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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Booknotes: River of Death - The Chickamauga Campaign, Volume 1

New Arrival:
River of Death-The Chickamauga Campaign, Volume 1: The Fall of Chattanooga
  by William Glenn Robertson (UNC Press, 2018).

In the many years that have passed since the Centennial publication of Glenn Tucker's Chickamauga, follow-up coverage of the battle (from Cozzens, Woodworth, and others) has been infrequent at best. Fortunately, this extended period of neglect has been dramatically transformed for the better over the past decade. David Powell alone is responsible for a monumental trilogy, a Confederate cavalry study, a critical decision analysis book, and the co-authorship of a wonderful Chickamauga atlas. Others have chipped in, as well, with Dennis Belcher earlier this year contributing a fine-looking study of the mounted forces of both sides. 

One of the very few truly towering figures among Chickamauga experts is William Glenn Robertson. Unfettered by the usual limitations of the medium, he crafted in five entire issues of Blue & Gray Magazine perhaps the best thing that esteemed periodical ever produced. It might be harder for non-subscribers to get a hold of now that the magazine is gone, but I would still recommend that series as the finest Chickamauga resource outside of actual books. Undoubtedly, many B&G readers at the time wondered whether Robertson was interested in expanding his decades of knowledge and expertise into a full-fledged book project. We certainly have the definitive answer to that question with the release of River of Death-The Chickamauga Campaign, Volume 1: The Fall of Chattanooga. The final part of the two-volume set will be published at some future date.

Like Powell, Robertson isolates the Tullahoma Campaign from the Chickamauga Campaign that directly followed it and does not offer in River of Death any kind of detailed treatment of the Middle Tennessee operation. The book begins on July 4, 1863 and ends on September 9, the date of Chattanooga's fall to Rosecrans's army. Of course, any kind of detailed comparison between Powell and Robertson will have to wait until Volume 2 comes out. Just a very quick skim over Robertson's early chapters reveals a heavy emphasis on assessing the high commands and army staffs of both sides along with their operational planning. There are eight maps in total, which are qualitatively good but rather light in number for a roughly 500-page narrative discussion of a very complex operation.

From the description: "In this first volume of an authoritative two-volume history of the Chickamauga Campaign, William Glenn Robertson provides a richly detailed narrative of military operations in southeastern and eastern Tennessee as two armies prepared to meet along the "River of Death." Robertson tracks the two opposing armies from July 1863 through Bragg's strategic decision to abandon Chattanooga on September 9. Drawing on all relevant primary and secondary sources, Robertson devotes special attention to the personalities and thinking of the opposing generals and their staffs. He also sheds new light on the role of railroads on operations in these landlocked battlegrounds, as well as the intelligence gathered and used by both sides."

"Delving deep into the strategic machinations, maneuvers, and smaller clashes that led to the bloody events of September 19–20, 1863, Robertson reveals that the road to Chickamauga was as consequential as the unfolding of the battle itself." This long-awaited, definitive distillation of Robertson's decades of exhaustive research and thought is undoubtedly a must-read for students of the Chickamauga campaign and battle.


  1. I am so happy Glenn's work is finally out. I know he has been laboring on it for a long while, and he and I talked about it many times. He has been a friend for many years, and a good friend of David Powell's. Glenn's work is quite different from Powell's three-volume set; they compliment rather than compete.

    Years ago someone screwed over Glenn by taking advantage of his generosity without letting him know about the book he planned to publish.

    Now two historians tower over the campaign. Only two.

    1. They may be friends, but as a reader it is really noticeable that Robertson doesn't even mention Powell in the preface and doesn't have the trilogy in his bibliography.

  2. I would second TPS's thoughts about Glenn's book. He visited our roundtable and his passion for this subject was easy to see.
    He expressed some concern that the final product would be what he wanted based on publisher concerns. I hope he is happy with it and look forward to the second volume appearing soon.


  3. To further give Dave his due, he put this up on his blog regarding this book:

    "Am I suggesting that you go read the competition? Absolutely. Why? Two reasons. First, because this is a first-rate work piece of scholarship. Second, because the Chickamauga Campaign is so rich a topic of military history that it deserves all the attention it is finally receiving."

    Anecdotally, this happens all too infrequently in the field where existing recent scholarship seems to be ignored (unless it's by the same publisher). If I didn't already own the three Powell volumes, this gesture by Dave would have inspired to buy them.


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