Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Petersburg Campaign: Volume 1 by Edwin C. Bearss

The Petersburg Campaign: Volume 1: The Eastern Front Battles June-August 1864. By Edwin C. Bearss with Bryce A. Suderow. Photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 456 pp., 2012, Savas Beatie,, $34.95.

            As the title suggests this book covers the early fighting around Petersburg.  Specifically the battles covered are the first two assaults on Petersburg in min-June, the battle of the Jerusalem Plank Road near the end of June, then The Crater a month later, followed in mid-August by the battle of Weldon Railroad and the second battle of Ream’s Station.  As is pointed out in the text although it is commonly referred to as the siege of Petersburg the city was never isolated like a typical siege does, so calling it the Petersburg Campaign is more accurate.

            As explained in the introduction the bulk of the book was completed by Edwin Bearss when he worked on troop movement maps for Petersburg  in the 1960s.  With few exceptions these stayed in-park manuscripts seen by mainly park personnel and researchers.  Decades later Bryce Suderow came across the unpublished manuscripts in the park’s archives and contacted Bearss about having them published.  Suderow then updated and edited Bearss’ manuscripts and in the process created a two volume set on the Petersburg campaign.  It is unclear how much Suderow edited but he begins each chapter with a short introduction.

            As anyone who has had any experience with Bearss, through his tours, appearances on historical television shows or his many books, knows the man is a font of knowledge.  It is not surprising then that this volume offers a ton of information and will be heavily referenced by Petersburg historians.  In fact serious Petersburg historians have already been referencing this information in its original unpublished manuscript form, now a much wider audience of scholars with an interest on Petersburg have access to this wonderful collection.

            My only complaint is that since the book had its genesis in troop movement maps made for the park service in the 1960s it would have been nice to have some of those maps printed here, or provide the collection on a CD-ROM.  There are some very nice maps in the book so that tempers that disappointment significantly, however it still would have been nice to have those original troop movements maps to refer to as well.

            I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in the Petersburg campaign.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Maps of Antietam by Bradley M. Gottfried

The Maps of Antietam: An Atlas of the Antietam (Sharpsburg) Campaign, Including the Battle of South Mountain, September 2-20, 1862. By Bradley M. Gottfried. Maps, notes, bibliography, index, 360 pp., 2012, Savas Beatie,, $39.95.

            Civil War readers tend to like maps.  We usually complain we cannot get enough of them.  This is not the case with Maps of Antietam, the newest release in Savas Beatie’s "Maps of ... "series.  Bradley Gottfried has given us another amazing volume of maps to complement his earlier Eastern Theater contributions, First Bull Run and Gettysburg.  There should be enough maps here to satisfy the most devoted student of the battle.

            The basic concept for each book in the series is that the right page has a full page map depicting a snippet of the battle or campaign while the facing page has text explaining the actions covered on the map.  Like the earlier volumes this book is in a large format (7X10) so the maps are nice and big and there is quite a bit of text accompanying each map.  The text is extensive enough, and footnoted, that one would have a good understanding of the battle if they simply read the text and never referred to the maps, but the incredible maps is what sets this book apart from other battle histories.  Of course one of the benefits of this book is paring it with a more detailed history of the battle so that one always has a great map at hand.

            This particular volume, Maps of Antietam, covers the three weeks of actions after the battle of Ox Hill.  Starting on September 2 1862 the two armies begins preparations for the next campaign, the Confederates deciding on crossing the Potomac while the Union withdraws closer to Washington to lick its wounds.  There is nearly a map per day as the armies begin maneuvering in Maryland.  This is then followed by nearly three dozen maps for the battles on South Mountain.  Then there is 10 maps detailing the capture of Harper’s Ferry before another section leads the armies to Sharpsburg.  The battle itself comprises nearly 60 maps, some of them covering as little as 15 minutes of combat.  Finally there are seven maps covering the forgotten action at Shepherdstown to close out the campaign. 

            Another interesting feature of the book is a short interview with the author.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before and while there is no earth shattering news here it is interesting to get a peek at the historian’s mind.  I also liked that the pages seem thicker than a normal book, if it was weatherproof I’m sure that would be listed prominently so I’m sure this is just to make the book a bit more durable for trips to the battlefield or the constant use it should see as one studies the battle.

            This is truly a must have book for anyone studying the battle of Antietam.  Good maps are always integral to a good book.  While the detailed battle histories often offer up many good maps none of them offer up maps this good and in this quantity.  But this is not simply a collection of maps as Gottfried has also written a good history of the battle himself.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Battle of Pea Ridge by James R. Knight

The Battle of Pea Ridge: The Civil War Fight for the Ozarks. By James R. Knight. Illustrated, photos, maps, notes, appendices, index, 160 pp., 2012, History Press,, $19.99 softcover.

            If one is looking for a good short history of Pea Ridge this is the book to pick.  It is part of History Press’ sesquicentennial series, the goal of which seems to be to offer well written and illustrated short books.  They are very good at what they intend to do.  If instead you desire a detailed history of the battle, this is not for you.

            Knight’s book on Pea Ridge is no different.  It is peppered with great looking maps and plenty of pictures of leaders and modern views of the battlefield.  Even in a short book Knight does a good job of providing the proper background on how the armies got here, gives a good amount of details of the fighting so that it does not seem overly generalized and then finishes up by placing the battle in its context in the war.

            One slight drawback is that there is not a bibliography to easily see how varied the author’s selections were.  But from reading through the end notes one can see that he relied heavily on the Official Records and Shea and Hess’s Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West, admitting in the preface that he used Shea and Hess as the backbone of the book.  In a book with these space constraints it is expected so it is only a minor drawback to an otherwise fine book.

            This is a good little book on Pea Ridge.  It has great maps and is a quick read.  If you’re new to studying Pea Ridge this book would be a great entry point and will certainly inspire you to learn more about this pivotal battle.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Kentucky's Civil War Battlefields by Randy Bishop

Kentucky's Civil War Battlefields: A Guide to Their History and Preservation.  By Randy Bishop.  Photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 400 pp., 2012, Pelican,, $25.

            It is hard to study battles without visiting the battlefields.  For those of us a thousand miles away this means making the most of our infrequent trips to the South and relying on detailed books to fill in the gaps for places we have not yet been.  Randy Bishop has provided an excellent resource in this respect for the main battles of Kentucky. 

            He has examined the thirteen battles that the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission deemed as having some significance to the outcome of the war.  This includes well known battles such as Perryville, Richmond, Mill Springs and Wild Cat Mountain, plus other smaller engagements such as Ivy Mountain, Sacramento and Paducah.  As makes sense when dealing with a border state three-fourths of the book covers actions through the fall of 1862 with the final part being raids by Morgan and Forrrest. 

            The general outline of each chapter is a history of the battle followed by information of what one will see there, a map which typically includes some modern touring information along with the troop movements and some pictures, of both personalities and the battlefield itself.

            I thought the histories of the battles were fairly detailed, some of them require a book of their own to explain the battle but Bishop does an admirable job in the space he has.  My favorite part though was the section in each chapter explaining what one will find there today.  In some cases there is not much to see, such as Ivy Mountain, but in others, like Perryville, there is quite a bit preserved.  One of my favorite ways to study a battle is to visit the site and this book will be extremely helpful in that respect.  Bishop even lists phone numbers of places to visit, though I would personally confirm tour info online before I visited.

            I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Kentucky’s battles, either to learn about them individually or with plans to visit them as well.  It will probably spark an interest to read more on a battle and make a visit there soon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

From Western Deserts to Carolina Swamps edited by John P. Wilson

From Western Deserts to Carolina Swamps: A Civil War Soldier’s Journals and Letters Home. Edited by John P. Wilson. Photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 280 pp., 2012, University of New Mexico,, $?? hardcover.

            When the Civil War began Lewis Roe was serving in the Western territories in the 7th US Infantry.  He eventually found his way to Fort Craig where he offers a great first hand account of the battle of Valverde.  After finishing his service out west he enlisted in the 50th Illinois in February 1864 in time to join it for the Atlanta Campaign, Sherman’s March to the Sea and then through the Carolinas. 

            Editor John Wilson has done a superb job of mixing Roe’s writings with his own and at times adding in Roe’s post war reminisces to the narrative to fill in the gaps between the diaries and letters.  Wilson also adds some brief notes at the end of chapters that come from a soldier who would have experienced something similar to Roe, whether that be someone else from the regiment or corps. 

            The diary entries tend to focus on movements, weather and food, offering a picture of life as a soldier.  When there is a battle or something important to report the letters provide a bit more detail than the diary entries do. 

            There are a ton of books that focus on Sherman’s 1864-5 campaigns, from general histories to soldiers’ reminiscences.  Nothing about Roe’s service in those campaigns will be especially shocking or noteworthy.  It is an interesting diary just that his experiences do not differ greatly from the other diaries already published that cover this campaign.  However one area Roe did see quite unique service was in the Western territories.  One of the best parts of the book are the portions dealing with the battle of Valverde partly because of the clarity of the writing but also because this fills an under reported part of the war. 

            I highly recommend this book because it offers a varied view of the war.  There is something in there to interest a Western theater enthusiast as well as a Western territory enthusiast.  The Western territory writings are not only interesting, but they also help fill a neglected area of Civil War study.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Leaving Home in Dark Blue: Chronicling Ohio's Civil War Experience by Curt Brown

Leaving Home in Dark Blue: Chronicling Ohio's Civil War Experience through Primary Sources & Literature. By Curt Brown. Illustrated, photos, 264 pp., 2012, University of Akron,, $19.95 softcover.

            Leaving Home in Dark Blue is a treasure trove of primary source material.  Curt Brown has compiled roughly 20 different primary sources for each year of the war.  These sources span the breadth of style from artwork, poems, sheet music to narratives and diary entries, of course with the overriding theme that all the events happened to citizens and soldiers from Ohio.  Each source is introduced by a short paragraph from Brown setting the context and reason for its inclusion.  All theaters are covered and people from all walks of life are represented. 

            Battles are discussed but it is far from the focus here, the focus is more on how average people dealt with the war.  Some of the more fascinating articles to me were the ones connected to the home front.  An example is the excerpt “Where O Where is My Joe?” from the story “Ellen,” which was published in Atlantic Monthly during the war.  The editor says the story is based on fact.  In the story Ellen goes into West Virginia looking for her brother Joe, whose regiment is somewhere nearby.  Ellen and Joe are the only ones left in their family.  In her search she is mistaken for a spy, treated roughly and jailed.  She eventually gets out only to find that his regiment is much farther into the state and so no message can reach him.  The narrator says she never found out what happened to Ellen or Joe.  A sad story but one that did happen and was likely repeated in many other situations.  Plus it was interesting to read a fictionalization that average citizens around the country would have read.

            Reminiscences from prisoners also appears quite heavily throughout the book.  One that particularly tugs at the heartstrings is a simple letter from a group of Ohio soldiers in Andersonville to their governor asking him to do something, anything, to help their situation; including the line, “We have stood by the nation in its peril, and now will not our State and government sympathize with its suffering and dying defenders! Will it not lend us a helping hand in our hour of misery and extreme destitution!”  Obviously there was more involved here than the governor could control but he had to feel moved to do something after receiving such a letter from his soldiers, plus knowing even a fraction of the horrors they were suffering in Andersonville.

            I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for anyone who wants to see varied views of the home front and how soldiers dealt with the war away from the battlefield.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tenth Minnesota Volunteers by Michael A. Eggleston

The Tenth Minnesota Volunteers, 1862-1865: A History of Action in the Sioux Uprising and the Civil War, with a Regimental Roster. By Michael A. Eggleston.  Photos, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index, 238 pp., 2012, McFarland,, $40 softcover.

            While there have been a few recent books on the Sioux uprising of 1862 there is still plenty of room for a new effort.  Michael Eggleston has done an admirable job at filling this gap with this book on the 10th Minnesota.  In fact the 10th Minnesota was not fully formed when the uprising began but some of its members would fight with the 5th Minnesota during this time of panic in Minnesota.

            The next summer the 10th Minnesota would be involved in a punitive expedition into the Dakotas to deal with the Sioux.  The numbers of casualties was not too much but it offered the 10th Minnesota its first taste of combat.  Later in the summer they would be sent south to do the job they had volunteered for, fighting Confederates. 

            First they helped defeat Forrest at Tupelo in July 1864, though their part in the battle was small.  Then they next found themselves chasing after Price in Missouri.  They didn’t catch up to him but infantry chasing cavalry never realistically had a chance.  The regiment’s biggest test though was soon approaching as they were transferred back to Tennessee in time for the battle of Nashville.  On the second day they lost 68 killed and wounded out of 301 engaged, including its lieutenant colonel officer wounded and major killed.  But their war was not done as they were again transferred, this time to the Gulf coast to be part of the Mobile campaign.  They were part of the attack on Spanish Fort and arrived at Fort Blakely a little too late to take part in that charge.

            A superb roster of the regiment appears in the appendices.  The appendices also contain a significant amount of extra information on the Sioux uprising.  Included are copies of the treaties that were broken, a history of the trials and subsequent executions as well as Lincoln’s report to Congress on the whole incident.

            While this is not the best book on the Sioux uprising it certainly helps fill in some holes in an area that tends to get forgotten.  The individual battle histories are pretty generalized with not too much detail given so they might only appeal to someone with an interest in the 10th Minnesota.  Overall though I think this is a worthwhile book primarily because of its coverage of the Sioux uprising and subsequent 1863 punitive expedition.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Letters Home to Sarah edited by Kevin Alderson and Patsy Alderson

Letters Home to Sarah: The Civil War Letters of Guy C. Taylor, 36th Wisconsin Volunteers. Edited by Kevin Alderson and Patsy Alderson. Photos, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index, 328 pp., 2012, University of Wisconsin Press,, $26.95 hardcover.

            Like many collections of letters Letters Home to Sarah is light on battlefield narratives but heavy on how soldiers actually lived the war.  The 36th Wisconsin was created in the early spring of 1864 and while the regiment as a whole did see some combat before reaching Petersburg Guy Taylor was not one of them.  It seems that he was sick for much of his early service and spent nearly his first three months in the hospital.  He’d eventually join the ranks but then be assigned to duty with a doctor.

            Since he missed most of the combat his regiment was engaged in his letters instead cover the daily life of a soldier far away from his wife.  They discuss how to run the family farm, what she should tell people who ask why he enlisted, things she should send to him in Virginia and of course the common soldier lament of not receiving enough letters from home.  Because it seemed that they were missing letters from each other they quickly started to number them so each would know when one was missing.  This also was important because Taylor used the mail to send his wife home part of his earnings. 

            An example of how personal life was more important than the war going around him is that on April 12 1865 Taylor writes his wife to let her know about Lee’s surrender and its just quickly mentioned at the beginning of the letter before he talks about how they are being fed and that he has not heard a gun fired since the surrender and thinks he’ll be home by July

            A few days later he related a humorous tale of how he visited a local family and bought one of their chickens.  Some other soldiers arrived expecting to steal the chickens but he liked the old man of the house so he told the soldiers they had to buy the chickens, that he was placed as guard over the house.  So the soldiers paid for the chickens but were not too happy about the situation.  He figured they had stolen enough chickens that they could afford to pay for some now too. 

            Taylor was clearly an intelligent soldier as his letters are quite interesting and lengthy.  The spelling leaves a bit to be desired however it is still possible to understand it.  I would recommend this to anyone interested in a soldier’s life during the Petersburg campaign.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Battle of Carthage by Kenneth Burchett

The Battle of Carthage, Missouri: First Trans-Mississippi Conflict of the Civil War. By Kenneth E. Burchett. Photos, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index, 240 pp., 2013, McFarland,, $35 softcover.

            Kenneth Burchett has done a good job of bringing more attention to one of the war’s first battles, the battle of Carthage.  As a minor battle it may not need many book length treatments but the battle now has its second modern book.  While it does not supplant that book, David Hinze and Karen Farnham's The Battle of Carthage: Border War in Southwest Missouri, July 5, 1861, as the premier book it complements it well and expands our knowledge of the battle a bit more.  Certainly any Western theater student has room for both books on the shelf.

            One way Burchett’s book succeeds is that he focuses on southwestern Missouri rather than give an overall description of the state at the beginning of the war.  Another aspect I found particularly interesting was his description of figuring out how many casualties there were.  There are no muster rolls for the Missouri State Guard troops from this time frame so most reporting of Confederate causalities comes from eyewitness accounts and not hard numbers gained through muster rolls.  He does not give a number he thinks is correct, instead offers up all the conflicting tallies.  He does seem to suggest the figure is around 75 killed and wounded per side, numbers that would be dwarfed by many battles to come.  Carthage’s significance though is in its place in the timeline of war, an early Confederate victory.

            The only problem I had with this book was its lack of maps.  In fact there is only one map, a period piece prepared for General Sweeny’s official report.  It is a very nice map but I personally like many more maps, showing troop movements.  This is a major drawback but it can be overlooked because of the clear writing of the battle.  Do not disregard this book simply for its lack of maps, just be prepared to flip back and forth to the one good map or print your own map off the internet to supplement the book.  Overall I would recommend this book because of what it adds to our understanding of the battle and southwest Missouri at the beginning of the war.  If it had been full of maps it would be a must have.