Thursday, September 21, 2006

Collins: "General William Averell's Salem Raid"

General William Averell's Salem Raid: Breaking the Knoxville Supply Line by Darrell L. Collins (Burd Street Press, 1999. 10 maps, drawings, photos, notes, OB, appendices. pp. 174. $24.95)

Travelling over 200 miles in horrible winter conditions, W.W. Averell's December 1863 raid on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad was a trying ordeal to put it mildly. The Union cavalrymen were able to cross the mountains from West Virginia into SW Virginia, break the railroad, and return home with light losses. With little help from fellow Union officers but a great deal of help from the decisionmaking of Jubal Early and William L. Jackson, Averell's leadership on this raid belied his cautious reputation and contributed greatly to the Union force's overall success. As always with war, it helped to very lucky, too!

Author Darrell Collins writes clearly and very well. His view of the raid's effectiveness is balanced and he does not succumb to the hyperbole we so commonly find in the cavalry raid genre of Civil War literature. While losses in horseflesh were steep and many men suffered frostbite related amputation of limbs and digits, Collins believes the raid was worth the cost and effort. The break in the Confederate railroad supply line was repaired rather quickly, but the raid's results nevertheless forced supply shortages upon Longstreet's men in the mountains to the west. Interestingly, the author also makes the point that the arduous pursuit ended up significantly hampering the fighting ability of several ANV cavalry brigades for the upcoming campaign season.

Beyond good writing, Collins also helps his cause by providing numerous chronological position maps at almost daily intervals, depicting the location of the raiding force along with its Union support columns and Confederate pursuers. Photos and a detailed order-of-battle (including some unit strengths) are other welcome features. A nice book.

4 comments:

  1. Drew,

    Interesting you should read this one now. I was looking at my copy the other day and almost picked it to read next. Your review makes me think I'll probably head back to it sooner rather than later.

    Brett S.

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  2. Brett,
    It's definitely one of the best organized and written cavalry raid books I've come across. The only thing that detracted from the experience were the cigar smoke soaked pages--something the online seller neglected to mention of course! thanks for writing.

    Drew

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  3. Drew, I guess if it was a good cigar it might make the reading a little less onerous. I'm glad you reviewed this book as I had not seen it before. I will have to get it because it ties in with BG Edward Thomas' Georgia Brigade and BG Henry H. Walker's Virginia Brigade being detached from the ANV in winter quarters around Orange Court House. On December 15, 1863 these two brigades boarded trains for a cold trip to the Shenandoah Valley to chase Averell's troopers. They failed to find him because of the poor Confederate intelligence gathering plus the rapid movement of Averell's force. Thomas' men would remain in the Valley chasing various Union units for the next 3 months. This little known winter campaign culminated in the attack against Union Fort Mulligan at Petersburg, West Virginia. The weather was brutal during the winter of 1863-1864 and the men from both sides suffered terribly. The September 2006 issue of "America's Civil War" magazine has an article titled "Between Two Valleys" that I wrote covering this operation. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention.
    John Fox

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  4. John,
    Who knows, maybe Averell was a heavy cigar smoker and it was a special olfactory edition.

    Actually, the Fort Mulligan part of your book was probably my favorite section. It intersected with my geographical area of interest and was something I didn't know anything about...nice photo(s) of a very well preserved fortification, too!

    Drew

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