Sunday, February 24, 2019

Book News: The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory

With its projected mid-August release date, it's a bit surprising that Adam Petty's The Battle of the Wilderness in Myth and Memory: Reconsidering Virginia's Most Notorious Civil War Battlefield didn't make it into LSU Press's SS '19 catalog, but that happens every once in a while. The wording of the title is a sign of the times, but its subtitle is certainly eye-catching on another level. You can see what the author might be getting at. By any measure, the collective imagery of hundreds of wounded men being consumed by flames ignited by the muzzle flashes of rifles and artillery during the battle is singularly horrific. Also common to all accounts of the Wilderness battle are vivid descriptions of the fighting terrain as being uniquely claustrophobic in its near impenetrability to sight and awareness if not movement.

The book description is a bit short on content details but tantalizing nonetheless. The assumption of distinctive fighting conditions appears to be the source of much of the discussion. "In this book, Adam Petty argues that veterans and historians of the American Civil War created and perpetuated myths about the Wilderness, a forest in Virginia which was notorious for being one of the most challenging battlefields of the war. According to Petty, mythology about the campaigns in the Wilderness began to take shape during the war, but truly blossomed in the postwar years and continue into the present."

More: "The intention of this study is to sift through the Wilderness myth to obtain an accurate understanding of how the geography of the battle affected combat and strategy. While the Wilderness was indeed a battlefield that created very difficult combat conditions, the author suggests that the claims that it was unique and that it favored the Confederates are unfounded." Count me intrigued about this one.


  1. Hopefully the author compares and contrasts Union perception of the Wilderness in 1864 vs during the Chancellorsville and Mine Run Campaigns in 1863.


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