Thursday, August 30, 2018

Booknotes: The Union Cavalry and the Chickamauga Campaign

New Arrival:
The Union Cavalry and the Chickamauga Campaign by Dennis W. Belcher
  (McFarland, 2018).

With now four related studies under his belt, Dennis Belcher is rapidly becoming one of the leading authorities on the mounted forces (in particular the Union cavalry) that operated in the Confederate heartland during the Civil War. Though I didn't have the chance to read his biography of David Stanley, the general often credited with being the true "father" of the Army of the Cumberland's mounted arm, his The Cavalry of the Army of the Cumberland (2016) and The Cavalries at Stones River: An Analytical History (2017) are both excellent. I consider the Stones River study his best work to date, and his new book The Union Cavalry and the Chickamauga Campaign adopts a similar presentation (though with a one-sided focus this time).

From the description: "During the Chickamauga Campaign, General Stanley's two Union cavalry divisions battled Forrest's and Wheeler's cavalry corps in some of the most difficult terrain for mounted operations. The Federal troopers, commanded by Crook and McCook, guarded the flanks of the advance on Chattanooga, secured the crossing of the Tennessee River, then pushed into enemy territory. The battle exploded on September 18 as Col. Minty and Col. Wilder held off a determined attack by Confederate infantry. The fighting along Chickamauga Creek included notable actions at Glass Mill and Cooper's Gap. Union cavalry dogged Wheeler's forces throughout Tennessee. The Union troopers fought under conditions so dusty they could hardly see, leading the infantry through the second costliest battle of the war."

The book looks like a worthy companion to David Powell's groundbreaking study of the Confederate cavalry during the Chickamauga Campaign. The preface (which you can read through the title link above) offers a good summary of the contents of the book. Interestingly, Belcher intentionally abbreviates his own coverage of the key September 18 fighting to a single chapter in anticipation of Eric Wittenberg's book-length study Holding the Line on the River of Death: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863 (Fall, 2018). Generally speaking, I don't think it advisable that historians pay that kind of deference, given that multiple accounts of the same actions written by good authors are always useful for comparison, but what's done is done. Wittenberg also contributes the foreword to this book.

In addition to detailed operational and tactical narratives, Belcher's book includes a multitude of photographs along with numerous organizational charts and tables. It also brings back the lost art of full-page(!) maps, all attractive original creations from cartographer George Skoch. Everything looks good.


  1. Drew,

    Just as an FYI (and you may have more information) my copy of The Union Cavalry and the Chickamauga Campaign should arrive today per Amazon. Regarding Wittenburg I also ordered his Holding the River on the Line of Death which as you noted is scheduled for Oct 3 2018 release.

    What is news at least to me (again perhaps not to you) was I had heard Wittenburg's NEXT project after his study on the Reed's Bridge action was a study on the brief battle of Aiken.

    Low and Behold last night I went on Amazaon's website and his book on Aiken is not only available for pre order it is ALLREADY published and available for sale and immediate delivery.

    I ordered a copy and Amazon says it will arrive next Wednesday. Amazon says it was released on July 27 but it must have slipped under everyone's radar.

    Here is the link :,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=detail

    1. Hi Curtis,
      My copy of the Aiken book just arrived yesterday in the mail.

  2. It would be interesting to know how the timing of the respective projects and the two authors' awareness of the same affected the works. One possibility is that Belcher found that he simply had nothing useful to say that Wittenberg wasn't already saying better and in more depth.

    At the same time it is perhaps a shame that the two authors did not simply combine their efforts into a single volume, but I suppose if you don't start out as a joint effort this can be rather difficult.

    Regardless, I hope at some future CW conference we'll get a panel consisting of Powell, Belcher, and Wittenberg discussing cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign for an hour.


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