Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Patchan: "Shenandoah Summer"

[Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign by Scott C. Patchan (University of Nebraska Press, 2007) Hardcover, photos, 8 maps, appendices-OB/casualty tables, notes, bibliography. Pages Total/Main Text: 403/319 ISBN: 0-8032-3754-5 $34.95 ]

While a number of books* have chronicled the individual battles fought during the July - August 1864 time frame examined by Shenandoah Summer, no single treatment has placed those events within the context of the entire 1864 Valley Campaign nearly as well as Scott Patchan's latest book. Shenandoah Summer is a first rate campaign study, a bridging work that weaves together dangling threads left behind by the bookend coverage of the more popular phases of the 1864 Valley Campaign--Jubal Early's raid on Washington and Phil Sheridan's later campaign.

As evidenced by his earlier Battle of Piedmont study**, Patchan shines as a researcher and writer of campaign and battlefield narrative. His accounts of the battles of Cool Spring, Rutherford's Farm, Second Kernstown, and Moorefield (along with a number of smaller skirmishes) in Shenandoah Summer are exceptional in both tactical detail and analysis. Patchan's deep knowledge of the geography of the valley is demonstrated in the profound appreciation of the battlefield terrain in his writing. His grasp of the campaign as a whole is equally impressive, the book's final chapter ably serving as a recap and contextual analysis of the political and military fallout from the July - August 1864 battles.

A number of major command personalities from both sides come under fresh scrutiny, the author not hesitating to go against the grain. While one must struggle mightily to find in the literature a negative word about Stephen D. Ramseur's military skills, Patchan notes that Confederate general's flaws as an independent commander (significantly apparent at Rutherford Farm) and also his disturbing lack of honesty in his reports. On the Union side, a similarly nuanced view of W.W. Averell is given. Taking into account Averell's aggressiveness and resourcefulness as a cavalry raider (post-dismissal from the Army of the Potomac) and his victory at Moorefield in August 1864, a more well rounded impression of an officer oft dismissed by historians as an overcautious subordinate is provided.

The only quibble I have with this book is the number and uneven unit scale of the maps, which are otherwise fine examples of George Skoch's cartographic skills. The mixed brigade and division scale maps for the larger engagements like Second Kernstown are somewhat incongruous with a detailed battle narrative that is very often at regimental level. However, this is only a minor complaint when set against the book's litany of strengths. Shenandoah Summer shines as a product of impeccable research, vividly detailed writing, and deft analysis. This is a masterwork of campaign history written by one of the very best modern scholars of the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley. Highly recommended.
* = [Confederate Retaliation: McCausland's 1864 Raid by Fritz Haselberger,
Southern Revenge: The Confederate Burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania by Ted Alexander. Alexander also wrote a short Chambersburg Raid book for Blue & Gray's History and Tour Guide series (link),
The Civil War engagement at Cool Spring, July 18, 1864: The largest battle ever fought in Clarke County, Virginia by Rev. Peter J. Meaney, and
Archaeological Perspectives on the American Civil War by Geier and Potter has a chapter dealing with the Cool Spring battle.

** = The Forgotten Fury: The Battle of Piedmont, Va. (Sgt. Kirkland's Press, 1996)

Stay tuned for an author Q&A with Scott C. Patchan. We'll examine matters from Shenandoah Summer not covered in the review, and hopefully discuss a few things about the 1864 Valley Campaign in general.

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