Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Auten: "THE BATTLE OF WYSE FORK: North Carolina's Neglected Civil War Engagement"

[ The Battle of Wyse Fork: North Carolina's Neglected Civil War Engagement by Timothy W. Auten (Author, 2008). Cloth, 7 maps, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index.  Pages main/total:191/305.  ISBN:978-1-56837-412-3  $22 ]

Followed closely by the much larger Battle of Bentonville, the March 7-10, 1865 Battle of Wyse Fork has been unjustly overshadowed.  With around 13,000 Union soldiers facing approximately 9,000 Confederates and combined losses well over 2,500, the fighting was intense in places.  Deployed as a blocking force southwest of Kinston, North Carolina and occupying earthwork defenses situated along the west bank of Southwest River, the Confederate force was a hastily organized affair commanded by the much maligned Braxton Bragg.  His principle subordinates were D.H. Hill and Robert Hoke, the latter's intact division comprising the army's primary maneuver element.  Opposing Bragg's command was the Provisional Corps of Jacob Cox, comprised of three infantry divisions led by Innis Palmer, Samuel Carter, and Thomas Ruger.

As far as I know, Timothy Auten's The Battle of Wyse Fork is the first book length treatment of this fight. Using primarily the O.R. and a handful of unit histories written by participants as source material, the author constructs a mostly smooth and comprehensible account of the battle, at a moderate (brigade and regiment) scale of complexity.  Bragg handled his army well and Hoke's division actually performed a fairly remarkable feat, directing three flank attacks (against the Union left, right, and left again) on successive days.  Although the first Confederate attack was a surprise leading to the capture of an exposed Union regiment, Cox's divisions were able to ultimately thwart all these moves and continue their advance through Kinston to Goldsboro.  Conventionally classified as a Union victory, Auten makes a good case that Bragg's delay of Cox's advance entirely fulfilled Confederate objectives, allowing Joseph E. Johnston the breathing space necessary to organize and launch one last blow against Sherman's advance.

The greatest, and most obvious, black mark against the book is the atrocious state of the manuscript.  No text should ever go to print with this many instances of misspellings, sentence fragments, incorrect word usage, missing words, errors in military terminology, noun-verb non-agreement, and more.  The text is a bit over-annotated, too, with many passages having multiple citations that could easily have been combined into one. The bibliography is also very limited in terms of variety of source types consulted.  Admittedly, I have no familiarity with the research materials available for this battle, but I would have expected Auten to turn up at least some unpublished letters, diaries, and memoirs to supplement the official documents, unit histories, and smattering of secondary sources used.

The maps are rough, hand-drawn sketches not on par with readers have come to expect from Civil War battle histories, but they do at least offer a fairly good conception of the road network and a general sense of the positions and tactical movements of select regiments, brigades, and divisions.  A pair of appendices provide orders of battle, strength estimates, and casualty information.

It's too bad The Battle of Wyse Fork exhibits all too many of the content and presentational shortcomings common to self published books.  Readers will be entirely justified in skipping this study on those grounds alone, but I do feel that those willing to work harder than they should have to will in the end gain an understanding of the tactical side of the battle at a level of detail currently unavailable elsewhere in book form.

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Ordering Information (supplied by author):
Payment is by check ($22) payable to:
Timothy W. Auten
250 Central Heights Drive
Concord, NC 28025
Email the author.

3 comments:

  1. If I am not mistaken, there is another book about Wyse Fork in the works. The author is Wade Sokolosky, who has one other book under his belt, "No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar." That book follows Sherman's army from Fayetteville, NC to the Battle of Averasboro. Wade has been working on the Wyse Fork book for awhile now, but since retiring from the Army recently I think he should be able to devote more time to it and get it done. No idea who the publisher will be. I'll try to keep you posted if I hear more.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Andrew,
      I wish Wade would update his website and let us know how he's progressing. It's been several years with no update on the Wyse Fork project.

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  2. You know, I've seen Wade a few times in the past couple of weeks and haven't thought to ask him about it. He has moved back to Beaufort, NC since retiring and is reenacting as part of Andrews' Battery, an artillery unit based out of Goldsboro. I've seen him at two events over the past two months, but our conversations have never come around to the Wyse Fork project. Next time I see him I will try to remember to ask him about it.

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