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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Upcoming Books by Gordon Rhea and A. Wilson Greene

Be on the lookout for a book coming out this August from Gordon Rhea on Grant's crossing of James River and the first day of fighting at Petersburg, June 15, 1865.

Early next year we should see the first of a three-volume series on the Siege of Petersburg from A. Wilson Greene.  

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign"

Dr. Dennis A. Rasbach has written a convincing book about the charge of Joshua Chamberlain and his brigade at Petersburg on the afternoon of June 18, 1864.  Dr. Rasbach persuaded Virginia to relocate the marker for the charge about a mile from where Chamberlain thought it occurred to where the historical documents proved it occurred.  Dr. Rasbach writes compellingly.  His research is meticulous.  The maps are excellent.  The proofreading was spectacular--I did not catch a single error.  The most poignant part of the book for me was the last appendix, describing the gruesome nature of the wound Chamberlain suffered.  Though the wound would contribute to his death many years later and would have justified his resignation from the service, Chamberlain nonetheless returned to combat and made it to Appomattox.  What an example this hero set!  We can all look forward to hearing more from Dr. Rasbach.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Petersburg Campaign, Part X.B.2: The Battle of Fort Gregg

John J. Fox's The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg's Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865 may well be the definitive account of one of the fights on Battle Sunday, April 2, 1865, the day the Federals also broke through the Confederate lines southwest of the Cockade City.  At least a whole Northern division spent several hours taking a Southern fort manned by the 12th and 16th Mississippi and fragments of other Secessionist units.  Fox's book gets down among the soldiers and puts you with the Unionists huddling in the cold water at the foot of the fortifications, as well as the Rebels desperately trying to hold the fort.  Fifty-five Confederate corpses remained in the fort when the fighting was finished.  My relative in the 12th Mississippi (Pvt. Thomas Mulkaha, Co. B) claimed to have been wounded at Fort Gregg, but he appears neither among prisoners taken by the Federals nor among the ranks of his unit at Appomattox.  I suspect that he just went to his wife's farm a mile or two to the southwest--he had married a Dinwiddie County girl at Dinwiddie Court House December 29, 1864.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part X.B.1: The Battle of Five Forks

The Edwin C. Bearss/Chris Calkins book on the battle of Five Forks has required revision for some time.  Michael J. McCarthy’s book Confederate Waterloo gives an updated and more accurate picture of the fight without going much beyond the overview provided by A. Wilson Greene in his Breaking the Back of the Rebellion.  The reason is that McCarthy is more interested in exploring the subsequent struggle of Maj. Gen. Gouverneur Kemble Warren to demonstrate the injustice of his relief at the hands of Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridan immediately after Warren won the battle.  The summary of the fighting is good, though I disagree with McCarthy’s figures on Confederate prisoners after having actually counted them—his figures are high, 4,500 as opposed to the 2,500 I counted in The Petersburg Campaign, assisted by the research of Bryce Suderow.  

The main problem with the book is that McCarthy doesn’t know enough about the Siege of Petersburg to put Five Forks in perspective.  He keeps insisting that Five Forks decided the Siege.  It most certainly did not.  The April 2 breakthrough by VI Corps ended the Siege, as A. Wilson Green has observed.  As I’ve pointed out in every book I’ve written on the Siege, page 922 of The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee makes clear that Pickett’s failure on March 31, 1865 to evict Sheridan from Dinwiddie Court House would have been decisive except for the slow response of Lee’s civilian superiors (Secretary of War Breckenridge and President Davis) to Lee’s request to evacuate.  Even on April 2, in the absence of approval from above to evacuate, Lee was marshaling forces to strike Sheridan similar to the way that Lee struck Hancock at Reams Station on August 25, 1864.  Unfortunately for Lee, Grant was not sick again as he was on August 25, 1864, leaving Meade to defend with his extraordinary passivity.  Grant defended by attacking, and ended the Siege.

Likewise, McCarthy doesn't understand the depth of bad blood between Warren and his superiors.  Major General George Gordon Meade does not seem to have forgiven Warren for failing to attack at Mine Run in December 1863, even though Warren was justified in calling off the attack.  Grant and Meade also held against Warren his failure to seize Petersburg in August 1864, even though he cut the Weldon Railroad.

Once we are finished with the actual fighting, McCarthy’s real story begins—how Warren obtained a court of inquiry and how that proceeded.  This part of the book is riveting and it is hard to set down.  Despite the protestations of Generals Grant, Sherman and Sheridan, as well as the Army’s chief lawyer, to the contrary, it appears that the unfortunate Warren established his case beyond a reasonable doubt.  Grant carelessly set up Warren to disappoint Sheridan and then invited Sheridan if disappointed to relieve Warren, with predictable results.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part X.A: Grant's Ninth and Final Offensive

The last of the major works in the Petersburg Canon is a very good one, Wilson Greene's Breaking the Back of the Rebellion.  I agree completely with Greene that the Sixth Corps breakthrough on April 2, 1865, was the decisive battle compelling the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg, not Five Forks on April 1.  I would have liked to see Greene point out that for Lee, the decisive battle was Dinwiddie Court House on March 31, where Pickett failed to evict Sheridan from that critical point.  If you don't think so, take a look at page 922 of The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee.  I've pointed this out in every book I've written on the Siege.  Problem was, Lee had superiors who appear to have dithered or required more convincing, so it took the Sixth Corps breakthrough on April 2 to end the Siege.

I would also have liked to see Greene explore the parallel between August 25, 1864, and April 2, 1865.  On both occasions, the Federals had forces in threatening positions, and Lee was marshaling his forces to attack them (Hancock in 1864 and Sheridan in 1865).  The difference was that Grant was sick in 1864 and well in 1865.  Meade defended passively in 1864 and Hancock was trounced at Second Reams Station.  Grant defended by attacking in 1865 and brought the Siege to an end.

Greene has a big canvas to fill, and provides solid background summary while getting to a more personal level with the Sixth Corps--a clever and economical strategy.  His judgments are sound and he has admirably dealt with the Siege's end.

But the Petersburg Canon is not finished!  My next and I think last entry on this subject will be Part X.B.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Thanks U.S., China, Philippines, Australia, Belgium, Russian, and Turkmenistan!

Thank you all in the U.S, China, the Philippines, Australia, Belgium, Russian, and Turkmenistan for looking at this blog!  People in the U.S. often say others, such as France, should be grateful to us for the aid our country has rendered.  But let's not forget the aid other countries have rendered us.  France helped the U.S. break free of Britain.  Russia supported the U.S. during the Civil War and shed the preponderance of blood in WWII.

But let's face it.  There is no gratitude in international affairs.  Naked self-interest rules.  So expecting gratitude is a waste of time and probably a harmful delusion..

Illustrate as You Go

I got the manuscript of my history of the 12th Virginia Infantry, the Petersburg Regiment, off to SavasBeatie last weekend.  Since then I've been reacquainting myself with what I've written about June 18-22, 1864, at the Cockade City.  I've found that as I reacquaint myself with the material, it's convenient to illustrate the chapters.  Finding Federal illustrations is much easier than finding Confederate illustrations!