Saturday, August 02, 2008

Smith: "The Stone's River Campaign 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: The Union Army"

[The Stone's River Campaign 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: The Union Army* by Lanny Kelton Smith (Author, 2008). Blue cloth w/ gilt lettering, 46 maps, OB, casualty appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Pages: 723 ISBN: 978-1-56837-407-9 $60]

Normal standards of just what constitutes a "detailed" battle history provide an inadequate frame of reference for assessing Mr. Smith's monumental publishing effort for this battle. I have no reservations whatsoever in declaring that there is nothing like The Stone's River Campaign: 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863 (Vol. 1, The Union Army) in the Civil War literature. Beginning with the Union army's march from Nashville, and ending with the skirmishes fought during the Confederate withdrawal from the battlefield of Stones River, Mr. Smith provides the reader with a regimental scale microtactical history of each clash that took place during his book's twelve days of campaign coverage, from outpost skirmishes and delaying actions to the climactic multi-day battle near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The sole focus of The Stone's River Campaign is on a straightforward rendering of the Federal troop movements resulting from the operational and tactical decision making of Army of the Cumberland commander William S. Rosecrans and his subordinates. As such, critical analysis of events and decisions, along with a broader examination of the salient considerations of war & society, are not part of this study. Loosely similar to D.W. Reed's classic Shiloh study, Smith's narrative is tightly structured by command level and chronology. The operational section of the campaign is divided into day and night headings for each 24-hour period preceding the main battle, which are further broken down into army, corps, division, and brigade subsections. For the portion of the book dedicated to the Battle of Stones River, further subheadings for individual batteries and regiments are added. In describing the combat, particular attention is paid to terrain considerations. It's clear the author is intimately familiar with the ground. The sheer volume of information contained in this volume is astounding. Considering the book's large dimensions and relatively small print size, it's 723 pages are easily comparable to a more typical trim size of twice the length.

Perusing the notes, the reader will see that the O.R. forms the backbone of Smith's narrative. He's also integrated approximately 100 diary and letter collections (mostly gleaned from the battlefield park archives) into his account. Other sources used include newspapers, unit histories, and other published materials. In support of the text are 46 hand drawn maps, mostly regiment and brigade scale tactical renderings of the Stone's River battle. Emphasizing content over artistic style, the cartography is quite good. Nevertheless, a few more maps tracing the army's operational movements in more detail would have been helpful.

Like most self-published efforts, the book could benefit from the oversight of a professional editor, but the information is presented quite well overall, better than many of today's traditionally published works. In terms of material quality, the binding and blue cloth boards are more than sufficient to support the book's great weight; ensuring many years of repeat reading and consultation. Supplementing the main text is a full order of battle for the Union army. While regimental strength numbers for the battle are not included in the appendix, they can be found in the unit subsections in the main text. Casualty tables and an index round out the volume.

The casual reader will likely balk at the magnitude of information provided by Lanny Smith's minute accounting in The Stone's River Campaign. However, all serious students of the battle must find a place for this book in their libraries. Mr. Smith's labor of love, and it must be one, is a unique endeavor, a fitting tribute to those that fought in this terrible battle and a truly invaluable reference for specialists to treasure.

* - a Confederate army volume is to follow, at a currently undetermined date. If you'd like to examine the Union army volume before buying, copies are available (the print run is limited to 330) at the Stones River National Battlefield park bookstore.

3 comments:

  1. Drew,

    I've been meaning to get around to reading Mr. Smith's massive effort. Thanks for the review. I'll have to dive into this one after I finish (ironically enough) D.W. Reed's work on Shiloh and also Eric Wittenberg's new Gettysburg retreat book.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Pat HumphreyOctober 03, 2008

    A great read. At times Mr.Smith brings you down to an individaul Company. I'm reading the book by Regiments. I've created a reading guide from the book's index for the Regiments I'm most interested in. Then I'll go back and reread the entire book. Thank you Mr. Smith.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Having been born in Lebanon, Tennessee, not many miles from the battlefield and having been to Stones River countless times, I find Mr. Smith's book a very valuable addition to my Civil War book collection. I'm no formal reviewer but I must say I have never read a better acount of the battle than this one. I cannot wait to see the Confederate book, which hopefully will be soon. Scholarly, in-depth, no fancy wishy washy jargon some writers' put into a work, no this book is top notch and I am honored to say that doing some independent research for Lanny has only deepened my respect for both sides of that battle during a very brutal winter. And also for his pursuit of the real story behind the battle, the individual soldier. If this sort of book had been assigned to me as a reading assignment in high school, maybe I would have had a greater appreciation for our Nation's history sooner. Can't wait for the rebel book!

    ReplyDelete

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.