Friday, March 16, 2007

Suderow: "Thunder in Arcadia Valley"

With such disproportionate popular interest in Civil War cavalry and cavalry raids, it is surprising how little has been written about the 1864 Missouri Raid led by Confederate General Sterling Price. First published in 1964 (and reissued slightly revised in the early 1990s by University of Colorado Press), Howard Monnett's Action Before Westport remains the standard single volume history of the campaign. Price's retreat after Westport is most admirably recounted in Lumir Buresh's first rate work, The Battle of Mine Creek.

However, Bryce A. Suderow has also written a very fine account of the opening moments of the raid and the September 26-27, 1864 Battle of Pilot Knob in his book Thunder in Arcadia Valley: Price's Defeat, September 27, 1864 [1986, Center for Regional History and Cultural Heritage at SEMSU: Cape Girardeau, MO]. The early part of the raid has received the least amount of attention in the literature, and Suderow filled the void nicely two decades ago with this detailed and well researched battle study. His capable tactical history of the Confederate cavalry's approach and bloody assault on Fort Davidson is backed up by a sound analysis of the campaign up to that time and the battle itself.

Suderow is critical but fair in his assessments of the leadership of both sides. Price and Fagan do not come off well, while Union commander Thomas Ewing's penchant for shuttling small forces outside that main defenses (where they were promptly chewed up or dispersed) is rightly condemned. For researchers and otherwise interested students, a detailed accounting and analysis of unit strengths and losses is included in the appendices. The six maps showing troop positions at various stages of the advance are adequate, but reader understanding could really be enhanced by the inclusion of another map or two detailing the positions of the attacking regiments and the defending units within the earthworks during the actual assaults. Hopefully, this issue will be addressed in a future reprint.

[Unfortunately, used copies of Thunder are scarce and very expensive on the secondary market when they can be found. The Center at SE Missouri State University owns the rights to the book and apparently has shown some degree of interest in getting it revised and reprinted. They didn't respond to my email inquiry from a while back, but if you'd like to see it get done you might want to shoot them an email expressing your interest.]


  1. Drew,
    I was approached a few years ago by Bryce Suderow to reprint his Thunder in Arcadia Valley, with corrections and updates. I was informed that SEMSU held the copyright. (Usually the author of a book is the copyright holder, although his contract with the publisher may not permit transfer of the publication rights to another publisher.) After many attempts to communicate with SESMU, I finally received a call from someone there informing me that SESMU intended to reprint the book and that I would not be permitted to do so. That was in 2004. To my knowledge, SESMU has not yet reprinted the book.
    Clark Kenyon
    Camp Pope Bookshop

  2. Hi Clark,
    No, they haven't and the SEMSU press website doesn't mention anything about it upcoming either. Suderow mentioned the current status on a messageboard a few months ago. It didn't sound promising. Too bad, as it's a good book.



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