Monday, October 17, 2011

"A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 - 22, 1861" (Revised and Expanded ed.)

A trio of Ball's Bluff histories were published in the 1990s -- Byron Farwell's Ball's Bluff: A Small Battle and Its Long Shadow (1990), William Howard's The Battle of Ball's Bluff: The "Leesburg Affair," October 21, 1861 (1994), and Kim Holien's Battle of Ball's Bluff (1995) -- but a definitive study would not appear until the next decade, when James A. Morgan III burst on the scene in 2004. Ball's Bluff treatments as part of larger works by Russel Beatie and William Marvel have also emerged, but these have done nothing to shake Morgan's reputation as the accepted master of the subject. Fast forwarding to today, publisher Savas Beatie has published a "Revised and Expanded" edition of Morgan's A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 - 22, 1861.

The book is a masterful micro-treatment of the tactical aspects of the battle, but it also looks intently at the personalities involved on the military and political levels. On the Union side, a unseemly political witch hunt emerged in  the aftermath of the disaster. Its most notable victim, General Charles P. Stone, was scapegoated for the defeat, accused of treason, and imprisoned.  The author treats the officer sympathetically, and rightly so.

Morgan uncovered new source material (thoughtfully labeled with asterisks in the bibliography) for this edition, which is also the first in hardcover. Thus, an even more detailed picture of the Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry battles emerges in its pages. More accounts of the death of Col. Edward Baker serve to deepen the mystery surrounding its circumstances.  The new information available also allowed the author to incorporate more biographical features into the narrative.  While a few new photographs were added, the maps appear to be the same. In the period since the Ironclad Publishing edition appeared, the trails and onsite interpretation of the Ball's Bluff battlefield have been improved and the new tour appendix has been updated to reflect these changes. Finally, an entirely new appendix challenges previous interpretations of the battle and why it was fought. It is clear from Morgan's research that there was no Union plan to attack and capture Leesburg. It was a small demonstration gone tragically awry.

Both new readers and those already owning the 2004 paperback will want a copy of the revised and expanded edition of A Little Short of Boats, which takes a great book and makes it even better.

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