Friday, September 23, 2005

Perryville - Hafendorfer and Noe

I guess the study of Perryville attracts guys named Kenneth (unlike Dan Rather and Michael Stipe, maybe they understand what the frequency is). This brief comparison of Kenneth Hafendorfer's Perryville: Battle for Kentucky and Kenneth Noe's Perryville: "This Grand Havoc of Battle" is less adversarial in focus and more interested in demonstrating how the two can complement each other.

Hafendorfer's book begins with the "Race to Louisville" and basically ends with the conclusion of the fighting. Noe expands his coverage to include a broad background that begins with the siege of Corinth. He also deals with the wounded's grim experience in the fight's aftermath and the Confederate retreat back to Tennessee. Additionally, Noe, whose research net was cast considerably wider and undoubtedly had a great deal more unpublished source material available to him in the 21st century than Hafendorfer did during the 1970s, augments his text with more experiences of lower level officers and men. In his notes, he helpfully points out the instances where his own research and analysis differs with earlier work by Hafendorfer and others. These differences as they related to Hafendorfer are relatively minor. Another nice touch that Noe included is an order of battle with regimental unit strengths (where available) and a listing of the gun types in each battery.

In terms of the battle itself, Hafendorfer, with his inclusion of highly detailed maps every few pages, manages to present both the clearest and most detailed battle narrative of the two. Noe's narrative is fine but is hampered by having so few maps and those that are there are spaced so wide apart temporally that they miss key movements and actions. Noe's writing also neglects to provide the reader with the continuous marking of time that is woven into the better battle narratives.

All in all, both books are very fine works of military history and complement each other nicely. Noe's placement of the battle in the context of an overall campaign and his integration of newer source material into the battle narrative itself significantly enhance the level of understanding gained by reading Hafendorfer's excellent tactical study.

(By the way, the latest catalog from Morningside Books mentions that Hafendorfer's next project is another Kentucky Campaign engagement--the Battle of Richmond. We already have a wonderful treatment of this battle in D. Warren Lambert's When the Ripe Pears Fell, but it will be interesting to see a new interpretation).

(P.S. I should also mention that I read a later revised edition of Hafendorfer's Perryville book. I understand from the commments of others that the first edition was a dreadful mess of photocopy quality production values. This is extremely unfortunate, as I admire his current work--especially Mill Springs--even more.)