Thursday, July 20, 2006

Smith & Sokolosky: "“No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar” Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign: from Fayetteville to Averasboro"

[“No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar” Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign: from Fayetteville to Averasboro by Mark A. Smith and Wade Sokolosky (Ironclad Publishing, 2005). Pp. 236, $19.95, Softcover, photos, drawings, 14 maps, notes, appendices, driving tour. ISBN 0-9773770-6-4]

The recent and near simultaneous release of two books detailing the March 1865 Battle of Bentonville seems to have signaled a renewed scholarly interest in William T. Sherman’s Carolinas campaign. With No Such Army, Mark Smith and Wade Sokolosky admirably fill the historiographical gap immediately preceding Bentonville. This period saw the movement of Sherman’s army into North Carolina, the capture of the great Confederate arsenal at Fayetteville, and the two-day battle of Averasboro. Smith and Sokolosky’s study creates a seamless transition to the work of Mark Bradley, whose two-volume study then guides readers on to Bentonville and finally to the end of the line at Bennett Place.

The heart of No Such Army is a painstakingly researched and skillfully reconstructed battle history of the fighting in the fields, forests, and swamps south of Averasboro, NC. This excellent blow-by-blow account is further augmented by ten tactical maps. The detailed depictions of terrain and troop positions are a helpful guide for the reader, but the fact that the maps are not drawn to scale is a bit disappointing.

Although most battle histories contain some analysis, they all too often lack depth and simply end up restating the obvious. Here, the authors, professional soldiers themselves, offer an exceptionally cogent critical analysis of the campaign and battle based on a framework developed by the U.S. army. While noting its flaws, the authors give Confederate commander William J. Hardee high marks for his battle plan and its execution. His triple-tiered, fortified defense in depth is credited with delaying Sherman’s advance long enough to give Joseph E. Johnston the time to concentrate his army for one last counterstroke at Bentonville. Although Smith and Sokolosky make a strong case, I’m not quite convinced of the overall wisdom of Hardee’s battle plan, which came off far better than he had a right to expect yet still only narrowly avoided complete disaster. On the Federal side, Judson Kilpatrick comes under heavy criticism for his battlefield performance. Reinforcing the conventional view of Sherman’s generalship, the authors praise his operational and logistical performance but find flaws in his battlefield decision-making (but then again most successful Civil War generals weren’t brilliant tacticians). Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine Grant hesitating to attack Hardee’s third line in the waning moments of the battle’s second day.

Like all volumes in Ironclad’s Discovering Civil War America series, a driving tour of the battlefield and surrounding area is included. The text and the tour are thoughtfully supplemented with numerous photos and drawings. Additionally, several appendices are included, covering a wide array of subjects from campaign logistics to field hospitals. No Such Army should be considered the definitive treatment of the subject period and an essential volume for the bookshelf of any reader interested in the 1865 Carolinas Campaign.

(The following review is reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, it originally appeared in vol.9 #3, pg. 86, reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blogger ID not required, but if you choose not to create one please sign your post with your name (no promotional information, please). Otherwise, your comment and/or link may be deleted.