Monday, November 29, 2010

Chickamauga Campaign - full review

The Chickamauga Campaign. Edited by Steven E. Woodworth. Maps, bibliography, index, 199 pp., 2010, Southern Illinois University Press,, $24.95, cloth.

Western theater battles often lack the coverage that Eastern theater battles do. This discrepancy will never be erased but lately there has been a surge of Western Theater material. Partially trying to fill this void is the Civil War Campaigns in Heartland series from Southern Illinois University Press. The second volume, covering the Chickamauga campaign, follows on the heels of the wonderful Shiloh volume published last year.

Editor Steven E. Woodworth has assembled eight essays that explore some aspects of the campaign and provoke some critical thinking. The collection of essays focuses more on the Confederate side than the Union side. There are essays on D. H. Hill, Alexander Stewart, James Longstreet, Patrick Cleburne’s night assault, James Negley’s actions on Horseshoe Ridge, the performances of Thomas Crittenden and Alexander McCook, the near battle of McLemore’s Cove and Henry Van Ness Boynton’s shaping of Chickamauga as a national park. Although the collection focuses more on the Confederates it is not a distracting decision especially since the essay on Crittenden and McCook is nearly three times the length of the other essays, so the page count is probably pretty closely divided.

All the essays were good, there did not seem to be a weak one in the collection. There was one conclusion that stuck out as odd and it appeared in two essays. In the DH Hill and Cleburne assault essays the authors were not critical of Bragg restructuring his command in the middle of the battle. Alexander Mendoza said that it was “correct procedure, given Longstreet’s rank and prestige” and John R. Lundberg said “in view of the circumstances, it seems that Bragg made the best possible decision.” Interestingly William G. Robertson’s essay on Longstreet did not comment on if Bragg was right or wrong to restructure his command in the middle of the battle. Since the restructuring had an influence on how the second day of battle was fought it definitely is a topic for discussion and given how much confusion it created it seems odd that no one was critical of the decision.

The two essays on Longstreet and Crittenden and McCook challenge our interpretations of their performances in the battle and campaign. Crittenden comes off better than the historiography has and Longstreet’s reputation suffers a little here.

There are four maps at the front of the book. Although it is nice to have maps these are not the best maps as all troop locations are shown as a horizontal box. On a theater map this is fine but on a battlefield map this makes it appear as if all troops were facing north or south. Some maps from contributor David Powell’s recent “Maps of Chickamauga” would have been better.

The problems with the maps though are easily overlooked though because of what a wonderful collection of essays this is. With two volumes in the Campaigns in Heartland series completed this series is now established as one to pay attention to for all future installments.

Contributors were John R. Lundberg, Alexander Mendoza, David Powell, Ethan S. Rafuse, William G. Robertson, Timothy B. Smith, Lee White, and Steven E. Woodworth.

Review by Nicholas Kurtz

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