Colt revolving rifles essentially making them “mounted infantry”.  Colonel Wilder, a former businessman, led a brigade of mounted infantry who were armed with the relatively new, breech-loading Spencer rifle.  While mounted infantry was not a new concept, it was first successfully employed in the Army of the Cumberland during the Tullahoma Campaign.  While Wittman claims Wilder “invented” the “concept” of mounted infantry, this is not exactly correct.  The Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, later becoming the 3rd U.S. Cavalry, was formed in 1846, pre-dating Wilder’s unit.  Arguably, the U.S. Dragoons (1833) pre-date both of those organizations.  The concept had been around for a number of years.  Wilder’s real claim-to-fame was the arming of his mounted units with the new, multi-shot, Spencer rifle.

Both brigades had a complement of field artillery.  Minty had a section from the Chicago Board of Trade battery and Wilder had Eli Lilly’s battery (18th Independent Battery, Indiana Light Artillery) which was attached to Wilder’s unit giving both units their own direct support artillery responding to their commanders’ needs.

In mid-September 1863, McCook’s XX Corps was operating on a widely separated avenue of approach as the right wing of the Army of the Cumberland.  All of Rosecrans’ corps’s were out of mutually supporting distance based on his misperception that the Confederates were withdrawing to Atlanta.  Minty’s brigade had been detached from XX Corps to provide cavalry support to XXI Corps (Crittenden) on the far-left wing of the army.  Wilder’s brigade was nominally part of Reynolds division of Granger’s Reserve Corps, but because of their unique capabilities, were operating, almost at the discretion of Major General Rosecrans, forward of the army.  This had the potential for impacting command and control except for the excellent cooperation exhibited by both Minty and Wilder with each other.  As the battle developed, so did potential problems as commanders “jumped the chains of command”.  Major General Rosecrans was not beyond by-passing corps and division commanders to order division commanders (two levels down) what to do, a significant faux pas in the military.

Both Minty and Wilder recognized the threat posed by Bragg’s army consolidation in north Georgia during mid-September 1863.  Both these brigades immediately deployed against Bragg’s consolidation and north-ward advance with the intent to slow the Confederates.  Minty’s superior, Crittenden, refused to acknowledge Bragg’s threat until it was literally on top of him.  Rosecrans recognized the threat to his line of communication and ability to withdraw to Chattanooga but time was not on his side.  It was then that the mounted forces of Wilder’s mounted infantry and Minty’s cavalry proved their real value to the Army of the Cumberland.

Wittenberg makes an excellent analogy to modern tactical doctrine.  The deployment of Minty and Wilder’s brigades against Bragg on 18 September was, as aptly pointed-out by Wittenberg, in what are now considered “traditional” cavalry roles.  They acted as a “covering force” in modern doctrinal parlance.  Additionally, while the definition of security tasks have not changed substantially since WWII, Wittenberg does reference an Army manual twenty years out-of-date. The tasks performed by Minty and Wilder were “covering forces” cited by Wittenberg because they operated away from the main force, were designed to “buy-time” for the main body to maneuver, and they accepted engagement in decisive combat.  This is a significant topic of discussion with Army units that I frequently take to Chickamauga.  The difference between a “cover” and “screen” (or “guard”) tasks differ in a number of ways to those in Army units that must conduct these.  Wittenberg correctly assesses what Minty and Wilder did and correctly ties it to our modern doctrinal tasks.  

Wittenberg does a great job of introducing the reader to the different commanders and key participants by the use of explanatory footnotes.  They add much to the book and add a great deal to the understanding of who these men were.  I give major kudos to his excellent notes.  The short biographies of these personnel makes for interesting reading and does much to add to the understanding of the people involved in this major battle.

The writing style is easy to read and Wittenberg’s organization is excellent.  The bane of editors are maps but I believe that there can never be too many.  A few more would have been excellent but the ones that are used are very good.  The period and modern images of commanders and locations are interesting although the modern photos are not the best printed quality.  I really like the driving instructions and the fact that GPS coordinates are listed for those not familiar with the battlefield.  They make the book infinitely more useable for those visiting the battlefield. The organization table showing the armaments of the different regiments is superlative.  However, photos and descriptions of the weapons would have been a nice addition for those who are not familiar with period weapons.

There are a few points that I disagree with, or, are minor editorial errors.  The claim that Bragg and President Jefferson Davis were life-long “friends” is not an interpretation that I agree with since Bragg left the US Army largely as a result of Davis’ treatment.  Infantry cartridge boxes carried 40 rather than 60 rounds, and Bragg’s offensive plans seemed to be more of a result of fragmentary orders than “carefully laid plan(s)”.

Wittenberg weaves the complex maneuver of both armies into a highly readable and logical story making this book a tremendous resource for the study of the campaign and battle of Chickamauga.  Overall, I rate this book as an A+ that does much to add to the understanding of the battle at Chickamauga and the war.  It is a “must read” for students of the battle.  

Reviewed by Ed Kennedy

“The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg — A History and Walking Tour

There were cavalrymen that historians and adventure writers have painted as icons of daring and adventure, Custer, Forrest, Morgan come to mind but competent leaders that didn’t capture the spirit of the horse because opportunity eluded them yet were respected and, in some cases, revered because they were competent. John Buford was successful and competent by all accounts yet researchers may be disappointed, Gettysburg enthusiast may feel more discussion was necessary with regard to his action on day 1 of the battle, but for most readers with limited knowledge of John Buford it will be satisfying and interesting. Once your study of the Civil War inches down from the principle leadership of legend to those that executed the hard parts, primary source information is sketchy at best. And, particularly if the subject died before the war ended. 

   The General, apparently, didn’t write much aside from dispatches and his contemporaries apparently, while recognizing his competence as a cavalry leader found nothing particularly noteworthy to applaud or complain about to their spouses or friends which leads one to believe he was a solder executing his mission with apparent success and not an opportunist, a noteworthy characteristic not always found in senior Civil War leaders. 

  Mr. Whittenburg produced a pretty clear, although sketchy, character study of the General, his decision-making process, and personal habits. And, he provides a sufficient analysis of Buford’s battlefield conduct to illustrate a bit of his command style. 

   Mr. Whittenburg is an attorney and attorneys are known for their research skills so the assumption is that the author found about as much as there is on John Buford today. It is a pretty quick and rewarding read, yet if you expect to learn of all the warts associated with his character, his failures and disappointments, more details must lie in some dusty archive awaiting discovery. 

 

Reviewed by Arley McCormick

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