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Saturday, August 12, 2017

"The Army of the Potomac in the Overland & Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865

I finished reading the above book by Steven E. Sodergren this afternoon.  I generally agree with its thesis, that the Army of the Potomac revived in the trenches outside Petersburg.  The author, however, strikes me as weak on the particulars of the campaign.  That's not surprising, because he has not read the standard works on the August and October fighting, among other books.  He says nothing about the dramatic increase in surrenders by Federal troops in the month of August though no one can argue with his assessment of the reinvigorating effect of Sherman's and Sheridan's victories in September and October.  It would be helpful to know how he explains them.  More importantly, and even though he has read Earl Hess' In the Trenches at Petersburg, he says nothing about Hess' important suggestion that the Unionists at Petersburg dug so much that training suffered.  Finally, he does not seem to understand that desertion alone did not account for all the subtraction's from Lee's army--around seven thousand men were detached in 1865 to help reconstitute the Army of Tennessee wrecked by Hood and Davis.  With those men in Lee's trenches, and with the Western Army in its proper place in front of Sherman, the South might have put to the test Stanley Horn's thesis that the Northern government did not have the funds to wage the war past the summer of 1864.

Sodergren's book raises some interesting questions.  Trench warfare was greeted with horror when it began on the Western Front in 1914, but did it slow down the infliction of casualties as it did for the Army of the Potomac outside Petersburg?  Did the Army of the Potomac play at Petersburg a role similar to the role played by the Roman soldiers who stalemated Hannibal in Italy after Cannae?

Since Sodergren was inspired by Lee's Miserables, reading that will be my next project.