Preview – Mackowski, “Strike Them a Blow”

30 06 2015

51wGX8oFV3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Recently received: Chris Mackowski has written Strike Them a Blow: Battle along the North Ann River, May 21-25, 1864, part of the Emerging Civil War series from Savas Beatie. This covers that (at one time) mysterious few days in the history of the Overland Campaign between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.  Generously illustrated and including eleven maps, the narrative is a concise 123 pages. There are also six appendices, describing the battles of Wilson’s Wharf and Milford Station, a sketch of R. E. Lee’s engineer M. L. Smith, and also a look at preservation efforts. A full Order of Battle is also included.





Preview: Ryan, “Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign”

25 06 2015

51BWOF0G-OL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve corresponded with Thomas J. Ryan a few times over the years, enough to know he’s been working on Spies, Scouts, and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Critical Role of Intelligence Impacted the Outcome of Lee’s Invasion of the North, June-July 1863 (Savas Beatie) for a long, long time. Tom is well suited to the topic, having worked for the Department of Defense in intelligence related areas for many years.

In this new study, Ryan looks at how the opponents in the campaign used various sources (cavalry, newspapers, civilians, and spies for Lee, and cavalry, signal corps, and Bureau of Military Intelligence for Hooker/Meade) to guide them in the theater of operations. After laying out the assets and structures of the armies, the narrative follows a chronological path, from mid-May 1863 through Lee’s “escape” July 14, and concludes with the author’s assessment.

Spies, Scouts, and Secrets… consists of 448 pages of text, a 15 page bibliography, full index, and footnotes on the text pages. There are plenty of illustrations, including 23 (!) Phil Laino maps. I’m looking forward to digging in. Check out Tom Ryan’s website here.





Preview: Hessler, Motts, Stanley – “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg”

1 06 2015

51mkgt+rutL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Two weeks ago I received a couple of new releases from Savas Beatie. Both are Gettysburg books, and both are visually stunning. I took the books along with me to a seminar I attended, tested them out on a couple of folks whose opinions I respect, and elicited enthusiastic “thumbs up reactions.” Both books will be getting the Interview treatment from Bull Runnings, and as they both have multiple authors it will take a little time to put those together. To tide you over I’ll give you the lowdown preview-wise.

Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History, by Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides James A. Hessler and Wayne E. Motts, with cartography by Steven A. Stanley, is another attractive, hard cover book on heavy, glossy paper. It’s beautifully laid out and includes nice, sharp modern photographs and colorful graphics. It also has the appearance of a home run, and a real, National League home run at that, not one of those watered down, 43-year-old-fat-guy-who-can’t-field American League dingers.

Jim Hessler has proven himself a more than capable narrator with Sickles at Gettysburg, and Wayne Motts, C. E. O. of the National Civil War Museum, perhaps knows as much about Pickett’s Charge as anyone who wasn’t there for the event (to call his command of the organizations and men involved encyclopedic is too generous to encyclopedias.) This volume has Stanley maps and illustrations and sidebars aplenty. The “distressed” format of some of the pages can be a little distracting, but overall the layout is quite handsome. The work is end noted, with orders of battle, bibliography, and index. It’s broken up into four separate tours: Confederate Battle Line; Pettigrew-Trimble Charge; Pickett’s Charge; and Union Battle Line. A total of 268 pages, and a must have for planning your next foray onto the Day 3 field. Hopefully a soft-cover or e-reader version will become available, as durability in the field is questionable.





Preview: Brenneman, Boardman, Dowling – “The Gettysburg Cyclorama”

27 05 2015

613FOyqKbBL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Two weeks ago I received a couple of new releases from Savas Beatie. Both are Gettysburg books, and both are visually stunning. I took the books along with me to a seminar I attended, tested them out on a couple of folks whose opinions I respect, and elicited enthusiastic “thumbs up reactions.” Both books will be getting the Interview treatment from Bull Runnings, and as they both have multiple authors it will take a little time to put those together. To tide you over I’ll give you the lowdown preview-wise.

The Gettysburg Cyclorama: The Turning Point of the Civil War on Canvas, by Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides Chris Brenneman and Sue Boardman, with photography by Bill Dowling, is one gorgeous book with a cool concept. The first 73 of these oversize, glossy pages draw on Sue Boardman’s extensive research to describe cycloramas in general, their history in this country, and the tale of Paul Philippoteaux’s work depicting the three day Battle of Gettysburg in 3-D. No stone is left unturned.

Then the really interesting part: a tour of the battlefield and cyclorama, in which the painting is broken down into nine “views,” with multiple tour stops in each view, color details of the painting for those stops, and period and modern color photos of corresponding battlefield scenes and individuals. It sounds wacky, but it works! My only complaint is that the oversize hardback format may not hold up out on the field. But then, you may want to leave this on the coffee table for friends to ponder. OK, maybe you’ll need two – or maybe the publisher will put out a paperback edition at some point.

A similar preview on that other book is coming soon…





Preview: Mackowski, White, & Davis – “Fight Like the Devil”

21 05 2015

51aBL53hU8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_New in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War Series is Fight Like the Devil: The First Day at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, by Chris Mackowski, Kristopher D. White, and Daniel T. Davis. Gettysburg nuts fall into one of three categories, typically: Day 1 guys; Day 2 guys; and Day 3 guys. If I fall into one of those categories (though I don’t consider myself a Gettysburg nut, or a more seriously afflicted Frassanidiot), it would have to be Day 1. And to prove it, I joined along with a couple hundred other folks a few weeks ago for an all day walking tour of the Day 1 battlefield. It would have been nice to have this little book along for the ride. It weighs in at 116 pages of text through the epilogue, with another eight (8!) appendices by such luminaries as Matt Atkinson, Dan Welch, and Eric Wittenberg. Nine maps and dozens of modern photos are sprinkled in. And this one’s not without some controversy. I have long wondered at the basis for John Reynolds’s now sterling reputation, given his performance up to July 1, 1863, and it appears Kris White thinks along the same lines for the same reasons in his appendix on the general. And John Cummings weighs in on the location of the famous Gardner “Harvest of Death” photos (I do believe that one has to be either all right or all wrong in these cases.) Other appendices look at Dick Ewell’s decision, J. E. B. Stuart’s ride, shoes, and Pipe Creek. Check it out.





Preview – Alexander, “Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg”

6 05 2015

51At1BPGMzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Breakthrough at Petersburg has a special interest for me, because my great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, a private in the 205th PA Infantry/9th Corps, was wounded there (see here.) So when I received Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg, March 25 – April 2, 1865, by Edward S. Alexander, I was pretty excited to see how the action was described. This is an entry in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series, and exhibits those features with which we have become accustomed: Hal Jesperson maps (7 of them); 129 pages of text taking the reader from the beginning of the siege through the fall of Petersburg; plentiful period and current photographs; orders of battle; field fortifications definitions; and an appendix on Pamplin Historical Park. Nice and compact. However, this study suffers from what afflicts most studies of the Breakthrough: it stops with 6th Corps and does not continue to the right to cover 9th Corps. Is this some sort of conspiracy? Does it have anything to do with the fact that 9th Corps operations took place outside the current boundaries of Pamplin Park? I have my foil hat ready for the investigation…





Preview: Davis & Greenwalt, “Calamity in Carolina”

23 04 2015

k2-_cd42791b-693d-41b5-a4ab-e4ed7596c686.v2About ten years ago I took a little trip down to North Carolina for a series of tours with an email group to which I still belong. We hit up Monroe’s Crossroads, Averasboro, Bentonville, and Forts Anderson and Fisher. (You can read a bit about the Bull Run connections to Bentonville here.) It would have been nice to have had Daniel Davis’s and Philip Greenwalt’s Calamity in Carolina: The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville, March 1865, from Savas Beatie, along on that trip. Yet another of the ever growing Emerging Civil War series, Calamity covers those closing battles that pitted the forces of William T. Sherman against the who’s who of the Confederacy presided over by Joe Johnston. The convoluted movements of the armies before, during, and after these engagements could use considerably more than the six maps provided in this slim volume, but let’s keep in mind these are overviews, and you can always pick up a copy of Mark Moore’s Historical Guide to The Battle of Bentonville, which includes Averasboro, if you need to visualize.

Along with numerous period and contemporary illustrations and compact narratives of the actions (91 pages), Calamity includes driving tours and orders of battle for both battles, and appendices on Sherman’s March, Mower’s Attack, a sketch of Joseph A. Mower, the road to Bennett Place, the relationship between Sherman and Johnston, and the story of the preservation of Bentonville Battlefield.








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