Friday, August 13, 2010

Woodworth (ed.): "THE CHICKAMAUGA CAMPAIGN"

[The Chickamauga Campaign edited by Steven E. Woodworth (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010). Cloth, 5 maps, notes, index. 192 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8093-2980-9  $25]

The second volume from SIU Press and editor Steven Woodworth's Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series, The Chickamauga Campaign is kicked off by historian Ethan Rafuse, whose essay provides a lengthy descriptive and analytical discussion of the role of Union corps commanders Alexander McCook and Thomas Crittenden in the campaign. Both officers have a fairly terrible martial reputation in the literature, but Rafuse makes a solid case that they performed at least competently up until Chickamauga's second day, where both promptly blew it. Ultimately, McCook and Crittenden were both relieved, although they were exonerated by a subsequent court of inquiry into their Chickamauga performances. In terms of the Army of the Cumberland's future, their removals for the best, but Rafuse believes the more competent Crittenden was the more ill used of the two.

In the second essay, general editor Steven Woodworth takes another look at the McLemore's Cove debacle. His concise discussion, from both sides, of the setup and event progression is well done. The article's outlining of the four principle reasons why the situation turned out as it did is also soundly argued. That intelligence provided by unionist civilians was of vital importance in the Union escape is, at least to this reader, a new interpretation on one of the campaign's more infamous episodes. I do think Woodworth's perspective of the Prairie Grove campaign is flawed, at least in how his interpretation of the general's defensive posture on the heights is used to highlight Thomas Hindman's role in aborted battles as indicative of a pattern of choking in big moments of weighty responsibility.

In a balanced manner, Alexander Mendoza's contribution looks at the sins of D.H. Hill, egregious though they were at both McLemore's Cove and the final day at Chickamauga. According to the author, although perhaps deserving of censure and removal, Hill was unfairly singled out for blame in the battle's aftermath, perhaps in part due to the North Carolinian's lack of political clout. It strikes one as a reasonable view.

Lee White's article details the leadership of A.P. Stewart. He finds "Old Straight"'s handling of his division on September 19, where his command temporarily pierced the federal center, to be the most skillful of any division commander for the entire battle. White goes even further in proclaiming that Stewart was the "only division commander in that army to have delivered a good performance at Chickamauga" (pg. 99), a lofty claim that begs for a detailed comparison of his colleagues beyond the scope of the article.

The September 19 night attack of Patrick Cleburne's division is chronicled in John Lundberg's essay, but I'm not sure he sufficiently makes the case that the assault's failure "cost the Confederates a chance for total victory" (pg. 113). Following this is a fresh look at James Longstreet's role in the battle by the dean of Chickamauga scholars, William Glenn Robertson. Longstreet's performance is highly praised in the literature, but Robertson's research finds that the deep column formation that was so successful in the battle was formed more by happenstance that any kind of thoughtful planning, and, overall, Longstreet's tactical approach was more typical of the common frontal attack than any kind of innovation.

In the second to last chapter, the unfortunate end of Union General James S. Negley's Civil War career is put under the microscope by David Powell. Though quite ill at the time, Negley performed competently in the Chickamauga campaign and battle up until September 20, when he unilaterally withdrew his intact and badly needed command, along with over 30 guns, from Snodgrass Hill without notifying his superiors, thus leaving his colleagues in the lurch. Along with meticulously reconstructing the day's events as they related to Negley, Powell deftly picks apart the general's case for his own defense. The final essay, by Timothy Smith, explores the post-war career of Army of the Cumberland veteran Henry Boynton, a hard charging journalist who later became a key figure in battlefield preservation and in the formation of the battlefield parks we see today, especially the Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP.

The book does suffer from one serious deficiency. Although the five maps provided are useful for general orientation, none are specifically associated with any of the articles. With no visual aids to guide readers through the many complicated and confusing tactical maneuvers so well detailed in many of the essays, their ability to impart a deeper level of clarity and understanding is significantly reduced. Nevertheless, these eight essays, all effectively written by prominent professional and avocational western theater scholars, comprise a multitude of fresh insights into an important and neglected campaign. The Chickamauga Campaign is highly recommended.


See Also:
* Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War
* The Shiloh Campaign

3 comments:

  1. Hello Drew

    Thanks for the review. I had already purchased this title and was working through it. I think it is nice addition to a series that I think will be very well received.

    In this volume is a very nice map is in the front of the volume showing all campaigns in The Heartland. At the end of the book is a listing of what I'm taking to be proposed titles in the series?
    It seems strange that both Mobile Bay and Stones River are on the map but not in the series? Mobile Bay seems to me to be a very neglected campaign.

    Hopefully the editors of the series will correct this and include a volume on this subject.
    This series along with University of Tennessee's series, Western Theater in The Civil War are providing nice editions to the otherwise long neglected theater of operations.

    I also saw that Nick Kurtz had mentioned that Tim Smith had submitted a Corinth campaign study for publication. Hopefully this will soon be published. His other books all are very well done. The book on Champion Hill is one of my favorites.

    Looking forward to some upcoming reviews.

    Regards
    Don Hallstrom

    ReplyDelete
  2. Don,
    Way back when I was working on my Corinth game in the late 1990s, I heard Smith was working on a book. We corresponded very briefly and I never heard more. Good to see it will be coming to light.

    ReplyDelete
  3. There are no comments on the used to be hero of Chickamauga. I wonder why?

    Slowtrot

    ReplyDelete

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