Friday, August 4, 2017

Review of Crenshaw - "RICHMOND SHALL NOT BE GIVEN UP: The Seven Days' Battles, June 25 - July 1, 1862"

[Richmond Shall Not Be Given Up: The Seven Days' Battles, June 25-July 1, 1862 by Doug Crenshaw (Savas Beatie, 2017). Softcover, 14 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, orders of battle, reading list. 192 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-355-3. $14.95]

As many have noted in the past, the famous "Seven Days" series of engagements fought just outside the gates of Richmond (as well as the 1862 Peninsula Campaign as a whole) remains vastly understudied in comparison to other major eastern theater campaigns of similar stature. While no full-length standalone studies have been published for any of the battles fought from June 25 through July 1 (it's hard to believe, isn't it?*), an excellent and highly detailed military examination of the Seven Days does exist with Brian Burton's Extraordinary Circumstances (2001). As part of the Emerging Civil War series tasked with offering "compelling, easy-to-read overviews of some of the Civil War's most important battles and issues," Doug Crenshaw's Richmond Shall Not Be Given Up: The Seven Days' Battles, June 25-July 1, 1862 provides budding readers, or those lacking a taste for the far deeper operational and tactical intricacies exhibited in Burton's book, with a fine general introduction to the topic.

In common with all ECW series titles, the book is filled with period drawings, maps, and photographs (archival and modern), and there are space limitations for the main narrative so historical events are considerably condensed. After a brief introduction, Crenshaw quickly moves through each day of the bloody week. In terms of coverage, the author picks his battles (so to speak). Mention of some of the smaller-sized, albeit often intense, engagements (like Oak Grove and the fighting at the Golding and Garnett farms) is sparse. The author joins participants like Confederates Robert E. Lee and E.P. Alexander, and later observers like Lee biographer D.S. Freeman, in considering Glendale the key missed opportunity of the Seven Days operation. During that battle, a planned 70,000 man combined assault fizzled into a narrow-front frontal attack by the divisions of A.P. Hill and James Longstreet, which was duly repulsed but only after a bitter struggle. Given this interpretation, the text lends a bit more heft to the Glendale/White Oak Swamp and Malvern Hill sections, leaving somewhat lighter coverage for Beaver Dam Creek/Mechanicsville, Gaines's Mill (the campaign's largest battle in terms of numbers directly engaged and casualties suffered), and Savage's Station.

The limitations of the format also mean that evaluations of the battles and leaders are broad stroke in nature. Lee devised an ingenious offensive plan that might have achieved grand results, but the effort was plagued by an inexcusable lack of good maps, poor staff work, and many bad performances by key subordinates. Criticism is leavened by the fact that the Army of Northern Virginia was still a brand new creation and was perhaps incapable of the level of coordination required. On the Union side, the analysis of McClellan's generalship is similarly traditional. The attitude of the Army of the Potomac's leader is presented as unjustifiably pessimistic, and the author joins the great majority of historical opinion in condemning McClellan's personal absence during much of the fighting as well as his compounding the effects of this self-imposed leadership vacuum by failing to appoint one of his sub-commanders to direct affairs in his stead. Crenshaw does not suggest a reason behind the latter, though it seems likely that McClellan did not trust any of his highest-ranking corps commanders, all of whom were originally appointed contrary to his wishes. The author credits McClellan's subordinates for coordinating among themselves at the tactical level a more than adequate defense, their unselfish efforts effectively thwarting Lee's several attempts at dividing and crushing them.

The book has an eight-stop battlefield tour, which is integrated into the narrative (with orientation, background, discussion, and directions/GPS coordinates situated between chapters). The appendix section (frequently one of the most interesting features of the ECW series titles)) has three parts. These include discussions of Jeb Stuart's famous 'Ride Around McClellan,' a sense of the civilian experience of the fighting in Hanover and Henrico counties, and some battlefield preservation history.

Though its focus is primarily military, the volume does also extend a nod toward the most recent scholarship contextualizing the Peninsula/Seven Days as a watershed moment in the war's transformation from limited war aims and more conciliatory policies to emancipation and hard war. In offering a reasonably thorough overview history and tour of the Seven Days battles, Richmond Shall Not Be Given Up is a solid introduction to an important topic.

* - While not the kind of exhaustive treatment referenced above, in fairness it should be mentioned that Crenshaw himself has authored a slim Glendale study that was published earlier this year.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review, Drew. Appreciate it.

    I suggested to Mr. Crenshaw (a real Richmond-area expert) that he pen a Confederate command study of the Seven Days' Battles given that so much has been discovered about the players since Freeman wrote 70+ years ago. He has accepted that offer. We are excited about it even though it is a few years away.


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