Monday, October 29, 2012

Woodworth & Grear, eds. : "THE CHATTANOOGA CAMPAIGN"

[The Chattanooga Campaign edited by Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012) Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, index. 236 pp. ISBN:978-0-8093-3119-2 $29.95]

This third volume from SIUP's Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series is the first to welcome historian Charles Grear as co-editor. Beyond his own scholarly expertise, Grear also contributes his mapmaking skills to the series, going some way toward redressing a deficiency common to the previous volumes covering Shiloh and Chickamauga.

As with volumes one and two, the main focus of The Chickamauga Campaign is military, specifically in depth tactical examinations of various sections of the battle field. The first two essays, by Alexander Mendoza and Stewart Bennett, examine the Lookout Valley fighting on the far left of the Confederate defensive line. Mendoza's short piece emphasizes the command dissension present at all levels of Longstreet's Corps, while Bennett takes the exercise a step further with a deep tactical analysis of the fighting at Wauhatchie and Smith's and Tyndale's Hills. Bennett adds to the chorus of writers praising Geary's performance, but is critical of Hooker's hesitancy in pressing his attacks once the hills were captured. It is true that Jenkins's Confederate division was ripe for destruction, but Hooker's actions are understandable given the cost incurred and the fact that it was nighttime and the terrain unfamiliar.

The next two chapters take the reader to the opposite side of the battlefield and the clash between William T. Sherman and Patrick Cleburne. Critiques of the fighting on this sector often emphasize either Sherman's tactical incompetence or Cleburne's tactical brilliance, and both Steven Woodworth and John Lundberg take the latter tack. Woodworth's fine article is noteworthy for its description of Cleburne's employment of a defensive line located atop the reverse military crest. His explanations of the strengths and weaknesses of this choice, and how it ultimately proved effective in blunting Sherman's assaults on the far northern end of Missionary Ridge, are perceptive and persuasive. Lundberg's essay focuses on Tunnel Hill, again crediting Cleburne's tactical management of his division and his masterful use of terrain for the victory, rather than Sherman's oft alleged blundering.

One of the unquestionable jewels of the collection is Brooks Simpson's piece on the Orchard Knob controversy. In it, he judiciously assesses what the known handful of primary sources have to say on the subject, and then critically analyzes how later historians and writers used and misused these sources in creating their own narratives of the battle. His article performs a task that not nearly enough issue driven essays and books attempt. It presents the arguments of all the major players in the literature (naming names, not burying them in the notes) and calmly critiques each in turn, affording readers a fascinating glimpse inside the head of a fine historian practicing his craft.

In a volume already containing many excellent tactical level treatments, the pair covering Rossville Gap and Ringgold Gap are worthy additions. Sam Davis Elliot ably recounts the Union capture of Rossville Gap and offers the intriguing observation that, with Hooker's captors of the gap poised behind the Army of the Tennessee's left, it actually benefited the Confederate army's escape that the center of the Missionary Ridge position collapsed so quickly. Like Woodworth and Lundberg before him, Justin Solonick's Ringgold Gap chapter makes the ultimate determination that terrain and Patrick Cleburne were the decisive elements of success, rather than Union mistakes. With so much evidence of a disorderly Confederate retreat, Hooker's hasty attacks on the gap are understandable, but Solonick still believes that Hooker should have waited and arranged a coordinated attack with artillery support. Modern writers often try to have it both ways, condemning generals for not pressing badly beaten enemies while in the same breath criticizing them when the tip of the aggressively pursuing spear is blunted by an unexpectedly strong rear guard action. Solonick's essay engages in a bit of this, but not at an egregious level.

The final three essays (by Ethan Rafuse, Charles Grear, and Timothy Smith) examine how Cincinnati newspapers viewed the the removal of Rosecrans and the subsequent Chattanooga Campaign conducted by Grant and Thomas, why Confederate soldiers from Texas and Arkansas deserted, and the creation of the Chattanooga part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Improving with each volume, offering truly fresh insights, and containing few duds, the Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland series* is eminently worthy of continued support from those with a common interest in promoting serious western theater military scholarship.

* - at the rear of the book is a listing of future titles. Click here for the rundown.


More CWBA reviews of SIUP titles:
* Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs
* An Illustrated Guide to Virginia's Confederate Monuments
* The Notorious "Bull" Nelson: Murdered Civil War General
* The Chickamauga Campaign
* Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War
* The Shiloh Campaign

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