[ The Battle of Pea Ridge: The Civil War Fight for the Ozarks by James R. Knight (The History Press, 2012). Softcover, 14 maps, photos, appendices, notes, index. Pages main/total:136/160. ISBN:978-1-60949-447-6 $19.99 ]
The Battle of Pea Ridge provides the uninitiated with a good introduction to events in SW Missouri and NW Arkansas in the months and weeks preceding the 1862 campaign. Both operational and tactical features are skillfully outlined. Highlighted is the skirmish at Bentonville on March 6, the bitter fighting over the next two days at Oberson's Field, Morgan's Woods, Elkhorn Tavern, Clemon's Farm, and Ruddick's Field, and, finally, the disorderly Confederate retreat to Van Buren. In assessing the actions of the commanders, and in describing and interpreting the events of the battle, Knight leans heavily on Shea and Hess, so readers familiar with the earlier work will not find themselves in possession of much in the way of new information or insights into old controversies. Instead, what is offered is an excellent account of Pea Ridge for the larger subset of Civil War readers for whom deep, micro-tactical battle treatments hold limited appeal.
What the book has most in common with the better battle histories is an artistically attractive and fully functional set of operational and tactical maps (14 by my count). Topographically detailed, they provide a superb sense of how the terrain (characterized by thick, wooded ravines and striking rock outcroppings interspersed with improved farm fields and scattered dwellings) informed the planning and course of the fighting. The unit scale (regiments and batteries) is appropriate to the level of the text. In addition to the cartography, many modern photos of battlefield views and period images of the officers involved are scattered throughout the book.
Complaints include the lack of a bibliography and the impression that coverage of the battle's second day was a bit rushed, but, overall, The Battle of Pea Ridge is short form campaign and battle history at its finest, with content and presentation very worthy of emulation. It is certainly one of the best entries in the publisher's Sesquicentennial series of Civil War studies.