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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

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