Monday, January 11, 2010

Longacre: "CAVALRY OF THE HEARTLAND: The Mounted Forces of the Army of Tennessee"

[ Cavalry of the Heartland: The Mounted Forces of the Army of Tennessee by Edward G. Longacre (Westholme Publishing, 2009) Hardcover, 10 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 349/446. ISBN:978-1-59416-098-1 $35 ]

With relatively few exceptions, book length treatments of the Confederacy's use of cavalry in the western theater tend to focus on specific raids and raiders, with little in the way of theater-wide analysis. Indeed, Edward G. Longacre's new book Cavalry of the Heartland is heavily raid-centric in its own right, yet it should also be regarded as a broader operational military history of the Army of Tennessee's mounted arm from 1862 through to the end of the major fighting in North Carolina in early 1865.

Although the services of a host of other brigade and division level cavalry commanders are briefly noted, the central figures of Longacre's narrative are the famous generals John Hunt Morgan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Joseph Wheeler. Where applicable, the cavalry's contribution to the Army of Tennessee's major battles is outlined, but the bulk of the text is composed of chapter length summaries of the various raids and other independent actions undertaken by the commands of Morgan, Forrest, and Wheeler. The strengths of each general are fairly well presented, as well as weaknesses -- from Forrest's serial insubordination to the major battlefield and discipline problems that were part and parcel to the mercurial military leadership of both Morgan and Wheeler. Additionally, as a more general criticism, the author perceptively recognizes one of the fundamental misuses of Confederate cavalry in the west, the all too frequent tendency of army and department commanders to order or authorize lengthy cavalry raids at the very moment mounted forces were most needed as operational and tactical support for the main army.

This general outline of cavalry operations conducted over the vast geographical area entrusted to the Army of Tennessee is the book's primary source of value. That said, readers seeking a more in-depth examination of the fundamental issues that plagued the mounted arm will likely be disappointed. For example, chapter length analyses of the organizational, logistical, and discipline problems endemic to western cavalry would have greatly enhanced the meaningfulness of Longacre's work. Did the Confederate war effort get a proper return on its resource allocation of such a high proportion of cavalry to infantry (often reaching a level between 1:3 to 1:4)? I would argue no, and I wanted to know what the author believed. Furthermore, the factors behind such an unusual (and frankly embarrassing) disparity between paper and actual strength is so many mounted units should also have been better addressed, as well as the effects of ill-disciplined "foraging" on the friendly segment of the civilian population. Necessary or not, to what degree did this system of essentially sanctioned robbery contribute to the decline in popular morale and support for the Confederate government?

Although Longacre lists a vast array of manuscript materials in his bibliography (hundreds of collections), the end notes indicate a core reliance on published sources in what ultimately is a familiar narrative. While new readers will indeed find themselves with an able military overview of the subject, Civil War students already familiar with the mass of standard western campaign histories and biographies will not gain a wealth of new information or original interpretations from reading this book. As stated before, the value of Cavalry of the Heartland lies rather in its synthetic approach. On that basis, I would recommend the book.

Other CWBA reviews of Westholme titles:
* War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta
* Firearms in American History: A Guide for Writers, Curators, and General Readers
* Fighting for Paradise: A Military History of the Pacific Northwest
* Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor


  1. Hello Drew

    When this book was first announced last fall and Westholome was the publisher, I was anxiously awaiting some reviews on it. So far I've only seen two, yours and one at TOCWOC. Conceptually this really sounded like a great topic. Western Theater, cavalry, written by a cavalry author, etc.

    However, I've always approached this author with a bit of a cynical eye. I've purchased some of this books, but haven't finished any of them. Based on a recommendation from another blogger I bought this author's biography of Joe Wheeler which I do plan to read at some point.

    Both your review and the other I mentioned have things to recommend and some to not recommend with the book. I was hoping for some more details on some of the brigade and division leaders. It does sound like it at least gives an overview, but I wonder if the same can be found in Connelly's books?

    One thing the other reviewer mentioned is that there was scant material on Van Dorn's Holly Spring Raid. I'm not an expert on western cavalry, but it would seem that this should merit more detail?

    Not really sure what type of reputation this author has, but he certainly has written a large number of books. As a reader, it would seem to me that perhaps this subject and some of the others he has done would have been better served by another author?

    Don H.

  2. Don,
    I am only familiar with the author's body of work by the comments and reviews of others, so I have no overall opinion to offer. I believe this is the only one of his many books that I've read in its entirety.

    As for assessments in this book of officers a little further down the chain of command, men like Roddey, Chalmers, Jackson, Buford, Armstrong, etc., I too was hoping for much more detail. IMO, what's in there would strain to be considered even an overview.

  3. In my opinion, Longacre's best book remains his first (I believe) on General Hunt and Union artillery. I have read that cover to cover twice.

    We have an outstanding well-researched and written manuscript by David Powell in house, that should be published this fall tentatively titled "Nathan Bedford Forrest and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign." It is based on primary sources--and he actually uses them.


  4. I agree Longacre's Hunt book is excellent. He also wrote a very good book on James Wilson early in his career.

    An interesting book on the Western cavalry that I think is kind of forgotten but still worth reading is 'Morgan's Raiders' by Dee Brown of 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' fame.



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