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.