Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sauers: "The Devastating Hand of War"

Richard Sauers' A Succession of Honorable Victories (published by Morningside, and I believe OP) is a wonderful history of the Burnside Expedition and one of my favorite Civil War books. It inspired me to get a hold of a copy of one of his later works titled The Devastating Hand of War: Romney, West Virginia, During the Civil War (Gauley Mount Press, 2000).

At 94 pages of text, the book is a brief overview of the military events surrounding Romney, West(ern) Virginia, a small town located in the valley of the S. branch of Potomac River around 40 miles west-northwest of Winchester. Romney was strategically important as its location near the B&O railroad and Chesapeake & Ohio canal made the town a prime jumping off point for raids upon those important Northern supply and transportation entities. It was fought over and occupied by both sides numerous times.

Guerrilla warfare was also common to the region, and Sauers covers it all, but probably not with the depth desired by the more demanding students of the military aspects of the Civil War. The numerous articles by the Haselbergers (Fritz and Mark) published in the West Virginia History journal cover the various battles, skirmishes, and raids in much more detail and often include some very nice maps [curiously, none of these articles were consulted by Sauers, who did rely heavily in places on other secondary sources like Thomas Rankin's Stonewall Jackson's Romney Campaign, which I haven't read but was reviewed by Brett on his blog]. The maps in Devastating Hand of War allow you to locate various geographic points (and there is a nice sketch of the Romney environs), but many locations described in the text cannot be found on the maps provided and none trace troops movements, so it helps to have other sources handy so it all doesn't become a numbing blur.

A concluding chapter includes a brief assessment of the war's damage to the civilian population, but the study's overwhelming focus is military and it can certainly be recommended on those grounds. It should also be mentioned that all royalties from the sale of the book go to a worthy cause--the Fort Mill Ridge Foundation to preserve the fortifications there and maintain the museum.

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