Saturday, June 10, 2017

Booknotes: The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns

New Arrival:
The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865 by Steven E. Sodergren (LSU Press, 2017).

An increasing number of scholars, among them Earl Hess and Carol Reardon, have examined the 1864 transition from episodic battles to continuous fighting and widespread trench warfare on the two main fronts in Georgia and Virginia. "In The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns, Steven E. Sodergren examines the transition to trench warfare, the lengthy campaigns of attrition that resulted, and how these seemingly grim new realities affected the mindset and morale of Union soldiers."

In the wake of the devastating losses suffered during the Overland Campaign, "surviving Union soldiers began to express considerable doubt in their cause and their leaders, as evidenced by widespread demoralization and the rising number of men deserting and disobeying orders." However, far from accelerating the decline in the fighting elan of the Army of the Potomac, the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign instead revived the men in the ranks. "Comprehending that the extensive fortification network surrounding them benefitted their survival, soldiers quickly adjusted to life in the trenches despite the harsh conditions. The army’s static position allowed the Union logistical structure to supply the front lines with much-needed resources like food and mail—even a few luxuries. The elevated morale that resulted, combined with the reelection of Abraham Lincoln in November 1864 and the increasing number of deserters from the Confederate lines, only confirmed the growing belief among the soldiers in the trenches that Union victory was inevitable." Because of this, according to Sodergren, the Army of the Potomac was able "to emerge with a renewed sense of purpose as fighting resumed on the open battlefield in 1865."

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