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Thursday, July 30, 2015

There is a good review of The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864 that can be viewed by clicking on the following link:  Civil War News Review

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Signing October 1, 2015

I'll be signing copies of The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864 at the Abraham Lincoln Bookstore, 357 W. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60654 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 1, 2015. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I'll be signing copies of The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864 at the table of the Salt Creek Civil War Round Table from about noon to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 25, 2015, at Four Seasons Park, 16th & Main Street, Lombard, Illinois. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Review: The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864

           Sean Michael Chick has stood upon Thomas J. Howe’s shoulders and written a new history of the initial Union assaults on Petersburg.  In The Battle of Petersburg; June 15-18, 1864, Chick has written more of a page-turner than Howe’s Wasted Valor.  Chick delights in his subject and the Cockade City.

            After a lengthy introduction insightful into the characters of Grant and Lee, Chick recounts Grant’s crossing of the James and initial offensive against Petersburg more vividly than Howe.  Like Howe, Chick mentions in passing the Federal errors that permitted the outmaneuvered, heavily outnumbered Confederates to work a minor miracle and defend the Cockade City successfully.  Given that Chick mentions Albert D. Castel (Decision in the West) at the beginning of the book, I was surprised that Chick did not make explicit the possibility of an altogether different approach to Petersburg—a flanking approach a la Sherman rather than a head-butting approach a la Meade (yes, Meade, not Grant).  Chick leaves this flanking idea implicit in his passing criticisms of Smith for shortening his line on the evening of June 15, of Meade for failing to employ Kautz’s cavalry division for reconnaissance after June 15, and of Meade and Warren for failing to support Burnside on June 17.

            Unlike Howe, Chick analyzes only in passing the causes of the Unionist defeat.  Howe, at least, spent a few pages at the end of his book demolishing the theory of the Cold Harbor Syndrome—the idea that the Federal soldiers could not face the prospect of attacking fortifications after the horrific losses of the Overland Campaign.  Instead, Chick spends sixty pages on a comparatively uninspired history of the Civil War after the failure of Grant’s First Offensive at Petersburg.  Only then does Chick get back on track, and it is to explain why this dramatic battle has drawn so little attention over the years—Grant and Lee were at their “absolute worst” and the battle did not provide grist for the mills of any of the partisans of the postwar mythologies of the Lost Cause or the Just Cause.

            Chick must find a friend who will read his next manuscript carefully.  Misspelled words, misused words, and redundancies appeared too frequently.  For example, “hurtled” is used when “hurled” is meant, and “artillery guns” is redundant.  His friend should have editorial talent as well, because this book rambled on at least twenty percent too long.  There should also be footnotes for every quotation and all statistics. 

            At the heart of this tome, though, remains a riveting story, compellingly told and brimming with new insights.  It also has enough maps to help the reader understand the actions described.  I look forward to reading Chick’s next book.  All students of the siege of Petersburg ought to read this volume.  It certainly added to my knowledge of the subject.

John Horn
Author, The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August
_____, The Petersburg Campaign

Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Review: "The Petersburg Campaign: Wasted Valor, June 15-18, 1864"

[As I prepare to rewrite The Petersburg Campaign, I will review the books I must read or re-read to do the job right.]

Thomas J. Howe’s Petersburg Campaign: Wasted Valor, June 15-18, 1864 invites comparison with its subject, Grant’s crossing of James River and his initial assaults on Petersburg.  Comparison favors the book.

                Howe succinctly deals with the Overland Campaign of 1864, its climax at Cold Harbor and the crossing of James River. This lays the foundation for what comes next, a detailed description of the initial assaults on Petersburg by Grant’s army group.  Howe gives us a helping of the facts complete enough for us to draw our own conclusions about why the Cockade City eluded Grant’s grasp.  In passing, Howe touches upon many of the reasons for the failure of Grant’s initial assaults—Baldy Smith’s delays in attacking the nearly undefended city, the failure to feed Winfield Scott Hancock’s corps or inform Hancock in a timely way of his role, the failure of most of Hancock’s corps to advance early on June 16, Butler’s failure to exploit the abandonment of the Howlett Line on Bermuda Hundred, the failure of IX and XVIII to provide substantial support for Hancock’s evening assault, a staff officer’s success in persuading Grant to bring in V Corps on the line of the Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad rather than on the Jerusalem Plank Road as Grant initially intended, the dispersal of VI Corps and failure to employ its troops except to support Butler, the failure to use Kautz’s cavalry division to reconnoiter, and the piecemeal attacks of IX Corps and the failure of V Corps to support the successes of IX Corps on June 17.  Howe also gives credit to Beauregard for his brilliant defense of the city, particularly the decision to abandon the Howlett Line and focus on the defense of Petersburg.  By June 18, as the Army of Northern Virginia began to arrive, all realistic hope of success had vanished but the Federals kept up their assaults until near evening some members of Hancock’s corps refused to advance.
                The concluding chapter would have done well to discuss in detail the aforesaid problems, but it focuses almost entirely on debunking the “Cold Harbor Syndrome,” which held that the Federals failed at Petersburg because of the distaste for attacking fortifications acquired at Cold Harbor.  In doing so, the book compares favorably with Grant’s initial movement toward the Cockade City, because that movement did not focus at all for several days after the crossing of James River.  The principle reason for the failure of the Federals to capture Petersburg lay in that the crossing of James River exhausted Grant and his staff.  They devoted almost no planning at all to what would happen after the crossing.  They seemed to have expected Baldy Smith and his corps just to walk into Petersburg.  Everything else represented one improvisation or another.  The orders sending Hancock to the Cockade City appear an afterthought, for example, as do Grant’s orders putting Meade in charge of the assaults on the city on the afternoon of June 16, after the best chance for success had passed.  The book devotes little attention to the Federal failure to outflank the heavily outnumbered Confederates instead of launching an almost interminable series of frontal assaults. 
                Thirteen maps help the reader understand the action.  The book contains numerous illustrations.  Despite the limits of Howe’s concluding chapter, he does effectively demolish the “Cold Harbor Syndrome” and gives the valor of the attacking, as well as defending, troops their due.  Likewise, it gives the reader the facts necessary to form his own conclusions.  The book forms part of the Cockade City Canon.  Howe furnishes solid shoulders for others to stand upon.