Saturday, November 10, 2018

Booknotes: The Real Horse Soldiers

New Arrival:
The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi by Timothy B. Smith (Savas Beatie, 2018).

General Grant ordered a number of diversionary movements to mask the main crossing of his army below Vicksburg. As April turned to May, when the Army of the Tennessee finally did land on solid ground in Mississippi near Bruinsburg, the Confederate response could only be charitably described as disorganized. The consensus among Vicksburg Campaign historians is that Benjamin Grierson's cavalry raid, which sowed destruction and confusion in the Mississippi interior, was a significant factor in ensuring that the early stages of Grant's inland movement did not meet concentrated opposition. Not exactly neglected, the history of the raid has been recounted in several books (most notably the writings of Dee Brown and Ed Bearss), but Timothy Smith's The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi promises us the first full treatment of the operation.

From the description: "For 16 days (April 17 to May 2) Grierson led Confederate pursuers on a high-stakes chase through the entire state of Mississippi, entering the northern border with Tennessee and exiting its southern border with Louisiana. The daily rides were long, the rest stops short, and the tension high. Ironically, the man who led the raid was a former music teacher who some say disliked horses. Throughout, he displayed outstanding leadership and cunning, destroyed railroad tracks, burned trestles and bridges, freed slaves, and created as much damage and chaos as possible."

Many readers will be familiar with John Ford's The Horse Soldiers (1959). While the well-known film is obviously referenced in the book's title, it doesn't appear that the movie, which was based on the Harold Sinclair novel of the same name, is part of Smith's discussion of the raid (perhaps because the intersection of history, novel, and movie has already been thoroughly examined in Neal Longley York's book Fiction as Fact: "The Horse Soldiers" and Popular Memory). Anyway, the book looks like another winner from Smith, who continues to produce original western theater scholarship at a positively Hess-ian pace.


  1. Thank you for this, Drew. I hope you will read it and give it the full treatment. Tim's work on this is really outstanding. I honestly wasn't all that excited about the topic until I delved into it. It really puts everything in context like never before, and the pace is hoof-pounding fast.


    1. There's no chance I won't review a Timothy Smith book.

    2. Drew: A solid philosophy - some authors have "game".


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