Monday, October 22, 2018

Booknotes: The Battle of Ball's Bluff

New Arrival:
The Battle of Ball's Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers by Bill Howard
  (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press, 2018).

Four book-length Ball's Bluff studies exist, the most thorough among them James Morgan's treatment, which was republished in a "revised and expanded" edition in 2011. Bill Howard's The Battle of Ball's Bluff: All the Drowned Soldiers is another new edition of an earlier work, in this case the author's 1994 book The Battle of Ball's Bluff: The "Leesburg Affair," October 21, 1861. That one was originally published as part of the well-known but now long out-of-print Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders series from H.E. Howard.

It is noted in the Acknowledgements that Howard's new version is, like Morgan's, significantly revised and expanded. However, as before, the focus of Howard's book remains on providing an account of the battle and its aftermath that will appeal to a broad range of readers. I don't own a copy of the first edition, so I can't make any kind of direct comparison between the two. I hope the narrative specifically points out where Howard's interpretations differ significantly from the others, particularly Morgan's gold standard treatment.

The volume is abundantly illustrated and contains a more than solid set of battlefield maps [borrowed with permission from Ted Ballard's government-published BB staff ride book] that show detailed topographical information and closely follow small-unit positions and movements at each stage of the fight. Events during and after the battle are given equal weight. Four full chapters are devoted to the aftermath of the battle, a period that included a political and media firestorm, a congressional investigation, and the shameful arrest and lengthy imprisonment of General Charles P. Stone (the division commander of the badly defeated Union forces). In addition to orders of battle, the appendix section houses casualty lists, a few letters, and some additional historical tidbits.

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