Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gallagher (ed.): "The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864"

[The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 ed. by Gary W. Gallagher (University of North Carolina Press, PB-2009). Softcover, photos, drawings, tables, 7 maps, notes, bibliographic essay, index. 416 pages. ISBN:978-0-8078-5956-8 $19.95]

As with the other works from the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series, The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864's subject mix serves a broad range of reader interest in the Valley Campaign. A number of biographical articles were included, with William Bergen seeking to raise Horatio Wright out of the depths of obscurity [is he really that neglected?], while Joan Waugh contributes a biographical sketch and summary of Charles Russell Lowell's role in the campaign. In the book's final chapter, the wartime services of the Patton family of Virginia Confederate officers are summarized by Robert Krick.

Generalship is another theme examined, with series editor Gary Gallagher penning a comparative analysis of the performance of Valley Campaign foes Jubal Early and Philip Sheridan. Given the disparity in resources, Gallagher gives Early favorable marks overall, in spite of some serious tactical mistakes. Sheridan, blessed with greatly superior numbers and superb cavalry, similarly met most of the goals he set out to achieve. However, Gallagher speculates that if a role reversal were possible, General Early would have outperformed Sheridan. In the next generalship piece, Joseph Glatthaar assesses Grant as theater commander, weighing the positives and negatives of Grant's choice to accompany the Army of the Potomac in person. Keith Bohannon takes a narrower look at the Battle of Cedar Creek, focusing on the controversies (during the war and beyond) surrounding blame for the Confederate defeat -- the famous "fatal halt" versus the "bad conduct" of John B. Gordon's division. The public spat between Early, Gordon, and their respective proponents is outlined, with the author offering his own conclusion. Like the much more famous internecine squabbles over Longstreet's conduct at Gettysburg, it's another representative example (finely laid out by Bohannon) of the dynamics of post-battle recrimination between Civil War officers.

The 'battle pieces', William J. Miller on Tom's Brook and Robert E.L. Krick on Fisher's Hill, are excellent articles, presented in far greater depth and detail than those typically found in an essay compilation. The cartography of George Skoch, here and with other chapters, help the reader follow the action.

No 1864 Valley Campaign essay collection would be complete without an article about the campaign's effect on the presidential election that would soon follow. Andre Fleche takes a fascinating and original look at the Democratic press's reaction to the "hard war" aspects of the campaign, and how they sought to discredit the policy as a self-defeating strategy.

William Thomas's article follows the campaign from the viewpoint of the civilian population (white and black). One of its more interesting facets is its use of 1860 economic census data as a baseline to gauge the degree of destruction wrought by Sheridan's men. His findings contend that the level of devastation directed toward civilian targets was far less widespread than later accounts would suggest. The idea of highly selective economic destruction has been explored before, but Thomas's contention that homes were routinely spared is undermined by his own Rockingham County data table [pg. 249] that lists two burned dwellings for every three barns (30/45), and almost a one to one ratio to mills (30/31). Regardless, the effects of the defeats and their accompanying property losses on the pro-Confederate civilians remained a mixture of demoralization and hardened resolve (more of the latter), a conclusion supported by Aaron Sheehan-Dean's analysis of Virginia soldiers' reaction to Sheridan's overpowering Valley campaign.

The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 is a fine set of scholarly essays, well selected to be both complementary in their perspectives and minimal in their overlap. The ninth volume of North Carolina's Military Campaigns of the Civil War series, this book is easily the thickest tome from the entire run. It's also one of the very best.

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Other Civil War Books and Authors reviews of UNC Press titles:

* Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
* Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
* Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign
* Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia
* Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign
* Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

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