Preview: Powell, “Battle Above the Clouds”

3 07 2017

BattleClouds_LRGIf 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 this newest publication, I’m going to give you the bare minimum, and flesh out those appendices for you.

Battle Above the Clouds: Lifting the Siege of Chattanooga and the Battle of Lookout Mountain, October 16 – November 24, 1863, by David A. Powell

  • Foreword by William Lee White
  • Five page prelude
  • Narrative 107 pages
  • Six Hal Jespersen maps
  • Ten page driving tour 1 – Wheeler’s Raid and the Chattanooga Campaign, seven stops
  • Fourteen page driving tour 2 – Brown’s Ferry, Wauhatchie, and Lookout Mountain, nine stops
  • Appendix A: The Myth of the Cracker Line – Frank Varney
  • Appendix B: A Tale of Two Paintings – Powell
  • Appendix C: Civil War Tourism: Lookout Mountain – Powell
  • Orders of Battle
  • No footnotes, bibliography, or index in this volume

David A. Powell is a VMI graduate and author of numerous works and articles on the Chickamauga Campaign, most recently Barren Victory.


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: Powell, “The Chickamauga Campaign: Glory or the Grave”

5 10 2015

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve at least heard about David A. Powell’s multi-volume study of the Chickamauga Campaign being published by Savas Beatie. In summary, this is what you want to do:

51mj2AQheYL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_A) Get Volume I (The Chickamauga Campaign – A Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of the Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22 – September 19, 1863, which has been out since last year.

B) Get The Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign, Including the Tullahoma Operations, June 22 – September 23, 1863which has been out for, like, six years so you have no excuse.

C) Read them together, stopping in the map book when Volume I ends. I read the Atlas map section first, then the corresponding detailed narrative.

D) Then get the newly released The Chickamauga Campaign – Glory or the Grave: The Breakthrough, the Union Collapse, and the Defense of Horseshoe Ridge, September 20, 1863.

E) Repeat C) above through to the end of Volume II.

F) Sit and wait for Volume III.

What is covered in Vol. II is apparent from the title. You get 708 (!) pages of narrative. Yes, just in Vol. II – Vol. I weighs in at 641 pp. Footnotes are at the bottom of each page. Plenty of maps (but you’ll still want to keep the Atlas nearby) and illustrations throughout. The OOB is in Vol. I. The bibliography will be in Vol. III. So, you see, you’ll need to buy all four books.

Are there problems? Some little, nitpicky ones that aren’t really worth mentioning and probably only bothersome to people like me who are more directionally challenged in their reading, and perhaps rely on maps a bit too much. And the weird misplaced word or punctuation that is omnipresent in publishing these days. Nothing to worry about – I think we just have to get used to that stuff.

This is the Chickamauga Campaign study. You need to read this. I’m finishing up Vol. I now (I had to take a break for some fiction – Andy Weir’s The Martian was fun, by the way – as my brain gets fried after 450 pages of anything.) I’ll be cracking Vol. II next, and I’m really looking forward to it.

CCNMP Study Group 2012 Seminar in the Woods

21 11 2011

I received the following from friend Dave Powell:

CCNMP Study Group 2012 Seminar in the Woods.

March 9-10, 2012

Friday: All Day, on bus: meet at 8:00 a.m. at the CCNMP visitor’s center

Friday Morning  – 21st Corps in the Chickamauga campaign.

By bus, we will explore the movements of the Union 21st Corps as it occupies Chattanooga and then advances on Ringgold between September 9th and 11th, 1863. Less studied than the more famous action in McLemore’s Cove, Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s advance on Ringgold still posed a threat to Bragg’s rail connection, moving south along the Western and Atlantic while the main Rebel army was falling back to LaFayette. Actions at Graysville and Ringgold highlight this phase of the campaign.

Lunch: Since we will be close to the park for most of the day, we will arrange for lunch at a local restaurant, probably the Park Place, between Noon and 1 PM.

Friday Afternoon  – Retreating as fast as they can go? Thomas at Rossville, September 21, 1863.

By bus, we will explore the Union retreat from the battlefield on the night of September 20th, and examine the position Major General George Thomas adopted by dawn on September 21st. Far from fleeing in disorder, the Army of the Cumberland had largely re-organized and was ready for a fight on Monday morning. We will also discuss the various Confederate efforts at reconnaissance of this new Union position, and how successful those efforts were.

Saturday Morning, 8:30 a.m.: Horatio Van Cleve’s Division on September 19th, on foot.

Between about 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on September 19th, two brigades of Van Cleve’s 3rd Division, 21st Corps, attempted to turn the Confederate flank in Brock field. After some initial success against Marcus Wright’s Tennessee Brigade (including Carnes’ Battery) however, Van Cleve’s men met with more Confederates under A.P. Stewart, producing a bloody slugfest in the woods. Eventually, the Federals themselves were outflanked by elements of Bushrod Johnson’s Rebels, resulting in a collapse of the Union line.

Car Caravan from the visitor’s Center.

Saturday Afternoon, 1:30 p.m.:  Thomas J. Wood and the Battle of Chickamauga, on foot.

No general is more controversial than Tom Wood. His actions on September 20th will be examined in detail, from his infamous movement out of Brotherton Field to his final position on Snodgrass Hill. Along the way we will discuss his culpability in creating the crisis of “the gap,” his relations with other officers in the army, and his contributions to the defense of Horseshoe Ridge.

Car Caravan from the visitor’s Center.

Optional: Sunday, March 18thAndersonville, with Frank Crawford – car caravan.

Frank has offered to take us down to the National Prisoner of War Museum and historic site at Andersonville. Andersonville lies about 2 hours drive southwest of Atlanta, or roughly four hours south of Chattanooga. While it is remote, that very isolation only adds to the impact of the park and cemetery. Those who wish to attend would drive down on Sunday morning, and spend midday at the park (plan on a couple of hours.) For the return, for those flying it would be best to fly into and out of Hartsfield, in Atlanta.

Cost: Beyond the fee for Friday’s Bus, there is no cost for tour participation. Meals lodging, transportation, and incidentals, however, are the individual’s responsibility.

Tour Departures: All tours will meet at the Chickamauga Visitor’s Center at the designated start time, and will depart from there after some brief overview discussion. We will board the bus or car caravan to the designated parking area, and from there, we will be on foot. We will be on foot for up to three hours, so dress and prepare accordingly. Tours will depart rain or shine. Participants are responsible for their own transportation, and should plan accordingly. All tours are designed to be self-contained, so participants who cannot attend the full schedule are still welcome to join us for any portion of the weekend.

Lodging and Meals: Everyone is responsible for their own lodging and meals. There are many hotels in the greater Chattanooga area, for any price range. The closest are in Fort Olgethorpe, Georgia, with the least expensive in Ringgold. Each tour is designed to leave at least 90 minutes for lunch, and there are several family and fast food restaurants within minutes of the battlefield. There are designated picnic areas near the Visitor’s Center, for those who wish to bring a lunch and eat on the field.

What to bring: Each tour will involve extensive walking. Proper clothing and especially footgear is essential. Dress in layers, wear sturdy, broken-in walking shoes or boots, and be prepared for some rain, as spring can be quite wet in North Georgia. We will be walking on dirt and gravel trails, uncut fields, and through stretches of woods. The ground will be wet and muddy in places. Bring your own water and snacks.

Reading up on the subject: Many people like to prepare in advance for these kinds of events. I suggest the following works might be of help.

Cozzens, Peter. This Terrible Sound. University of Illinois, 1992. The best modern study of the battle.

Powell, David with Cartography by Dave Friedrichs, The Maps Of Chickamauga. Savas-Beatie, 2009.

Powell, David. Failure In The Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign. Savas-Beatie, 2010.

Woodworth, Stephen E. Six Armies In Tennessee: The Chickamauga And Chattanooga Campaigns. Lincoln, Nebraska. University of Nebraska Press, 1998. An excellent overview campaign study.

——————-, A Deep Steady Thunder: The Battle Of Chickamauga. Abilene, Texas. McWhiney Foundation Press, 1998. Concise but very useful account of the battle, designed as an introduction to the action. 100 pages, very readable.

Note: Friday’s Tours will be by Bus, as we move from site to site. While the tour itself is free, we do have to pay for the bus.

Pre-registration Fee: $35 Due by February 1st, 2011

Send to:




Frank will hold your payments. If you pay by check, note that Frank will not cash those checks until we have sufficient entries, so that if we have to refund, Frank will simply send your checks back to you.

Please also note that this fee is NON-REFUNDABLE after February 1st, 2011. Once we are committed to the bus, we will be charged the booking fee.

If you wish to attend the Sunday trip to Andersonville, please inform Frank at this time.

On-site Sign up Fee: $40

We MUST have 20 attendees registered and Paid by Feb 1st, or we cannot reserve the bus. Once we confirm the minimum, you will be able to join the tour the day we depart, for late add-ons. If we do not meet the minimum, we will car-caravan for Friday’s tours.

Final note: Last year we raised a sizable amount of money over and above the cost of the bus, and were able to contribute a number of new titles to the CCNMP research library, mostly regimental histories of recent vintage. The park currently does not have operating funds allocated for these kinds of acquisitions, and depends entirely on donations to fund library additions. I feel that this is an ideal use for any excess funds we raise, in keeping with the “study group” mission.

Failure in the Saddle Book Trailer

1 12 2010

Here’s a trailer for friend Dave Powell’s upcoming Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign (see his interview with Bull Runnings here).

Seminar in the Woods 2011

13 11 2010

Dave Powell has announced the schedule for the next Seminar in the Woods at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park.

On Friday (March) 11 the group will travel by bus to McLemore’s Cove to spend the whole day looking at the action – and inaction – there.  Saturday will be a car-caravan first to the Viniard Farm and then to Mendenhall’s artillery line.

NPS Historian Jim Ogden and Dave are the guides.  Other than the cost of the bus on Friday, there is no charge for the tour.  Meals and lodging are on your own.

Interview: David Powell, “Failure in the Saddle”

26 10 2010

Dave Powell has been an acquaintance of mine for seven or eight years.  I’ve had the pleasure to stomp the ground at Chickamauga, the Shenandoah Valley, and Shiloh with him and have enjoyed his company and expertise immensely.  He’s what I call a “good guy”.  He leads annual battle walks for the Chickamauga Study Group in conjunction with the NPS; hosts Chickamauga Blog; has authored numerous magazine articles on Gettysburg and Chickamauga; has designed award-winning board war games; and recently published The Maps of Chickamauga with Savas Beatie.  His next book, Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign, is set for release on October 30, 2010.  Dave took some time out from his very busy schedule to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Dave, can you provide a little background for the readers out there?

DP:  I run a courier company in the Chicago area, a family business with 30 or so employees. Outside of work, however, my main interest is military history – all kinds, but with a primary focus on the American Civil War. That interest was reinforced by attending that most Civil War of places, the Virginia Military Institute, from where I graduated with a BA in History in 1983. I have been a re-enactor, have designed more than a dozen boardgames on Civil War Battles, and read extensively on the subject. In addition to our Civil War, I am also interested in European Military history, including the 19th Century, WWI, and WWII. I have published articles in Gettysburg Magazine, North & South, and last year Savas Beatie published my first book, The Maps Of Chickamauga.

BR:  You’re widely regarded as an expert on Chickamauga – what made you decide to make it a focus of your studies?

DP:  I started on a familiar trajectory in civil war studies – the eastern theater, especially Antietam and Gettysburg. In fact, for ten years or so, I attended (and sometimes led) annual tours and battle walks at Gettysburg. I started to write on the subject, but I soon realized that everyone else wanted to study and write about Gettysburg as well. In short, it was a crowded field, and I didn’t have much new to say on it. At the same time, I did a game on Chickamauga and noticed that almost no one was writing or studying that battle.

At first I explored the limited secondary literature on Chickamauga, but since there is so little of it, I soon worked through it all. I began to collect primary source accounts of the battle, especially unpublished material, and was soon making frequent research trips to various archives. Dr. William Glenn Robertson allowed me to tag along on one of his staff rides, and later opened his archival holdings for me; while James Ogden, the Historian at Chickamuaga-Chattanooga National Military Park allowed me equally free access to their holdings.

Within a few years, I had amassed a huge number of items. I had some 2000 different primary source accounts, both published and unpublished, with few of them getting much use. I wanted to put them to use, give them life again, as it were.

BR:  The story of the performances of Forrest and Wheeler during the Chickamauga campaign is the subject of your new book, Failure in the Saddle.  How did this study come about?

DP:  Failure in the Saddle was really the first book I wrote, but not the first to be published. Cavalry historians have in recent years made a mark on the Civil War literary community, and I quickly saw how important the cavalry was to the success or failure of the Chickamauga campaign. As I worked on the maps project, I returned periodically to the cavalry project, adding new material or revising passages as needed. The pause improved the final product and helped me hone my focus on how to tell a difficult story.

BR:  I agree with W. W. Averell (a First Bull Run vet you quote in the book) when he describes the principal roles of cavalry as scouting and screening, and I guess that’s why I’ve never been enamored of the popular image of “raiders” as successful cavalry commanders.  Can you give us a brief explanation of how the failures of the Wizard and the War Child in these critical areas impacted the performance of the AoT in August and September, 1863 and beyond.

DP:  Even during the war, spectacular raids grabbed the headlines and made stars out of successful raiders. This attention turned even the heads of many seasoned cavalrymen, but in reality few raids ever achieved significant results, more often they were more stunt than military strategy. The day-to-day work of scouting and screening, on the other hand, had a direct impact on many of the war’s battles, and cavalry operations should be viewed in that light. We tend to view commanders as either “winners” or “losers” often without understanding how information flow effected the decisions – good and bad – that determined outcomes.

Unfortunately for the Confederacy, and for Braxton Bragg, his two principal cavalry commanders during the Chickamauga Campaign failed to deliver critical information in a timely manner. Quite often, the information they provided was either wrong or fatally out of date. The poor quality of this information flow directly affected the quality of the decisions being made at headquarters. Bragg has received the lions’ share of the criticism, but some of that scrutiny really belongs at the level of his cavalry commanders.

BR:  Given the traditionally positive light in which Forrest in particular has been viewed, what has been the early reaction to Failure in the Saddle?  If it’s too soon to tell, from where do you anticipate incoming fire?  Does Wheeler have similarly rabid supporters of his military record?

DP:  So far, reaction has been positive, though I do expect that I will see complaints, especially from fans of Forrest. I think I strike a balanced view of the man, and I would like to point out that this period of the war saw Forrest rise very quickly from commanding a brigade of partisan raiders to corps command with conventional cavalry missions, something he had little previous experience in. It is not surprising that he or any general might need to gain experience in a new role.

Wheeler, with both conventional training and corps experience under his belt, has less excuse, but he also has fewer partisans – certainly nothing like the cadre of Forrest fans out there. I suspect any comment that comes my way will not be because I take Wheeler to task, though he receives the harshest assessment in Failure in the Saddle.

BR:  Do you see in Failure in the Saddle an opportunity for Chickamauga micro-studies, similar to what we’ve seen over the years with Gettysburg?

DP:  I certainly hope so. Steven Woodworth has just published an essay collection on Chickamauga, available through Southern Illinois Press, (I have a piece on Union Major General Negley) which explores aspects of the battle from several perspectives, and I know of another collection intended for publication in 2012. There’s another guy working on a history and tour of Snodgrass Hill/Horseshoe Ridge. The recent publication of the five-part series in Blue & Gray Magazine by Dr. Robertson only whets our appetite for a more complete study by him, and of course, I have other projects in mind.

BR:  What’s next?

DP:  I am working on four projects, with others waiting in the wings. First, I am doing a Maps of Chattanooga book, the natural follow-on to the first title that explores the October and November battles in similar detail. We hope to include Knoxville in that one, as well. Then, in lesser stages of completion, I want to do a book on Tullahoma, one of New Market (my VMI connection kicking in) and something on Tupelo, in 1864. Tullahoma and Tupelo have an obvious cavalry connection. The Tupelo work is part of a joint project with Eric Wittenberg to examine Nathan Bedford Forrest in more detail – Eric wants to look at Brice’s Crossroads, while I tackle the Tupelo battle a month later.

And of course, I cannot leave Chickamauga alone. I have been working on a very large study of the battle, not a map book but a fully detailed battle narrative. It has been nearly 20 years since a full-length study of the battle was published. I hope to present that work in two volumes, focusing on September 19th and 20th respectively, and use as many primary sources as I can. I have nearly 50% of that project done now, but no contract as of yet nor any projected completion date. It will take some time to finish, which is why I don’t count it as an “active” project listed above. It’s the labor of love I return to when I can.

Failure in the Saddle is set for publication this coming Saturday.  I’m really looking forward to the ensuing debates!