Thursday, November 5, 2009


Given the wide distribution network of Osprey Publishing, one would guess that nearly every military history reader has some familiarity with their vast array of book series. The Elite Series "explores the history of military forces, artifacts, personalities, and techniques of warfare". Heavily illustrated with photographs, drawings, maps, and full color artwork, and at 64 pages in length, books from the series are summary in nature, but not necessarily aimed only at introductory level readerships.
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[ American Civil War Railroad Tactics by Robert Hodges and Peter Dennis (illus.) (Osprey Publishing, 2009). Softcover, maps, photos, color illustrations, reading list, index. 64 Pages. ISBN:978-1-84603-452-7 $18.95 ]

The full gamut of uses Union and Confederate armies had for railroads and railroad equipment is examined in the first of two books to be discussed here. Author Robert Hodges begins with an introduction into the relative success of each side's attempt to balance the military and non-military use of the railroads. Not surprisingly, he finds the Union system, with its early creation of a U.S. Military Railroad network, superior.

Numerous examples of the operational use of railroads are highlighted, including their familiar impact on the 1st Manassas, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga campaigns. Perhaps the most detailed, and best, section of the book is the one illustrating the construction, design, and use of railroad artillery and armored cars, subjects not often covered in depth elsewhere in the literature. The various means of destroying and repairing rails are also explored, with some emphasis on specialized rail cars designed for transporting prefabricated bridge trusses.

The battlefield uses of trains comprise another important aspect of the book's umbrella coverage. Trains carried cavalry and infantry on the tactical offensive, especially for counterguerrilla operations, as well as for protection during repair duties. The machines were also assigned to reconnaissance duties and for transporting and tethering observation balloons. Command cars were purpose-built for the comfort of commanders and a number of pages are also devoted to hospital trains. In the limited space available, American Civil War Railroad Tactics covers the basics quite well.

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[ American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics by Sean McLachlan and G & S Embleton (illus.) (Osprey Publishing, 2009). Softcover, maps, photos, color illustrations, bibliography, index. 64 Pages. ISBN:978-1-84603-494-7 $18.95 ]

While the more widely read student with find the material to be easily recognizable, author Sean McLachlan's narrative takes pains to draw his summaries and examples from all three major Civil War theaters. In his discussion of irregular warfare, he adopts historian Robert Mackey's three categories: guerrillas, partisans, and raiders (in my opinion, a wise choice) and capsulizes the character of the conflicts in a broad swath of states, to include Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The importance of the 1862 Partisan Ranger Act is properly put into context.

The tactical discussions are featured in sidebars accompanied by watercolor paintings and maps from artists Gerry and Sam Embleton. Examples include the August 1863 Burning of Lawrence, "Bloody Bill" Anderson ambush tactics outside Centralia (MO) on September 27, 1864, John Singleton Mosby's evasion tactics, John Hunt Morgan's tapping into telegraph lines to spread misinformation, Nathan Bedford Forrest's tactics at the Battle of Brice's Crossroads, and finally railroad wrecking techniques. Some defensive tactics are also highlighted, most specifically the use of fortified courthouses in defending small towns.

Given its questionable relevance as an examplar of irregular tactics on the battlefield, the selection of Brice's Crossroads in the book is curious, but the rest comprise a good cross section of irregular actions. While there is clearly a Confederate imbalance in these more detailed examples that could further the common notion in the novice reader that irregular warfare was primarily a Confederate strategy, overall, American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics does provide a comprehensive introductory summary to the conduct of irregular warfare worthy of a prospective buyer's consideration, with some anecdotes and examples from both sides.


  1. Does the Hodges-Dennis book cover Bragg's movement of the Army of Mississippi from Tupelo to Chattanooga in the fall of 1862? This use of railroads by the Confederates largely goes unnoticed.


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