Thursday, February 1, 2007

Hardy: "The Battle of Hanover Court House"

[Battle of Hanover Court House: Turning Point of the Peninsula Campaign, May 27, 1862 by Michael C. Hardy [Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. (800-253-2187), 2006].  Hardcover, photos, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, pp. 213. ISBN 0-7864-2464-8 $45]

The Battle of Hanover Court House is the first book length history of the May 27, 1862 fighting that raged north of Richmond in Hanover County at the Kinney Farm, Peake's Turnout, and Hanover Court House. On this day, a brigade sized Confederate force under General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch was attacked and defeated by elements (mostly Morell's First Division) of Union General Fitz John Porter's V Corps.

In addition to his providing us with the first full account of this Civil War engagement, author Michael Hardy is also to be commended for his study's multi-faceted approach. The background material covering the Peninsula campaign up to Hanover Court House is drawn from multiple sources (utilizing the latest scholarship), while appropriate primary source materials were consulted by Hardy to construct his detailed microhistory of the battle itself. Recounted in blow-by-blow fashion at regimental level or below, the battle narrative sections should meet the expectations of even the most demanding readers.

Great attention to paid to the aftermath of the fighting, most specifically the plight of the wounded and the armies' struggle to provide them with even minimal care. Another chapter discusses in depth and analyzes the newspaper coverage of the battle by both reporters and soldier-correspondents. Finally, the current state of the battlefield is assessed. While the main text runs to 140 pages, four appendices provide the reader with an order of battle, official reports from both Porter and Branch, and a detailed casualty list.

Aside from a few minor errors and typos, The Battle of Hanover Court House is a high end publication. I usually don't make special mention of binding quality, but I've always liked the sturdy, glossy textbook boards that McFarland uses for many of its Civil War books (including this one). The text is augmented richly with photographs, illustrations, and numerous maps. My only complaint in this regard is the absence of any operational scale maps, those tracing the approach marches to the battlefield or the positions of nearby units not directly involved in the fighting. Also, in contrast to Hardy's otherwise thorough treatment of the battle, a direct addressing of the book's subtitle, which proclaims the battle to be the "turning point" of the Peninsula campaign, is curiously absent.

However, in the end, none of these flaws materially detract from the contribution of this work to the historiography of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Exhibiting sound scholarship and analysis, this well written and balanced study of the Battle of Hanover Court House will likely be considered the standard work on the subject for some time to come.


  1. Drew:

    Nice review! If only we could do something about McFarland's hefty prices.

    Mike Peters

  2. LOL...yes, attracting casually interested readers would be very tough indeed, and it certainly keeps impulse buying at a minimum. OTOH, they do have an interesting business model that seems to work for them. I really like 5 out of the 6 that I own. The upcoming one that I'm really excited about is the Jones-Imboden Raid book by Collins.

    Thanks for writing.

  3. Drew:

    I agree. I've enjoyed all the McFarland titles I have. And I'm definitely looking forward to the Jones-Imboden Raid book.

    Keep up the great work!



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