[ Cavalry of the Heartland: The Mounted Forces of the Army of Tennessee by Edward G. Longacre (Westholme Publishing, 2009) Hardcover, 10 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 349/446. ISBN:978-1-59416-098-1 $35 ]
With relatively few exceptions, book length treatments of the Confederacy's use of cavalry in the western theater tend to focus on specific raids and raiders, with little in the way of theater-wide analysis. Indeed, Edward G. Longacre's new book Cavalry of the Heartland is heavily raid-centric in its own right, yet it should also be regarded as a broader operational military history of the Army of Tennessee's mounted arm from 1862 through to the end of the major fighting in North Carolina in early 1865.
Although the services of a host of other brigade and division level cavalry commanders are briefly noted, the central figures of Longacre's narrative are the famous generals John Hunt Morgan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Joseph Wheeler. Where applicable, the cavalry's contribution to the Army of Tennessee's major battles is outlined, but the bulk of the text is composed of chapter length summaries of the various raids and other independent actions undertaken by the commands of Morgan, Forrest, and Wheeler. The strengths of each general are fairly well presented, as well as weaknesses -- from Forrest's serial insubordination to the major battlefield and discipline problems that were part and parcel to the mercurial military leadership of both Morgan and Wheeler. Additionally, as a more general criticism, the author perceptively recognizes one of the fundamental misuses of Confederate cavalry in the west, the all too frequent tendency of army and department commanders to order or authorize lengthy cavalry raids at the very moment mounted forces were most needed as operational and tactical support for the main army.
This general outline of cavalry operations conducted over the vast geographical area entrusted to the Army of Tennessee is the book's primary source of value. That said, readers seeking a more in-depth examination of the fundamental issues that plagued the mounted arm will likely be disappointed. For example, chapter length analyses of the organizational, logistical, and discipline problems endemic to western cavalry would have greatly enhanced the meaningfulness of Longacre's work. Did the Confederate war effort get a proper return on its resource allocation of such a high proportion of cavalry to infantry (often reaching a level between 1:3 to 1:4)? I would argue no, and I wanted to know what the author believed. Furthermore, the factors behind such an unusual (and frankly embarrassing) disparity between paper and actual strength is so many mounted units should also have been better addressed, as well as the effects of ill-disciplined "foraging" on the friendly segment of the civilian population. Necessary or not, to what degree did this system of essentially sanctioned robbery contribute to the decline in popular morale and support for the Confederate government?
Although Longacre lists a vast array of manuscript materials in his bibliography (hundreds of collections), the end notes indicate a core reliance on published sources in what ultimately is a familiar narrative. While new readers will indeed find themselves with an able military overview of the subject, Civil War students already familiar with the mass of standard western campaign histories and biographies will not gain a wealth of new information or original interpretations from reading this book. As stated before, the value of Cavalry of the Heartland lies rather in its synthetic approach. On that basis, I would recommend the book.
Other CWBA reviews of Westholme titles:
* War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta
* Firearms in American History: A Guide for Writers, Curators, and General Readers
* Fighting for Paradise: A Military History of the Pacific Northwest
* Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor