Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Booknotes: Grant Invades Tennessee

New Arrival:
Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson
by Timothy B. Smith (UP of Kansas, 2016).

By my count, there have been three prior works dealing with Grant and Foote's 1862 campaign up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers that I would consider major military treatments, along with a number of smaller overview histories. Among the full length studies from Cooling, Hurst, and Gott, I still consider the oldest one (B.F. Cooling's Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland) to be the best. Given his prior record, there's little doubt that Smith will give them all a run for their money and likely surpass them in depth and quality.

Like Cooling before him, Smith takes an expansive look at the campaign, detailing the early federal reconnaissance moves into western Kentucky as well as the Phelps naval raid in addition to the featured Henry and Donelson battles. We find in Grant Invades Tennessee the large, manuscript-heavy bibliography typical of the author, but the maps rather disappoint at first glance. Though 20 in number and with satisfactory tactical detail, the terrain depiction in the map set is very spartan (basically just roads and waterways with lots of unutilized white space). Regardless, the book has to be an insta-buy for anyone interested in the topic. In conjunction with Smith's fine Shiloh and Corinth studies, the new volume also completes a trilogy of sorts.
From the description: "Whether detailing command-level decisions or using eye-witness anecdotes to describe events on the ground, walking readers through maps or pulling back for an assessment of strategy, this finely written work is equally sure on matters of combat and context. Beginning with Grant’s decision to bypass the Confederates’ better-defended sites on the Mississippi, Smith takes readers step-by-step through the battles: the employment of a flotilla of riverine war ships along with infantry and land-based artillery in subduing Fort Henry; the lesser effectiveness of this strategy against Donelson’s much stronger defense, weaponry, and fighting forces; the surprise counteroffensive by the Confederates and the role of their commanders’ incompetence and cowardice in foiling its success."

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