Blog Archives

The Battle of the Wilderness by Gordon C. Rhea

the-battle-of-the-wilderness-may-5-6-1864-by-gordon-c-rheaIn The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864, Gordon C. Rhea charts the first meeting between Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union General Ulysses S. Grant in the darkened, tangled forest west of Fredericksburg, Virginia, which ended with high casualties on both sides but no clear victor.

Rhea clarifies and explains a battle that even its participants found confusing and hard to comprehend. With its balanced analysis of events and people, command structures and strategies, The Battle of the Wilderness is a thorough and meticulous military history. This is the first of a five volume series on General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign during the American Civil War.

Prior to 1864, the Eastern Theater had mostly been a war of maneuver. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia jockeyed back and forth with the Union Army of the Potomac with little to show for it. In April 1864, both armies sat facing one another across the Rapidan River, almost exactly where they had been one year earlier.

General Ulysses S. Grant was determined to change that, and the Battle of the Wilderness proved it. This chaotic struggle touched off the Overland Campaign, a brutal grind toward the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Rather than retreat to lick its wounds, as Army of the Potomac usually did after a major battle, Grant ordered it around Lee’s flank to the southeast. Finally, President Abraham Lincoln found a General who was not afraid of Robert E. Lee.

Read the rest of this entry

High Tide at the Angle

Gettysburg National Military Park, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 17325. (717) 334-1124.

Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears

In Gettysburg, Stephen W. Sears charts the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 to July 24, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North during the American Civil War. The campaign culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, in which approximately 48,000 Americans became casualties. In the end, nothing was gained except these men added to the casualties rolls.

No two armies could have been more similar and yet more different than the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia. For the first time, the two armies neared manpower parity. While Lee’s army was supremely confident, even contemptuous of its opponents, George G. Meade’s army had no illusions about the coming fight. Its men were eager to prove they could win a victory.

Where Lee’s command was rife with disagreement, miscommunication, apathy, and poor decision making, with some exceptions the leadership of the Army of the Potomac had its finest hour. Sears convincingly demonstrates that the Union army’s leadership simply out classed their counterparts, at least on this battlefield.

Much has been made over the years of Confederate cavalry commander Maj. General J.E.B. Stuart’s absence during the critical days leading up to the battle. Sears in some ways exonerates Stuart. Stuart was following Lee’s orders when he rode around the Union army, capturing supplies and disrupting communications.

“The very concept of Stuart’s expedition was fueled by overconfidence and misjudgment at the highest command level,” he argued. While frustrated with Stuart’s absence, Lee made no effort to rectify the situation until after the battle was underway.

Read the rest of this entry

Faux-Vintage Photos from Gettysburg

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I got creative with these photos from my recent trip to Gettysburg National Military Park, editing them in a vintage style in Adobe Lightroom. I like the way they turned out and feel encouraged to be a little more artistic with the way I edit my photos. What do you think?

Front Royal Courthouse

Warren County Courthouse, Front Royal, Virginia, Warren County, Virginia.

Richmond Redeemed by Richard J. Sommers

richmond-redeemed-the-siege-at-petersburg-by-richard-j-sommersIn Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg, Richard J. Sommers meticulously recounts Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s Fifth Offensive (September 29 – October 2, 1864), primarily the Battles of Chaffin’s Bluff (Fort Harrison) and Poplar Spring Church (Peebles’ Farm), against the Confederate defenses around Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia. Originally published in 1981, the sesquicentennial edition contains new research, new writing, and new thinking with perspectives and insights gathered from the author’s 33 years of teaching at the Army War College and conversations with fellow Civil War scholars and enthusiasts.

The Union attack north of the James River at Chaffin’s Bluff in the fall of 1864 broke through Richmond’s defenses and gave Federals their greatest opportunity to capture the Confederate capital. Meanwhile, fighting outside Petersburg at Poplar Spring Church so threatened Southern supply lines that Confederate General Robert E. Lee considered abandoning his Petersburg rail center six months before actually doing so. Yet hard fighting and skillful generalship saved both cities. Sommers painstakingly reconstructs these events with unrivaled detail.

I wouldn’t recommend trying to read Richmond Redeemed without a general understanding of the Siege of Petersburg or the military situation around Richmond in late 1864. Sommers quickly summarizes these events in the Eastern Theater before diving right into the minutia of Grant’s Fifth Offensive. A reader unfamiliar with Grant’s previous offensives around Petersburg is left scratching his or her head. It is difficult to fully grasp the details of these events without making the larger context perfectly clear. Complicating matters, Sommers switches back and forth between the attack against Richmond and the attacks southwest of Petersburg.

Sommers‘ thesis is that these separate attacks should be considered part of the same offensive, and part of a pattern in which Grant struck simultaneously at Lee’s southwestern supply lines and the defenses around Richmond. In theory, this would force Lee to commit valuable reserves to the defense of one or the other. He could afford to save one, but not both. If Sommers would have divided the attacks into two separate parts, it would have gone a long way toward reducing confusion without taking away from his overall thesis.

Read the rest of this entry

Humphreys’ Vigil

Monument to Brigadier General Andrew A. Humphreys in Fredericksburg National Cemetery, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401.

From Winchester to Cedar Creek by Jeffry D. Wert

from-winchester-to-ceder-creek-the-shenandoah-campaign-of-1864-by-jeffry-d-wertIn From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864, Jeffry D. Wert charts Union General Philip Sheridan’s victory over Confederate General Jubal Early in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the closing months of the American Civil War. Sheridan’s campaign ensured Confederate defeat in Virginia and ultimately contributed to President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. Drawing on manuscript collections and many published sources, Wert offers vivid descriptions of the battles of Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, Tom’s Brook, and Cedar Creek.

First published in 1987, From Winchester to Cedar Creek explores how interplay of the strengths and weaknesses of the Union and Confederate commanders, Sheridan and Early, resulted in victories for Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah. It not only documents and dynamically recounts these events, but it also details the political, strategic, and tactical forces that made the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign so important to the outcome of the Civil War.

As Philip Sheridan’s star rose, Jubal Early’s fell. In June 1864, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sent Early and approximately 15,000 men up the Shenandoah Valley to clear Union troops from the area and menace Washington, D.C., in an effort to repeat Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s successes in 1862. Early, however, was no Jackson. Despite early success, by August he was on the defensive. General Ulysses S. Grant sent his cavalry commander, Philip Sheridan, to command all Union troops in the Valley and destroy Early. This is where From Winchester to Cedar Creek picks up the story.

Philip Sheridan was one of the few cavalry commanders who successfully transitioned to overall command of an army. His unique experience allowed him to better integrate infantry and cavalry. During the Civil War, it was considered suicidal for mounted cavalry to directly engage infantry, but at the Battle of Third Winchester, September 19, 1864, Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt’s cavalry division broke Early’s defensive line with a classic Napoleonic cavalry charge.

Read the rest of this entry