Follow by Email

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Atlanta or Petersburg--Which Is the Real Rodney Dangerfield of Civil War Campaigns?

At the beginning of The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864, I called the Petersburg Campaign the Rodney Dangerfield ("I don't get no respect") of Civil War campaigns.  Since then, my search for regimental statistics from the Army of Tennessee (to provide perspective on the Petersburg Regiment, the 12th Virginia Infantry), has taken me west to fights from Belmont and Logan's Crossroads through Nashville and Bentonville.  What I have found suggests to me that Atlanta, not Petersburg, is the real Rodney Dangerfield of Civil War campaigns.

Why do I say that?  The Siege of Petersburg was the longest, bloodiest action of the war.  On the other hand, the siege was indecisive.  The Atlanta Campaign decided the war.  Furthermore, there are probably fewer books on the Atlanta Campaign and its subsidiary fights than on the Siege of Petersburg and the actual battles it comprises.  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

More Helpful Repositories

I have been finding the following repositories particularly responsive and helpful:

Alabama Department of Archives and History.

University of Alabama

Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park

Duke University

Library of Virginia

Rome-Floyd County Public Library

Augusta-Richmond County Public Library

Connecticut Historical Society

United States Army Heritage Educational Center

On the other hand, queries to the following were like stones thrown down bottomless wells:

Auburn University

University of Virginia

Queries to a couple more places were initially responded to well, but I am waiting to see the final results before allocating praise or blame.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


As I gather material, I come across many documents garnered from National Battlefield Parks.  Many are cited to the respective National Battlefield Park.  This is not an appropriate citation.  Most, if not all, these documents, come from other repositories.  They should be cited to the repository as well as to the National Battlefield Park.  Why?  Things get lost at National Battlefield Parks.  (The names are omitted to protect the guilty.)  Recently, I tried to get from a National Battlefield Park a document cited to it and to nowhere else (i.e., where the National Battlefield Park actually got the document from).  The curator could not find the document.  That is going to put the author who cited the document in a very awkward position.  When others try to find the document at the National Battlefield Park in question, and it is unavailable, what are they going to think?  Does the author have a copy of the document?  How is he going to prove that he did not make it all up?  So when you obtain a document from a National Battlefield Park, make sure you know where it originally came from.  It is more important to cite the original repository than the National Battlefield Park.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Petersburg and Atlanta, Castel and McMurry, Part 2

Another difference of opinion I have with Castel and McMurry about the Atlanta Campaign is on the dissatisfaction they feel about General Sherman's performance.  Sherman maneuvered too much for them and assaulted too little.  He ought to have annihilated Johnston's Army of Tennessee as early as the beginning of the campaign, at Dalton.  Both Castel and McMurry are sure that if General Thomas had been in charge instead of Sherman, "almost surely the Union victory would have been easier, quicker, and more complete."  [Castel, Decision in the West, 565]

Maneuver is as legitimate at tactic as assault and if properly done, it is far less costly.  Castel and McMurry would do well to read Hans Delbruck's history of the art of warfare.  The Civil War was not fought in a silo.  Neither the Petersburg Campaign of 1864 nor the Atlanta Campaign were fought in silos.  European soldiers did not infest the staffs of the major American armies for nothing. They wanted to learn from the conflict.

Frederick the Great, toward the end of his life, admitted that he had fought too much and maneuvered too little.  Compare the casualties in 1864 that Grant's army group suffered with the losses Sherman's army group had.  Sherman operated far more economically.  True, Grant faced a tougher opponent.  But Sherman operated much farther from the nearest port than Grant, with a far more vulnerable supply line.

Sherman won the decisive campaign of the war.  He may not have eliminated the Army of Tennessee.  He should at least have eliminated Hardee's Corps at Jonesborough.  But every commander makes mistakes.  Grant made them.  Caesar made them.  Hannibal made them.  Alexander made them.  Sherman did what had to be done--capture Atlanta before the November election.

Castel and McMurry fail to articulate sufficiently why they think Thomas would have done a better job.  Hood's wrecked Army of Tennessee at Nashville was not Johnson's rejuvenated Army of Tennessee at Dalton.

No victorious general need apologize for having had numerical superiority over his foe.  How many generals have failed to win despite numerical superiority?  One need only look at the Civil War for examples.  Little Mac, John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, Fighting Joe Hooker, Benjamin F. Butler,  "Napoleon" P. Banks, and, yes, Ulysses S. Grant, probably a greater general than Sherman, failed where Sherman succeeded.

Take a look at the statue of Sherman in New York City's Grand Army square.  That's how Sherman's countrymen saw him.  Probably his soldiers, too, and such of Grant's as survived the Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg.
They had good reason to see Sherman that way.