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Friday, March 24, 2017

Thanks, Greater Orlando Civil War Round Table!

Thanks, Greater Orlando Civil War Round Table, for the pleasant reception you gave my wife and me Thursday night, March 23.  My talk was on the 12th Virginia Infantry, the Petersburg Regiment, on August 19, 1864, during the battle of Globe Tavern.  Mahone's brigade, of which the 12th was a part, squared off against White's (formerly Ledlie's) division of IX Corps in a very intense fight east of the main struggle.

We had arrived the day before at Winter Park, just north of Orlando, after stays at Jekyll and Little St. Simon's Islands.  Winter Park is a very pleasant town that has a museum which includes the largest existing collection of the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, who made the stained glass windows that commemorate the Confederate dead in Petersburg's Blandford Church--the brick church on Crater Road (formerly Jerusalem Plank Road).  One of my wife's ancestors contested title to some of the church's property prior to the Revolutionary War, but lost.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part V: Grant's Third Offensive at Petersburg

There are four main books on The Crater, the culmination of Grant’s third offensive at Petersburg.  They all cover, in varying degrees of detail, Hancock’s thrust north of James River to threaten Richmond and draw Confederates away from the Cockade City, maximizing the chances for success when the mine was exploded.

The first is “The Horrid Pit,” by Michael Kavanaugh and William Marvel.  This book was written before the internet brought so many original and published regimental sources so accessible but it is still an excellent introduction to the subject.

I thought Richard Slotkin’s “No Quarter” was particularly disappointing for its many errors, given that it came from a major publishing house.  It brings little to the party.

John Schmutz’ “The Battle of the Crater” brings to light some new unpublished material, but it still needs significant editing.

If I were limited to reading one book about The Crater, it would be Earl Hess’ “Into the Crater,” which has particularly good maps and brings new unpublished material to light. 

There is still plenty of unpublished material on The Crater that has not been integrated into a major book on the subject.  A systematic search of newspapers probably would bring more to light.  A definitive book on this terrible struggle has therefore not yet been written.

My take on The Crater is that the layout of the June 18 Confederate line affected the battle significantly.  Meade was right that Pegram’s Salient was a poor location for the mine because the salient stood between two higher points.  Grant appears to have failed to convey to Burnside the experience gained from mines exploded at Vicksburg.  Meade’s interference with Burnside’s plan and Grant’s support of Meade after letting Burnside go so far violated fundamental principles of management.

Next—beyond the Crater.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part IV: Grant's Second Offensive at Petersburg

Grant's second offensive, which involved the most ambitious movement of the entire siege, lacks its own book.  Despite that, two books cover actions that form part of Grant's second offensive.  I found them compelling enough that I set out to write a book on the same scale.

The books I speak of are Dr. David F. Cross' A Melancholy Affair at the Weldon Railroad: The Vermont Brigade, June 23, 2864 (Shippensburg, Pa.: White Mane Publishing Co., Inc., 2003), and Capt. Greg Eanes' 'Destroy The Junction,' The Wilson-Kautz Raid & The Battle for the Staunton River Bridge:  June 21, 1864 to July 1, 1864 (Lynchburg, Va.:  H. E. Howard, Inc., 1999.    

Dr. Cross' book adopts the strategy of focusing very narrowly to master the material.  I think it succeeds.  The book focuses on the ordeal of the Vermont Brigade of VI Corps on June 23, 1864, and thereafter in Southern prison camps.  I find the book, its sources and its maps very helpful.  

Captain Eanes' book reads as an eyewitness history.  It seems repetitive at times but grows on you.  The maps could be better, but the sources are most helpful.  Eanes corrects the story that the Wilson-Kautz interrupted rail traffic to Richmond for months; instead, trains to the Confederate capital resumed within about three weeks.  

Two or three books on a similar scale remain to be written.  The first one or two would be on the fighting west of the Jerusalem Plank Road on June 21 between II Corps and the Confederate cavalry and on June 22 between II Corps and Mahone's Division.  II Corps performed as poorly as it did in August, which is very poorly indeed.

The other book, if a book indeed is merited rather than just an article, would be on the abortive Confederate attack of June 24, 1864, near where another Confederate attack took place on March 25, 1865.  

The Cross book and the Eanes book were written before internet research sites truly blossomed.  Anyone writing about June 21, June 22 or June 24 should look closely at the many public domain memoirs and unit histories as well as invaluable newspaper sites such as newspapers.com and chroniclingamerica.com.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Petersburg Canon, Part III: Grant's First Offensive at Petersburg

There are two books one must read on Grant's first offensive at Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864.

The first was by Thomas Howe, The Petersburg Campaign:  Wasted Valor, June 15-18, 1864, written in 1988.  It provides a solid introduction to the fight and is particularly focused on debunking the theory that Grant's soldiers were too traumatized by attacking earthworks during the Overland Campaign to assault them at Petersburg.  The maps are good.  There is not as much manuscript or newspaper material as one expects nowadays.

The second book on Grant's first offensive is much more recent, by Sean Chick:  The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864.  In substance, this book represents an advance beyond Wasted Valor.  For one thing, the maps are better.  But in this day of digitalized research, much more could have been done with manuscript and newspaper material.

There is room for another book on Grant's first offensive that utilizes digitalized research better.  Many, many regimental histories, personal memoirs and letter collections are available online now.  Newspapers galore are available at chroniclingamerica.com (the Library of Congress newspaper archive) and newspapers.com.

Likewise, there is room for another book on the Bermuda Hundred Campaign because both Roberson's Back Door to Richmond and Schiller's Bermuda Hundred Campaign were written before the digitalization of so many sources eased the scholar's burden.