Preview: Powell, “The Chickamauga Campaign: Barren Victory”

24 09 2016

Layout 1The third and final volume of David A. Powell’s history of The Chickamauga Campaign – Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863, has been released by publisher Savas Beatie. (You can find my notes on the first two volumes here and here.)

This completes the most thorough history of the campaign to date. Volume III is a mixed bag, wrapping up the first two volumes and providing meat and potatoes statistics and research tidbits that all footnote readers will enjoy. The narrative portion of the book picks up on the morning of September 21, with both armies dealing with the immediate effects of defeat and victory. Three chapters follow both armies to the environs of Chattanooga. Two chapters discuss the costs and consequences of the campaign, and appendices deal with rear guard cavalry action in The Last Clash at Chickamauga and the relationship between William Rosecrans, James Garfield, and Charles Dana.

Then the fun begins. In a manner reminiscent of Joseph L. Harsh’s wonderful Sounding the Shallows, Powell offers the reader insight into both the numbers of the thing and the researching and writing process itself. Five appendices include: Union Order of Battle; Union Losses; Confederate Strength with Sources and Methodology (arranged in Order of Battle format); Confederate Losses (Powell provides the most detailed and complete look at Confederate numbers and losses to be found); and a Return for Polk’s Corps for October 22, 1863.

These are followed by a magnificent 85 page (!) bibliography. Powell’s extensive use of newspaper accounts from all points of the compass is impressively displayed. The different contemporary newspapers from which he drew number approximately 150!

The whole book is complimented with bottom of the page, detailed footnotes (with the exception of the Union OOB through Confederate Losses appendices which employ end-notes for purposes of style).

This is a great capstone to Powell’s take on the Chickamauga campaign (and let’s not forget his Campaign Atlas and his iconoclastic look at Confederate cavalry during this time, Failure in the Saddle). Don’t miss it.

Preview: Rasbach, “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign”

22 09 2016

joshualchamberlainandpetersburgcampaignrasbach2016savasbeatieThis just in from Savas Beatie (there is no hyphen in that title, you know): Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign: His Supposed Charge from Fort Hell, his Near-Mortal Wound, and a Civil War Myth Reconsidered, by Dennis A. Rasbach.

It’s hard to read the full title and not get the impression that the book possesses iconoclastic, sacred-cow slaughtering characteristics. In fact the dust jacket notes are peppered with words like presumed, perpetuation, interpretation, mantle of authority, meticulous case, primary evidence, and body of evidence. By themselves not indicative of anything, but consider them and the book’s title together and, well, you start to see where we’re headed. And that’s not a bad thing by any means. This book considers, among other things, the accuracy of the identification of the actual site of the action in which Chamberlain was wounded, generally accepted for many, many years as along the Jerusalem Plank Road between the future site of Fort Hell (Sedgwick) and Rives’s Salient of the Dimmock Line (future site of Fort Mahone). Rasbach contends that the focus of Chamberlain’s attack was more than a mile away from there.

Other, similar theories on other battlefields have been shouted down with references to monument placement and lack of veteran divergence from accepted narratives, but in this case Mr. Rasbach is laying everything out there for consideration. Adherents to the classic interpretation will have to deal with his presentation on its merits.

You get: 176 pages of narrative, including a retrospective tour; plenty of illustrations, primarily maps, though the tour includes many modern day photos; Orders of Battle for June 18, 1864; an appendix on Chamberlain’s wound and treatment; another on the role of maps in evaluating Chamberlain’s account; bibliography, mostly published works but also ten manuscript sources and seven newspaper accounts; and full index. Footnotes are bottom-of-the-page.

Preview – Biggs, “They Fought for the Union”

6 09 2016

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They Fought for the Union, by Jeffrey R. Biggs, is a history of the First Delaware Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac. In this video, the author discusses the regiment and his reasons for writing the book:

As the author points out, the 1st Delaware had a knack, from Antietam to Fredericksburg to Gettysburg, of winding up in some pretty hot battlefield spots. As Mr. Biggs has already hipped us to their story, I’ll give you the lowdown on the book itself.

You get 447 pp of narrative in paperback for $19.99 from Amazon. These include 26 maps and 20 pages of photos and illustrations. You also get a full index, bibliography, and end-notes. The bibliography consists of a slew of published works, but also lists nine newspapers and eight manuscript sources, which are cited in the notes.

I’ve long been intrigued by the frequency with which this regiment turned up in what could be argued to be the wrong place at the wrong time – now I have a chance to learn a bit more. This is the first in-depth look at the unit in 130 years (see original regimental by William Seville here). Check out the author’s website here.

I also must thank the author for answering that age-old question famously posed by Rev. Jim Ignatowski – Delawareans or Delawarites? Mr. Biggs describes himself as a life-long Delawarean. That’s a load off my mind.

Preview: Four New Emerging Civil War Titles

20 08 2016

If you’ve been reading Bull Runnings for a while, you know that I’ve previewed all of the titles in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series. And you also know how these books work. Concise histories, lots of maps and illustrations, tough paperbacks, suitable for the field. The really interesting parts, to me anyway, are the appendices. So, for each of these four most recent publications, I’m going to give you the bare minimum, and flesh out those appendices for you. Narrative page counts are for the main chapters only, not counting appendices. All run around 200 pages total.

OutFlewTheSabers_LRGOut Flew the Sabres: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, by Eric J. Wittenberg and Daniel T. Davis.

  • Narrative: 109 pages with tours
  • Appendix A: The Four Battles of Brandy Station (Wittenberg).
  • Appendix B: The Winter Encampment (Mike Block).
  • Appendix C: The Battle of Kelly’s Ford (Davis).
  • Afterword on preservation efforts (O. James Lighthizer).
  • Order of Battle

Layout 1The Last Road North: A Guide to the Gettysburg Campaign, 1863, by Robert Orrison and Dan Welch.

  • Narrative: 167 pages, with tours, from the start of the Confederate advance through the retreat.
  • No Appendices

Layout 1Don’t Give an Inch: The Second Day at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 – From Little Round Top to Cemetery Ridge, by Chris Mackowski, Kristopher D. White, and Daniel T. Davis.

  • Narrative: 131 pages with tours
  • Appendix A: The Wheatfield: A Walking Tour (White).
  • Appendix B: The Heroes of Little Round Top? Controversy surrounding Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine (Ryan Quint).
  • Appendix C: Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter. Photography at the site (James Brookes).
  • Appendix D: Not a Leg to Stand On: Sickles vs. Meade in the Wake of Gettysburg (Mackowski).
  • Order of Battle

A_Long_BloodyA Long and Bloody Task: The Atlanta Campaign from Dalton through Kennesaw Mountain to the Chatahoochie River, May 5 – July 18, 1864, by Stephen Davis.

  • Narrative: 105 pages
  • Driving Tour of the Atlanta Campaign: 14 pages
  • Appendix A: The Battle of Pickett’s Mill: Evolving Presence (Stephen Briggs).
  • Appendix B: My Time with “Company Aytch:” Personal Memory and the Kennesaw Line (Robert W. Novak).
  • Appendix C: The Chattahoochee River Line Today (Michael k. Shaffer).
  • Appendix D: Federal Logistics During the Atlanta Campaign (Britt McCarley)
  • Appendix E: Why Do People Believe Joe Johnston Could Have Saved Atlanta? (Davis).
  • Appendix F: What We’ve Learned About John Bell Hood Since the Centennial (Davis)
  • Order of Battle


Preview: Barr, “A Civil War Captain and His Lady”

14 08 2016

Layout 1A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat from Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign, by Gene Barr, is one of those rare collections of Civil War correspondence that includes both sides of the conversation. Typically letters from the home front to soldiers in the field are lost if due only to the hardships of keeping them intact while on campaign. However this new publication from Savas Beatie includes the letters of both Captain Josiah Moore of the 17th Illinois Infantry and those of his sweetheart Jennie Lindsay of Peoria.

The correspondence is interesting in and of itself as it reflects on the mechanics of courtship via post during a hectic and trying time. It also serves as a framework for providing a history of the 17th Illinois and the action in the Western Theater, including Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and the Meridian Campaign.

Gene Barr is a board member and former chair of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA.

Interview: Dr. Carol Reardon, “A Field Guide to Antietam”

9 08 2016


I’ve known Dr. Carol Reardon, George Winfrey Professor of American History at my alma mater The Pennsylvania State University, since 1998 when I first started following her around various eastern Civil War battlefields. A true military historian – as opposed to a historian who writes about events with a military element – she is the author of numerous books, including the seminal memory study Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory; Soldiers and Scholars: The U.S. Army and the Uses of Military History, 1865-1920; With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North; and Launch the Intruders: A Naval Attack Squadron in the Vietnam War, 1972In 2013, she and co-author Tom Vossler released the game changing guide-book A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. Now, the duo have followed up the phenomenal success of that book with A Field Guide to Antietam: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. Dr. Reardon took some time from her very busy schedule to answer a few questions about that work for Bull Runnings:

100_5190BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

CR: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and graduated from Brentwood High School. I attended Allegheny College in Meadville PA, where I received a BS in biology. I did not reinvent myself as a historian until graduate school. I received my MA in history from the University of South Carolina and my PhD in history from the University of Kentucky. My first position after receiving my doctorate kept me at Kentucky as the associate editor of The Papers of Henry Clay documentary editing project. I then taught at the University of Georgia for two years before accepting a position at Penn State University. I’m entering my twenty-fifth year of service at Penn State this August. During my time at Penn State, I’ve been fortunate to receive two appointments to teach at the US Army War College and a one-year assignment to teach at the US Military Academy at West Point. I take special satisfaction from my fourteen years of service on the Board of Visitors of Marine Corps University. I also won election to two terms as the president of the Society for Military History. I maintain a busy public service profile that includes military staff rides and leadership programs on Civil War battlefields, appointments to advisory boards for several history – focused non-profit organizations, and related activities. And, of course, my professional life has been shaped by the usual academic mantra of “publish or perish.” I also have a healthy garden, keep a year list of bird sightings, and have a vested interest in a few Simmental beef cattle.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

CR: I became interested in the Civil War as early as second grade during the Civil War centennial. I made my first trip to Gettysburg in May 1963, just before the 100th anniversary of the battle. I wrote my first “research paper” about that trip, and the full-page I printed impressed my teachers. I guess I responded well to positive reinforcement. Also, my next door neighbors were into the Civil War, and that gave me people I could talk to about it. But the biggest pushes came from my father, an officer in the Army Reserve, who encouraged my interests in anything military, and my maternal grandmother, who got behind anything educational that interested me. She was the one who took me on my first visit to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland [in Pittsburgh, PA] to find my great-great-grandfather’s name on the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry’s plaque on the wall. Once I got to college, much of the inspiration and motivation that sent me down the path of military history came from the triumvirate of Professors Jay Luvaas of Allegheny College and the Army War College and Charles P. Roland and George C. Herring of the University of Kentucky.

BR: Can you describe the format of the tour book, and the rationale behind that format?

CR: David Perry, former editor at University of North Carolina Press, was the mastermind behind the field guide. He went on a Gettysburg tour with me about fifteen years ago and decided then that he had to figure out a way to “bottle it.” As the sesquicentennial drew near, he raised the idea again. By then, Tom Vossler and I had done so many field programs and staff rides together that it was natural that we’d do this as a joint venture. The format followed from the experience gained from those various programs. We knew what information a visitor had to know–the what happens who made it happen. We knew what interested them–numbers, units, casualties. We knew what we wanted them to think more about –thus cost of war in very personal terms through the individual vignettes, the civilian experience, the play of memory on how we recall the past. That shaped the six questions around which we built the Gettysburg field guide, and we’ve received a positive response to it.

BR: The subject of your previous guide-book was an obvious choice. How did you settle on Antietam for the follow-up?

CR: It just seemed like the obvious next place to go. It’s an important battle in a number of different ways, from military concerns such as the great number of casualties to political consequences such as the Emancipation Proclamation that added the abolition of slavery to preservation of the Union as national war aims. The battlefield is very well-preserved. Its National Park Service staff and the members of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation are excellent stewards of the battlefield, and their active advice, support, and expertise provided a level of support that we knew would ensure a top-notch final product. It didn’t hurt that it was only an hour away.

BR: What were the most surprising finds while researching the Battle of Antietam?

CR: It’s a far more complex battle than it appears. I was taught for years to break down the fighting into the early-morning phase centering on the Cornfield, the late-morning/noon phase at the Bloody Lane, and the afternoon phase at Burnside’s Bridge as three distinct pieces. It became increasingly clear as the work progressed that these phases overlapped at times, and that actions in one phase directly influenced those in the others. Restoring the complexity became an unexpected element of the guide.

BR: How did the view-scape of and access to sites in the park, which changed while you were writing the book, affect your process?

CR: We were amazingly fortunate that several big property acquisitions were finalized just before went to press. The purchase and amazingly quick demolition of a modern brick ranch house at the western edge of the North Woods made me go into the text and remove a few references to that structure as a visual cue before we went to print. The purchase of the Wilson farm just south of the Miller Cornfield happened at a time when we could adjust the text. The tree clearing efforts of a hardy crew from Save Historic Antietam Foundation removed a treeline on the Wilson farm that restored a key view-shed that helped us to explain elements of the Union artillery deployment near the East Woods and Mumma farm. We went down and re-shot several photos to take full advantage of the new vistas that most decidedly illustrated points we made in our narrative.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

CR: The Antietam guide took about two years to write. I did most of the primary-source research for the book. In addition to the richness of the Official Records and the Antietam Battlefield Commission records largely compiled by former colonel Ezra Carman (and the outstanding editing of his work by Thomas G. Clemens), two other sources proved invaluable. First, the library at Antietam National Battlefield has an excellent collection of primary-source material, plus Ted Alexander and Stephanie Gray to help us work through it. Anyone who knows Ted knows to pay attention when he begins a sentence with, “hey, have you heard about….”. Second, the outstanding collections of digitized Pennsylvania Civil War newspapers available on the Penn State University Library website; Civil War historians working on battle studies simply cannot ignore these incredibly rich (and lightly mined) materials; there are other digitized newspaper collections online, but the Pennsylvania collection is newer and access is easiest if one has an email account that ends with

BR: You co-authored this and your preceding book with Tom Vossler. Can you describe the collaborative process?

CR: For the Gettysburg guide, we initially divided the writing/research along lines of our natural interests and strengths. at first, I focused in the sections that addressed what happened here, who fought here, who fell here, and what did they say about it later. Tom initially focused on who led here and who lived here. Tom owns a farm; the latter topic really drew him in. Increasingly, as Tom took on the primary responsibility for the modern photos and the maps (all original for each guide), I took on more of the traditional research and writing, while he focused more on the books’ highly detailed visual elements. We both worked on the historical illustrations, making considerable use of the collections at the US Army Heritage and Education Center; during Tom’s last posting before he retired as a colonel, he was director of this fine repository. It worked.

BR: What did you learn while writing the Gettysburg field guide that helped with writing the one for Antietam?

CR: We learned that we had hit on a formula that worked, so we did not have to consider any substantial format changes. But the biggest thing we learned is that everything connected with the publication process takes much longer than you estimate it will. Much longer.

BR: Was there anything about Antietam (process-wise) that you didn’t encounter while writing Gettysburg, or anything significantly different, that made it easier or more difficult?

CR: Not really. The process stayed pretty much the same. The special challenge for me, at least, centered on learning about a lot of units that fought Antietam that did not serve at Gettysburg. We both live in Gettysburg. We do much of programming here. We can recite the Gettysburg order of battle automatically. But Antietam made me become deeply acquainted with all the elements of the IX Corps, all the nine-month regiments that just joined the Union army before Antietam but leave it after Chancellorsville and miss Gettysburg, the Confederate brigades of Evans and Colquitt and Ransom and the like. But I enjoyed that part.

BR: What’s the promo schedule for Antietam look like? Any upcoming signings or lectures?

CR: Tom and I will be leading a special daylong tour of Antietam on September 10 for the Gettysburg Foundation’s First Corps members. We actually have more Gettysburg events coming up in the near future than Antietam events. I’m especially looking forward to taking a busload of folks from Allegheny College around Gettysburg in September, re-forging the bond between the Allegheny community and Civil War battlefields that Jay Luvaas established in the 1960s. He took me on my first visits to many battlefields, including Antietam, and it’s time for me to revitalize that little bit of Allegheny heritage.

BR: What’s next for you?

CR: We’re finishing up a new and revised edition of the Gettysburg field guide that will include two new stops, correct a few errors (yes, we know it’s not the Soldiers’ National “Seminary”), and tighten up the relationship between the maps and the narrative. UNC Press will also offer an expanded and revised eBook version of the field guide that will include the new stops, corrections, revised maps, and approximately 10,000 new words – mostly the very welcome restoration of items initially prepared for the original text that had to be cut when it got too long. We’re glad that we will finally be able to share some of these episodes and vignettes with our readers.

Preview: Schmutz, “The Bloody Fifth”

3 08 2016

Layout 1Just what we need – another regiment known as “The Bloody.”

The bloody book in question this time is new from Savas Beatie, “The Bloody Fifth”: The 5th Texas Infantry Regiment, Hood’s Texas Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia, Vol. 1: Secession to the Suffolk Campaign, by John F. Schmutz. They’re not into the whole brevity thing when it comes to book titles these days, are they?

Schmutz, as you may recall from this interview, is the author of what I think is the best of the recent deluge of books on The Crater, succinctly dubbed The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History. So, expectations for Bloody are high in this quarter.

As you can gather from the title, this is the first installment of a multi- (two) volume work on the regiment, which the promo materials claim saw action in “nearly every significant battle of the Eastern Theater” (except, of course the most significant – please refer to the name and mission of this blog).

Here’s what you get: 281 pages of text with footnotes; Company Organization Profiles appendix; Dramatis Personae appendix; index. I’m guessing the bibliography will be published with Volume II. George Skoch maps and a light sprinkling of photos – mostly portraits – included.