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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ralph Peters to Write a New Novel about Petersburg

I recently read Valley of the Shadow by Ralph Peters.  Valley of the Shadow deals so vividly and perceptively with the Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1864 that I could scarcely set the book down.  It appears that Mr. Peters is currently at work on a novel about combat at Petersburg.  I for one am enthusiastically looking forward to reading this new novel, reportedly entitled The Damned of Petersburg.  If Valley of the Shadow is any indication, Mr. Peters' new novel about Petersburg will be a real page turner.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

More Value for Your History

Recently I've undertaken a study of "The Petersburg Affair" of June 22, 1864, where three brigades of Mahone's division routed three divisions of the Federal II Corps.  What inspired me to begin such a narrow study?  Destroy the Junction by Greg Eanes and A Melancholy Affair on the Weldon Railroad by David Cross, two humble, narrowly focused histories, the Eanes book on the Wilson-Kautz Raid of June 22-July 1, 1864, and the Cross book on the bite taken out of the Vermont Brigade of VI Corps by Mahone's Division on June 23, 1864.  I found both these books delightful and I wanted to emulate them. 
As I studied "The Petersburg Affair," I found many though not all the histories of the units involved on the internet and at great websites such as Brett Schulte's  Dornbusch's fine bibliography of Civil War histories is online at
A wonderful, thought-provoking book is Fox's Numbers and Losses in the American Civil War, also online at;view=1up;seq=20.  This book is a treasure trove of information.  It sets forth the Union formations with the highest numerical and percentage losses in terms of killed and wounded.  The Three Hundred Fighting Regiments of the United States Army are described in this book, the criteria for selection being either 130 killed in action or mortally wounded or more than ten percent killed or dead of wounds.  The forty-five Union infantry regiments with more than 200 killed or mortally wounded also have a chart.
I learned from Fox's book that the Richardson-Hancock-Caldwell-Barlow-Miles division endured more casualties than any other division in the Union army.  Ibid., 115-116.  Eighteen of its twenty-five regiments belonged to Fox’s Three Hundred Fighting Regiments of the United States Army.  Ibid., 122-424.  II Corps, which included that division as well as the former III Corps, had forty-eight of the U. S. Army’s 190 regiments that Fox identified with more than ten percent of their enrollments killed or dead of wounds.  Ibid., 10-14.  II Corps had seventeen of the forty-five regiments Fox identified that had lost 200 or more killed or mortally wounded.  Ibid., 3.  II Corps had nine of the twenty-three Union regiments with the highest percentage killed in action or dead of wounds.  Ibid., 8.  It had among its ninety-two regiments (some consolidated into others) seventy-two of the Three Hundred Fighting Regiments of the United States Army, and that did not include three more transferred or mustered out before the beginning of the Campaign of 1864.  Ibid., 122-424.  This extraordinary corps thus contained at one time a full quarter of the Three Hundred Fighting Regiments of the United States Army in the Civil War.
My increased respect for II Corps in turn magnified my respect for Mahone's Division, which often whipped II Corps during the 1864 and 1865 campaigns (yes, they were two campaigns, not one--but that's another blog post!)  My history of the 12th Virginia Infantry awaits publication at SavasBeatie.  Fox has helped me rate this regiment as a fighting unit.  Given that its own members styled it a "Saratoga trunk regiment" and "Kid Glove Boys" I did not expect much, and indeed its 10.4% casualties exceeded only by a little the "nearly" ten percent casualties suffered by the average Confederate unit according to Fox.  Ibid., 555.  (The average Union regiment lost five percent.  Ibid.)  But if the 12th Virginia had fought for the Union, it would have merited a place in the Three Hundred Fighting Regiments on both criteria, 159 killed or mortally wounded, and more than 10 percent killed or died of wounds.  Ibid., 122. 
The 12th Virginia, also known as the Petersburg Regiment, underwent its baptism of fire against the 5th New Hampshire at Seven Pines on June 1, 1862.  The 5th New Hampshire was the Union infantry regiment that suffered the most in killed and mortally wounded.  In their last battle together, Cumberland Church April 7, 1865, the 5th was trounced and lost its colors. 
I also follow the 39th Illinois the "Yates Phalanx"), which to my surprise also qualified as one of the Three Hundred Fighting Regiments.  (My law office is in Tinley Park, where the 39th's Company G, "The Preacher's Company," enlisted.)  I was surprised because even though the 39th participated in the March 1862 battle of Kernstown, the only battle Stonewall Jackson lost in the Shenandoah, as well as the 1863 Siege of Charleston, South Carolina, the 39th's men did not consider themselves to have been in a real battle until Second Drewry's Bluff on May 16, 1864.  Their moment of glory occurred at Second Deep Bottom, August 16, 1864, where their color bearer Pvt. Henry H. Hardenbergh (a Hoosier) earned a Medal of Honor by, after suffering a shoulder wound, capturing the banner of an Alabama regiment.
A look at Fox's book will give you a sense of the quality of troops you are writing about, as well as instant color.  The 40th New York was the "Mozart Regiment" and contained companies from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the 61st New York was the "Clinton Guard," the 52nd New York the "German Rangers," the 64th New York the "Cattaraugus Regiment," the 86th New York the "Steuben Rangers," the 124th New York the "Orange Blossoms," the 93rd New York the "Morgan Rifles," the Fourth Brigade of the Third Division, the "Escelsior Brigade," the 42nd New York or "Tammany Regiment," the Second Brigade of the Second Division the "Philadelphia Brigade" or "California Brigade," the Second Brigade of the First Division or "Irish Brigade,"  Let's give every great Union and Confederate unit its due--there were more than the Irish Brigade, Iron Brigade, Stonewall Brigade and Light Division.
So go for it!  Give your regiments their due.  Make your history more colorful.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Another Good Review

Today another good review of The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864 appeared, this time in "Beyond the Crater," a terrific Petersburg blog run by Brett Schulte.  To see the review, click here

Friday, August 7, 2015

Review: Back Door to Richmond and The Bermuda Hundred Campaign

            Two good books came out on the Bermuda Hundred Campaign in 1987 and 1988, respectively Dr. William G. Robertson’s Back Door to Richmond and Dr. Herbert Schiller’s The Bermuda Hundred Campaign. 

            Dr. Robertson provides us with a better summary of the political and military considerations that led to the campaign.  (Grant actually wanted to proceed by sea toward the Confederate communications south of Richmond, but Lincoln and Halleck persuaded Grant that it was politically impossible to leave Washington open to attack.)  Neither provides us with perspective on the recklessness that allowed an amateur to command an army (Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler) at the very time when another amateur (Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks) was nearly losing an army on Arkansas’ Red River   One can only marvel, with Bismarck, that there is a special providence that looks out for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.

            Dr. Robertson gives us wonderful maps, maybe the best I have ever seen.  Dr. Schiller’s maps are curious, leaving out troops we know are present to focus on the troops performing the actions under consideration. 

            On the other hand, Dr. Robertson remains on a mainly abstract plain while Dr. Schiller gives us an abundance, perhaps an excess, of detail.  The 39th Illinois (this is why one should know about at least one regiment—the 39th came from my neighborhood) is an example.  In Dr. Robertson’s book, the 39th (the Yates Phalanx, a fighting 300 regiment) pops up unexplained and detached from its brigage—The Western Brigade of Terry’s division—on the left of Butler’s army on May 16, 1864, and the Confederate maul the regiment.  Dr. Schiller explains mainly in a footnote how the 39th (part of the Western Brigade of Terry’s division) got to the Federal left when the rest of its brigade remained in the Bermuda Hundred earthworks.  I think Dr. Schiller ought to have put this into the text, but nonetheless we know how the 39th got to the Federal left on May 16 and Dr. Schiller has provided a better explanation than Dr. Robertson. 

            Dr. Robertson’s text has very few errors.  There is one misspelling, one use of the wrong number in a verb, one excessively Latinate text, and one redundant text.  I think he should have used smaller words.  Dr. Schiller has practically no errors except for a disconcerting habit of writing in one sentence ‘X’s brigade’ and then in the next referring to the brigade as ‘They.’ 

            Substantially, Dr. Roberson believes that there were an outer, intermediate, and inner line of fortifications around Drewry’s Bluff.  Dr. Schiller, who stood on Dr. Robertson’s shoulders, indicates there were only an outer and inner line.  I suspect Dr. Schiller has the better of the argument here.  More importantly, Dr. Roberson takes the wrong position that Butler was not in a bottle tightly corked because he could have exited the Bermuda Hundred position by multiple alternative routes.  .Dr. Schiller explains correctly that for the purposes intended by Grant at the beginning of the campaign—investing Richmond from the south—Butler was indeed in a bottle tightly corked. 

            Another difference: Dr. Robertson explains much better the end of the Bermuda Campaign than does Dr. Schiller, who cuts it too short.  Butler’s raid on Petersburg June 9, 1864, fatally hindered the attack on the Cockade City June 15, 1864.

            The bottom line: we have two fine books about the Bermuda Hundred campaign, and any student of the campaign of 1864 must read both.

John Horn

Author, The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864

_____, The Petersburg Campaign, May 1864-April 1865

Co.ed, Civil War Talks: The Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans