Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Booknotes: Decisions at Chickamauga

New Arrival:
Decisions at Chickamauga: The Twenty-four Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle by Dave Powell with maps by David Friedrichs (UT Press, 2018).

Dave Powell's Decisions at Chickamauga is the third volume from University of Tennessee Press's Command Decisions in America's Civil War series. You can find my positive reviews of the earlier titles covering Stones River and Second Bull Run here and here. Like the others, Decisions at Chickamauga "introduces readers to critical decisions made by Confederate and Union commanders during that fateful battle. Rather than offering a history of the Battle of Chickamauga, Powell focuses on critical decisions as they developed. This account is designed to present the reader with a coherent and manageable interpretive blueprint of the battle’s key moments. Exploring and studying these critical decisions allows the reader to progress from an understanding of what happened to why events happened as they did."

There will be more in the future (including the next one on Chattanooga), but this is also the first volume not authored by one or more of the Spruills, who were the original developers of the series. As one would expect, Powell's book adopts the established decision analysis format [Situation → Options (2 or 3) → Decision → Results/Impact subsections for each] but does not repeat the extensive preamble discussing terminology and format, so readers would be well served by referring to the first volume for this information. The author also eschews alternative history subsections for Chickamauga, perhaps because he selected a much higher number of decisions than previous volumes, which had sixteen and fourteen respectively, and space considerations came into play.

Powell's set of twenty-four critical decisions does encompass the same wide scale array (strategic, operational, and tactical) as before. These are organized into five chapters, all annotated. While the popular understanding of Chickamauga still deems it a two-day battle, the consensus among experts is that we should regard it as a three-day affair, so Powell's chapters revolve around decisions made during each of the three days of battle plus campaign prologue and aftermath.

In line with the rest of the series, a 17-stop battlefield tour on park grounds (plus some optional locations beyond) is a major component of the book, providing experiential reinforcement to the armchair decision analysis that precedes it. Different from its predecessors, because this touring section does not have its own series of small-scale tactical maps (just a general overview), the volume only has eleven maps in total. Army orders of battle complete the appendix section. Chickamauga students will definitely want to check this one out.

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