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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ought Burnside to Have Turned a Blind Eye at the Crater?

Burnside disregarded Meade's instruction to clear obstructions because it might have alerted the Confederates (who were already alerted) to the possibility of a mine.  All these Crater books I have read recently (going on four) are leading me to the conclusion that Burnside ought to have gone the whole nine yards in disobeying orders.  He ought to have disregarded Meade's (and Grant's) orders to put a white division in the lead.  My authority for this idea is no less than Grant, who conceded later that the mine attack on July 30, 1864 would have succeeded had the black division led.  But Burnside was not von Seydlitz, who disobeyed Frederick the Great and told him (after disobeying three orders in the same action), "My head is at Your Majesty's disposal after the battle, but during the battle please permit me to use it in your service."  Nor was Burnside a Nelson, putting his blind eye  to the telescope at the Battle of Copenhagen when an irresolute superior raised the signal flag to withdraw.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Summary of "The Battle of the Crater" by John Schmutz

Even worse than the poor editing, the many factual errors (another one: George Templeton Strong was not a soldier), and the murkily attributed quotations are the maps.  That they do not contain a scale is not too important, because they all cover the same ground and readers can figure out the scale.  The main problem is that the maps do not go into sufficient detail given the size of the pages on which they appear and the number of times they appear, about once a chapter and there are seventeen chapters.  I would like to have seen the cavalier trench and the fields of fire of the various Confederate batteries.

Despite all the problems with this book, it is the most detailed account of the battle of the Crater that I have yet read.  I agree with Mr. Schmutz that Meade, Burnside, Ledlie and (to a lesser extent) Grant were the principal culprits.  Mr. Schmutz makes clear that Burnside would have done well to have obeyed Meade's orders to remove obstructions, including trees--Wright's Battery, so devastating to the Federals, was shielded by the trees Burnside ought to have removed.  The failure to clear the obstructions helped channel the Federal troops into the Crater, leaving them too disorganized to advance.

I am surprised that a book this detailed failed to deal with the experience of mine warfare at Vicksburg that I pointed out more than twenty years ago in The Petersburg Campaign.  Grant knew about the propensity of soldiers to collect in the crater of an exploded mine and I have yet to see any evidence that he communicated his observations to Burnside, as Grant ought to have done.  Likewise, at least part of IX Corps fought at Vicksburg, and I have never seen any evidence that those who observed the results of mine warfare at Vicksburg communicated their observations to the miners and planners at Petersburg.

I also think Mr. Schmutz ought to have given more credit to the Confederates for defeating the Federals.  The Southerners took steps to counter a breach in Pegram's Salient with artillery deployed behind and flanking the Salient.  They dug a cavalier or gorge trench to furnish the Salient's defenders with a fall back position.  For four hours, the survivors of Elliott's Brigade fought magnificently, as did Wise's and McAfee's Brigades, to hold the Federals at bay.  Then many of these extraordinary Secessionist soldiers joined Mahone's troops to administer the coup de grace.  Burnside's troops went up against some very tough troops.

I have one more book on the Crater to read, by Dr. Earl Hess.  Given his extraordinary In the Trenches at Petersburg, my expectations are up.  That is the most memorable book on Petersburg I have read so far on this trip through the Cockade City canon.


Friday, December 18, 2015

"The Battle of the Crater" by John Schmutz--on the home stretch

I have plodded into the home stretch on this book.  Errors and omissions multiply.  The origin of the 29th United States Colored Troops is omitted.  The regiment came from Illinois, where free blacks were prohibited.  Ledlie's fiasco at North Anna occurred before May 26, 1864.  The 6th Wisconsin was in V Corps, not II Corps.  There are more quotations unattributed in the text, very trying when only endnotes are used.  Even with footnotes, this is not a good practice.  There is no scale on the maps, which are too small for much detail, especially when the pages are so big.  I have never seen any contemporary refer to Mahone's Brigade as the "Old Dominion Brigade."  A soldier of the 12th Virginia, the Petersburg Regiment, which belonged to the brigade, once referred to himself and his fellows as "Kid Glove Boys."  Mahone's courier Tom Bernard was not a captain but an enlisted man.  The 14th Virginia was not in Mahone's Brigade.  Preparatory to its charge, Mahone's Brigade countermarched by battalions, not by regiments.  Captain Girardey was on the brigade's left, not its right, when he called for it to charge.  Material that is quoted in one place is again quoted a few pages later on several occasions, and on one page the same quotation is made twice--this book was badly in need of an editor.  Mr. Schmutz would have done better to refer to the Union or Confederate right or left, because his use of just "right" or "left" is confusing.  He gets George Bernard of the 12th Virginia's Company E mixed up with George's half brother Meade, who was serving with the brigade sharpshooter battalion.  The colors of the 87th Pennsylvania were not captured by the 3rd Georgia June 22, 1864, but on the following day.  One of General Sanders' middle names was Caldwell, not Colwell.  Major Haskell is mistakenly referred to as a colonel in one place.  The 12th Virginia did not have eighteen killed and twenty-four wounded or ten percent of those engaged, but twenty-three killed and twenty-three wounded, or more than thirty percent of those engaged.  Mahone's Brigade lost not 267 but 283.

Despite the annoying shortcomings of this book, it makes valuable contributions to an understanding of the unusual, though not unique, Crater battle.  I will go into them when I finish the book, which should be next week.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry

My next book, The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry, will lay to rest the mystery of Anderson's Division, Army of Northern Virginia, on the second and third days at Gettysburg.  The breakdown of Anderson's attack on July 2 and the failure of Anderson's Division to support Pickett's Charge will be explained.  

March 18, Salt Creek Civil War Round Table

I will discuss my latest book at the Salt Creek Civil War Round Table at 7 p.m. on Friday March 18, 2016.  Salt Creek CWRT meets at Fairview Village now called OAK TRACE, 200 Village Drive, 
Downers Grove, IL 60516.  This location is between 63rd Street and 75th Streets on Fairview Avenue. The meeting will take place in the Village Apartments, which is a 5 story building, in the Great Hall.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

I am slogging my way through the third of four books on the Battle of the Crater.  I must read or reread them to prepare to revise The Petersburg Campaign, which I wrote almost twenty-five years ago, when only one of them existed.  Right now I am reading John F. Schmutz's The Battle of the Crater, a Complete History.  I have reached the point where General Meade interferes with General Burnside's plan.

Like Dr. Slotkin, Mr. Schmutz makes a lot of mistakes.  Both published in 2009 and were unaware of one another's work.  Mr. Schmutz misidentifies the Petersburg Riflemen--a company of the Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry--as the Petersburg Rifles.  W. Gordon McCabe did not belong to Johnson's Division--McCabe was an artillerist in a Virginia unit.  General Bragg was not in command in Georgia at the time of the Siege of Petersburg.  The 36th Wisconsin was not in V Corps but in II Corps.  The 1st Maryland Cavalry (dismounted) and the 24th Massachusetts did not belong to II Corps.  Mr. Schmutz's introduction is too long and too detailed.  We do not need to know every counterattack General Lee tried to lead personally during the Overland Campaign.  Mr. Schmutz also likes to quote without identifying the source in the text, only in an endnote.  I will have more to say about this book when I finish, which will be a while.  The type is very small, the pages are very big, and there are about 250 of them to go.

There are still not very many books on the Siege of Petersburg, barely twenty (and I am including two books on the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, a preliminary to the siege).  No book exists on the Second Offensive (June 21-July 1, 1864) though two books exist on parts of that offensive.  No book exists on the Sixth Offensive (December 7-10, 1864).  No book exists on the Seventh Offensive (February 5-7, 1865).  When I wrote The Petersburg Campaign, there were about nine books on the siege, including the two on Bermuda Hundred.