Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hartley: "STONEMAN'S RAID, 1865"

[Stoneman's Raid, 1865 by Chris J. Hartley (John F. Blair, 2010). Cloth, 13 maps, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:410/529. ISBN:978-0-89587-377-4 $27.95]

Union Cavalry General George Stoneman is best known for his lackluster part in the ill fated 1863 Chancellorsville Campaign and his July 1864 defeat and capture during a Georgia raid, but his Civil War career did not end there, to the dismay of many. After his release from captivity later in the year, Stoneman led a pair of cavalry raids out of East Tennessee that served to partially redeem his reputation. The last, a destructive and eventful ride through southern Virginia and western North Carolina that began in Knoxville in March 1865 and ended 61 days later back in Tennessee, is the subject of Chris Hartley's definitive new study Stoneman's Raid, 1865.

To say that Hartley's account of the raid is detailed is a significant understatement. Stoneman's style as a raider was to reach a certain point then disperse his forces widely, reconcentrating at planned intervals before starting the process over at the next objective, a potentially dangerous strategy when vigorous opposition is present but effective against the kind of weak and scattered local defenses his approximately 4,000 man division encountered in Virginia and North Carolina in the war's final spring. In addition to extensive coverage of the planning stages and the difficulties in assembling a large strike force, the book minutely traces the general course of the raid as well as the path and events that occurred during each of the 'sub-raids'. These detached operations ranged in scale from brigade and regimental sized combat teams all the way down to squads and companies.

In addition to his coverage of military movements, skirmishes, and battles, Hartley amassed for his project a vast amount of manuscript material recorded by area residents and currently located in repositories spread across the country. The author was able to discover and incorporate into his narrative multiple civilian perspectives from seemingly every city, town, and village visited by the raiders, as well as individuals residing in farms and plantations encountered all along Stoneman's over 1,000 mile route. Both Unionist and Confederate lost property to the raiders, mostly horses and foodstuffs, but there was also a great deal of plundering of private homes for valuables.  However, house burning appeared to be rare.

The book's maps are a bit stark in appearance, but they effectively chart for the reader the course of the raiders and their many wide ranging detachments. A few tactical maps are present, limited to the larger scale fighting that occurred at places like Salisbury (April 12) and Morganton (April 17). A Union order of battle and strength estimates for the regiments that participated in the raid can also be found in the appendices.

In terms of physical destruction, the raid did what is set out to do, but questions remain about the justification of the raid and whether it altered the course of the war. It is clear from Hartley's analysis that the raid did not shorten the war at all, nor did it substantially impact the operations of the two primary enemy forces operating to the east (Robert E. Lee's Army of the Northern Virginia and Joe Johnston's ad-hoc army in North Carolina). In terms of the operation's necessity, Grant himself lamented that Stoneman was unable to set out months earlier with a smaller force. Instead the scale of the destruction wrought by Stoneman's Raid upon the railroads, bridges, mills and factories occurred too late to impact the fortunes of war, serving only to set back the region's postwar economic development by decades.

Always generating a great deal of interest among readers, cavalry raid studies comprise a large segment of the Civil War military literature, and Stoneman's Raid, 1865 ranks among the best of the genre.  Exhaustively researched, and with an all embracing treatment of the subject, the book is also beautifully presented in a fine cloth edition. Stoneman's Raid, 1865 is excellent by any measure and is highly recommended.

Note: In September I posted a Q & A with the author [click here].

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