Friday, August 22, 2008

Cozzens: "Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign"

[Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign by Peter Cozzens (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2008). Hardcover, 13 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendix-OB, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 513/621 ISBN: 978-0-8078-3200-4 $35 ]

Students of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign have reaped the benefits of a number of ably researched and meticulously constructed battle studies*, but the overall campaign has not received the same amount and quality of attention. The most comprehensive history to date, Robert Tanner's revised Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862, addressed the campaign from the Confederate perspective, neglecting half the story. Happily, Peter Cozzens's new book Shenandoah 1862 successfully remedies this deficiency in the Valley Campaign literature. His is a balanced, original treatment that also exceeds all other single-volume histories in both breadth of scope and depth of detail.

Cozzens begins his study with a snapshot of the war's overall strategic situation. He also provides a brief summary of the Valley's topography and the social makeup of its populace. What follows is a well executed campaign history narrative in the traditional mold. All significant maneuvers and battles, beginning with the Romney Expedition and ending with the clashes at Cross Keys and Port Republic, are recounted. Both casual readers and demanding specialists will be satisfied with the quality of the battle narratives, which are well written, fully fleshed out accounts that do not fail to keep greater strategic concerns in mind. Conceived from the point of view of both sides, Shenandoah 1862 is by far the most balanced and complete military history of the campaign to date.

In support of the text are thirteen maps of an exceptional nature, ranging from theater-level strategic overviews on down to regimental-scale tactical maps. While drawings depicting operational movements between battles would have been helpful, the battle maps are sufficiently detailed in terms of major terrain features and unit positions.

Cozzens's performance evaluations of the opposing generals are critical but fair, offering conventional assessments of some officers and decidedly unconventional (yet fully supported) views of others. Like Gary Ecelbarger before him, the author accords extensive coverage to the early campaign actions and decisions of Union General Frederick W. Lander, an officer of great promise whose life was tragically cut short by a lingering combat wound. Although defeated at Winchester on May 25, Nathaniel Banks receives high marks for managing his much smaller force on the retreat from Strasburg and also for his saving a mountain of supplies and equipment from capture. Likewise, General John C. Fremont, while a mediocre battlefield commander, was judged to have performed adequately operationally while under tough logistical limitations. On the Confederate side, Stonewall Jackson fulfilled the strategic goals set by his superiors, yet all too limited the scope of his victories with bungled tactical deployments. If not a popular view of this iconic Virginian, this assessment of Jackson's tactical command acumen has certainly become less controversial among historians and other informed students of his campaigns. As a Jackson subordinate, Richard Ewell did all that was asked of him, often under trying circumstances.

For this study, a wide range of primary source materials were consulted, including those from manuscript repositories located across the country. The ratio of primary to secondary sources listed in the bibliography is overwhelmingly weighted toward the former. Analysis is based upon the consideration of primary evidence. My only quibble is with relative brevity of the final chapter that traces the strategic consequences of the campaign. While explicitly condemned, Lincoln's fateful decision to divert massive resources to the Shenandoah rather than reinforcing the Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula is passed over quickly, depriving the book of a critical (in this reviewer's opinion) analytical thrust. Such a discussion might have usefully critiqued the conduct of the 1862 campaign in the context of the changing nature of the war in the east and President Lincoln's capacity as commander-in-chief during the early stages of the conflict.

With Shenandoah 1862, Peter Cozzens has authored yet another masterfully crafted Civil War campaign history. Readers will not find a better researched and more complete treatment of these critical early war events. There exists very little doubt this book will be considered the standard single-volume history of the 1862 Valley Campaign for use by students and professionals alike. Highly recommended.

* - Ecelbarger on Kernstown and Front Royal/Winchester, Armstrong on McDowell, and Krick for the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic.

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In July, I conducted an author Q&A with Mr. Cozzens, touching upon various aspects of the book. Follow the links to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview.
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This also marks the 200th book review posted on CWBA!

2 comments:

  1. I enjoy reading your reviews and I highly anticipated the publication of Cozzens' book. It pains me to take issue with your statement that "in support of the text are thirteen maps of an exceptional nature" (if exceptional is taken as a sign of appreciation). Cozzens is well known for the quality of his maps.

    In this book, however, the maps are few in number and of low quality, e. g. Tanner and Robertson include a Romney map, Cozzens doesn't. Operational maps would not only have been "helpful", good campaign histories demand them. I expected Cozzens to bring his mapping skills to the crude sketches of Tanner. Alas, not only the selection but also the quality of the maps is not up to Cozzens' standard. I wonder what compelled Cozzens to go from his trademark two-page spread maps to low-contrast half-a-page maps. A thorough review should, in my opinion, indicate such a change.

    Just having started reading (up to the Romney chapters), I am not yet in a position to evaluate the claim of offering the a balanced perspective. The first chapters follow the traditional Southern narrative adding but the maverick Lander vignette. As I progress, I will add further comments on the LibraryThing thread.

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  2. I think the misunderstanding derives from the fact that we are not making the same point of comparison. Sure, the Shenandoah maps aren't as detailed as we would desire, but they are exceptional when weighed against the broader, overall state of cartography in the CW military history literature. I appreciate the depth and quality of the maps created for the Univ. of Illinois Press series as much as anyone, but I anticipated that changing publishers and changing publishing realities tend to have an effect on the end product (you can't always go back!). Keep in mind the decision on the number and quality of maps is often not up to the author. Also, the cartographer that Peter collaborated with at Illinois [Cozzens does the oversight not the actual maps, so the 'skills' we both laud are not his own but Jim Bier's -- we need to give credit where it's due] may not have been available today.

    Clearly you believe I wasn't strident enough, but my point about the lack of operational maps was intended to be a significant criticism. The quality of the cartography is a salient point of all my reviews, where relevant, but I try not to be a grumpy bug-bear all the time and other times I resort to the 'damning with faint praise' methodology. I think (hope) most of my regular readers are able to read between the lines on the matter.

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