Friday, August 31, 2018

Booknotes: Five or Ten Minutes of Blind Confusion

New Arrival:
Five or Ten Minutes of Blind Confusion: The Battle of Aiken, South Carolina, February 11, 1865 by Eric J. Wittenberg (Fox Run Pub, 2018).

For a long time, Civil War readers interested in the closing months of the war in the Carolinas had little to take in beyond John Barrett's Centennial-era classic The Civil War in North Carolina. This changed in a big way just over twenty years ago (wow, has it really been that long already?) when Mark Bradley's The Battle Of Bentonville: Last Stand In The Carolinas (followed soon after by his equally good book covering the Bennett Place surrender) shined new light on the subject in a major way. Technically, Cheairs Hughes's Bentonville: The Final Battle of Sherman and Johnston beat Bradley to the punch by less than a year, but I think most consider Bradley's work the more extensive, influential, and inspiring of the two. Since then, a growing number of very good studies have filled in some of the remaining gaps and expanded upon the prior work of others. Eric Wittenberg's third book associated with the 1865 Carolinas Campaign is Five or Ten Minutes of Blind Confusion: The Battle of Aiken, South Carolina, February 11, 1865. which tells the tale of "(o)ne of the few Confederate battlefield victories in the dark days of 1865."

From the description: "Aiken itself had little strategic significance to either side; Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman had intended to by-pass the small resort town. Sherman intended that his cavalry commander, Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick head off in the direction of Augusta, Georgia to confuse the Confederates of his true target, Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. Since the Civil War began in South Carolina, both Sherman and the men of his army were eager to punish its population.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, the commander of the Confederate cavalry forces, had another idea. Aiken is approximately 13 miles from Augusta, Georgia and the largest gunpowder works in the Confederacy. Wheeler feared that Kilpatrick intended to destroy the powder works, which were critical to the continued military viability of the Confederate armies.

On February 11, 1865, Wheeler set an ambush and drew the Union cavalry into his trap at Aiken, then pounced with nearly 3,000 Confederate horse soldiers. The urban street fighting was short and brutal. Kilpatrick himself was nearly captured, and only hard fighting by his troopers saved his command, which was able to extract itself from Wheeler's trap. Wheeler followed, and a full day of combat ended with one of the final Confederate battlefield victories of the Civil War.

According to the author, while Aiken was a Confederate tactical victory, the temporary moment of glory rebounded to their overall detriment in a major way. "Wheeler's stand made the defense of Columbia untenable, and just six days later, Columbia fell. Nearly the entire downtown was burned in a great conflagration, and the Palmetto State suffered."

The text is supported by five excellent maps from Mark Moore, one of the great cartographers in the business today and a Civil War North Carolina expert himself. The publisher, a newcomer with a very small but commendable catalog of titles so far, sent me the gray-cloth hardcover version for review consideration, which is always appreciated.


  1. Wittenberg and Hess are, in hockey terms, guys who play 25 minutes a night. I have never heard of this publisher but I'd be very surprised if this isn't up to the usual Wittenberg standard. "Good on them" for getting a review copy to you.

    1. I always appreciate it when I get sent the hardcover version when both are released at the same (very rare), and also package it well enough that it arrives undamaged (sadly, almost just as rare)!


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