Thursday, July 14, 2016

Five books on the Siege of Charleston

1. Siege of Charleston, 1861-1865 (1970) by E. Milby Burton.
The Civil War Sesquicentennial came and went with relatively little attention paid to the war's longest campaign, the war spanning Siege of Charleston. Perhaps its grinding indecisiveness (the city didn't actually fall until Sherman's massive Union army forced its abandonment from the landward side in the war's waning months) is a turn off to many potential authors, but to me it remains a fascinating operation, with the Union army and navy employing all of their considerable tools and technology in a vain effort to overcome a stout Confederate defense. Nearly 50 years old and never that great to begin with, Burton's book makes the list because it's still the only scholarly full treatment available.
2. Secessionville: Assault On Charleston (1996) by Patrick Brennan.
Back when it was first released, I was roundly impressed with Brennan's first-rate history of Union general Henry Benham's unauthorized and ill-managed attempt to seize Charleston in 1862, which ended with the greatly outnumbered Confederates inflicting heavy losses on the attackers and achieving a signal victory at Secessionville. Lawyers turned avocational historians have made great contributions to the Civil War literature, but Brennan's brilliant work reminds us that perhaps musicians are a great untapped resource. Unfortunately for us, the author himself proved to be a one hit wonder, but what a memorable hit it was.
3. Gate of Hell: Campaign for Charleston, 1863 (1994) by Stephen R. Wise.
In 1863, Union forces, the army advancing on Charleston from the south through the sea islands and the navy directly attacking Charleston harbor with an unprecedentedly large fleet of ironclads, conducted their greatest sustained push to capture the Cradle of Secession. Wise's book is a very fine military history of this period, which was characterized by success and failure on the Union side, with Charleston ultimately remaining in Confederate hands.
4. Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston (1986) edited by Warren Ripley.
From July 1863 through the end of August 1864, Confederate artillery major Edward Manigault, who commanded the Siege Train, wrote a wonderfully observant daily account of the Siege of Charleston. It's a unique record of events, and given the journal's official status, also an incredible compilation of detailed administrative information regarding the Confederate heavy artillery. Manigault's map sketches and tables are reproduced in the book, and editor Ripley contributes footnotes, more maps, and several useful appendices.
5. Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina (2008) by H. David Stone Jr.
An indispensable military and logistical link between Charleston and Savannah, the C&S Railroad ran parallel to the coast line and was close enough to the shore to be a frequent target of nearby Union forces. Among other groundbreaking aspects, Stone's book provides an exceptional record of these Union interdiction attempts and also explains how the railroad was integrated into the Confederate coastal defense system protecting Charleston.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, Drew.

    Re: Brennan, the "one hit wonder." [Clever] He has finished a new manuscript, though I am not yet at liberty to discuss it. Actually, I could but don't wish to--yet.

    "Civil War Regiments" had an entire issue dedicated to Charleston. It was well-regarded back in the day.

    Charleston, in my opinion, is still waiting for a deeply researched study of the city and its environs during the entire war. There is so much there to sink one's teeth into.


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