Saturday, October 30, 2010

Smith: "THE STONE'S RIVER CAMPAIGN 26 DECEMBER 1862 - 5 JANUARY 1863: Army of Tennessee"

[The Stone's River Campaign 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: Army of Tennessee by Lanny K. Smith (Author, 2010).  11.25 x 8.75 Gray cloth with gilt lettering, 44 maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, indexes. Pages Main/Total: 614/815. ISBN: 978-1-56837-417-8  $60]

2008's release of Lanny K. Smith's The Stone's River Campaign: 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: The Union Army was probably the most significant publication concerning that battle in two decades. This summer, the anticipated Confederate companion, The Stone's River Campaign 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: Army of Tennessee, became available, completing the set.

Writing battle history in two volumes, one full treatment for each side, is unusual. The closest example that comes to mind (I can't think of any other, really) is the late Warren Grabau's excellent Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer's View of the Vicksburg Campaign (UT Press, 2000), but that study employed alternating chapters to present each side's perspective, not entire book length works.

Army of Tennessee volume improvements include a larger print size. Even though this adds to the weight and girth of what was already a massive volume, the ease on reader eyes more than makes up for it. In many cases the hand drawn maps are larger and more detailed than those found in The Union Army. The same regimental scale and terrain definition is present, but the author added movement (see example at lower right), tying each numbered stage of events to a descriptive legend. Also, this time around, the order of battle has regimental strengths, a welcome feature that still remains absent from nearly all modern Civil War battle studies.

As opposed to James L. McDonough's overview treatment in Stones River: Bloody Winter in Tennessee (UT Press, 1981), the tactical side of the battle (better described as mega micro-tactical) is the overwhelming focus of Smith's set.  It's minutely presented detail at all levels surpasses that found in Cozzens's No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River (U of Ill Pr, 1989). The strategic and operational layers of the campaign (up through December 30), are covered in around 100 pages of the book's over 600 pages of main text. For the moments of heaviest fighting, chapters follow each division of Bragg's army, with subsections expanding upon the tactical role of each brigade and regiment, all in a microscopic manner. Additionally, the first time units are mentioned in the text, a biographical sketch of the commander is offered. The notes indicate the O.R. as the primary source used, with these reports supplemented by abundant letters, diaries, and memoirs, as well as unit histories, newspapers, and other published sources.

The appendix section is also full of useful information.  Battle reports from Jones M. Withers's division, all missing from the O.R., are collected there. Other appendices include casualty tables and an extensive order of battle. Finally, in a nice move, the author chose to create multiple indexes, one each for names, places (subdivided by state), and units (also organized by state). Overall, complaints are few, with one map upside down and typos scattered about the book's 800 pages.

The Stone's River Campaign 26 December 1862 - 5 January 1863: Army of Tennessee completes a monumental effort on the part of Smith, who, as researcher, writer, cartographer, and publisher, wore all hats during the process. His blue and gray cloth set comprises an unprecedented tactical record of the battle (perhaps of any single Civil War battle) and will be an immensely valuable reference tool for future researchers and historians. Printed in a limited run of 359 copies, libraries and serious students of the Murfreesboro battle would be best advised to grab a copy now.

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  1. This set of books is incredible in the level of detail and information it makes available to readers interested in the Battle of Murfressboro/Stones River! Relegates Cozzen's "No Better Place to Die" to introduction status! I hope Lanny K. Smith writes about more Civil War topics,and if he does, I hope you give us a heads up Drew.

    Charles Sears

  2. Hi Charles,
    He is already hard at work on a book about John Hunt Morgan's 1861-62 activities. I'll keep everyone posted with news as I hear it.


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