Thursday, August 24, 2017

Booknotes: On to Petersburg

New Arrival:
On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea (LSU Press, 2017).

It probably wasn't planned to be fifteen years between Cold Harbor and On to Petersburg, but here it is, the fifth and final volume of Gordon Rhea's award-winning Overland Campaign series. From the description: "(A)comprehensive account of the last twelve days of the campaign, which concluded with the beginning of the siege of Petersburg(,) On to Petersburg follows the Union army’s movement to the James River, the military response from the Confederates, and the initial assault on Petersburg, which Rhea suggests marked the true end of the Overland Campaign. Beginning his account in the immediate aftermath of Grant’s three-day attack on Confederate troops at Cold Harbor, Rhea argues that the Union general’s primary goal was not―as often supposed―to take Richmond, but rather to destroy Lee’s army by closing off its retreat routes and disrupting its supply chains."

While disagreeing with their overall conclusions, Rhea does indicate a willingness to fully consider the views of Grant's critics (in the preface, he graciously singles out Bryce Suderow and Joseph Rose for their research assistance and for challenging his own opinions and assumptions). "While Grant struggled at times to communicate strategic objectives to his subordinates and to adapt his army to a faster-paced, more flexible style of warfare, Rhea suggests that the general successfully shifted the military landscape in the Union’s favor."

Rhea also advances a favorable portrait of Lee's generalship during this stage of the campaign. "On the rebel side, Lee and his staff predicted rightly that Grant would attempt to cross the James River and lay siege to the Army of Northern Virginia while simultaneously targeting Confederate supply lines. Rhea examines how Lee, facing a better-provisioned army whose troops outnumbered Lee’s two to one, consistently fought the Union army to an impasse, employing risky, innovative field tactics to counter Grant’s forces."

Not that anyone expected an awkward crawl over the finish line, but the volume certainly seems to possess the same look of quality and authority that made the other titles so beloved by many. The numerous George Skoch maps also give it a retro-90s feel (in a good way).

1 comment:

  1. Drew:

    For some of us waiting 15 years, Christmas just arrived early!


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