Sunday, December 21, 2008

Norris: "Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina"

[Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina by David A. Norris (Dram Tree Books, 2008). Softcover, 5 maps, illustrations, photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN: 9780981460321 $24.95]

Modern armchair strategists often decry the Union high command's lack of a vigorous exploitation of the 1862 Burnside Expedition's success in securing much of North Carolina's vital coastline. With the exception of John G. Foster's late 1862 Goldsboro campaign, Federal forces were largely content (until late in the war) with securing its many coastal enclaves and occasionally raiding inland to secure supplies or attack the important Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. An action fitting the latter category is the subject of David Norris's book Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina.

From July 18-23, 1863, 800 Union cavalrymen under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Edward Potter conducted an expedition into the North Carolina interior, striking the railroad at Rocky Mount Station and Tarboro. While damage to the rails was minimal, much in the way of public buildings and property were destroyed. Both homes and businesses were also looted along the raid route, but the author found evidence of only one private dwelling being set afire. Norris's gathering of a broad range of source materials for his study is noteworthy, and he does a fine job of weaving civilian and military accounts into his narrative. Crafting a detailed cavalry raid narrative that doesn't confuse readers unfamiliar with the geographic area traversed can be a difficult task, and Mr. Norris largely succeeds in this regard. He also successfully places Potter's Raid within the context of larger Union military objectives, without exaggerating its importance. Beyond the typos and somewhat unpolished formatting*, there is precious little to complain about.

In addition to Potter's Raid, military events before and after are also covered in the book. The July 3-7 Kenansville-Warsaw Raid is detailed in the main text, as well as the follow-up action at Boon's Mill (July 28). Supplementing these treatments, an appendix recounts other army and navy raids in the region, such as those directed toward the town of Greenville and various locations within Pitt County.

Photographs and other illustrations are sprinkled liberally throughout the text. The five original maps [(1) modern map with marker locations, (2) Potter's Raid route, (3) area of Kenansville-Warsaw Raid, and depictions of (4) New Bern and (5) Rocky Mount locales] are adequate. Other appendices include an order of battle for each side, as well as a detailed register of each known casualty (civilian and military).

David Norris's Potter's Raid is a fine piece of local North Carolina Civil War history. The raid's results may not have been significant or far reaching, but readers that appreciate highly original efforts at producing deeply researched and highly detailed accounts of obscure military events will enjoy and value this title.

* - the usual problems with galley text are here, and I can only assume they were fixed for the retail version. As mentioned before, I don't normally review uncorrected proofs, but I made an exception here as I neglected to specifically provide a link to my review policy in my correspondence with the publisher.


  1. Drew,
    Well you beat me to it on this one! I've got so many other things to read I just haven't had a chance to check this book out. However, having heard Mr. Norris speak about this topic on a number of ocassions, your review seems to be right on the money. Happy Holidays!

    Andrew @ Civil War Navy

  2. I know I must read this book. In 2005 I had some work in South and North Carolina looking at operating textile mills that manufactured a niche product, webbing, mostly the webbing used in cargo hold-down straps, climbing webbing, and even military style belts. My travels took me to Rocky Mount and Tarboro. I chanced upon Rocky Mount Mills and Battle Park, where the Tar River spills over a set of falls. There I learned of Potter’s raid, which came as a surprise to me, a neophyte Civil War buff. This was a fascinating excursion for me, my first extended trip in the real South. I’m a Westerner, having lived all my life in California and Washington, and so was not classified as a Yankee by my gracious Southern hosts. I had some excellent Southern food in Tarboro at a restaurant on the outskirts of town. It was said to see some buildings in Princeville still in disrepair more than five years after Hurricane Floyd. I’m currently reading Peter Cozzens’ Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. I cant wait to read David Norris'Potter's Raid: The Union Cavalry's Boldest Expedition in Eastern North Carolina.


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