Friday, April 12, 2019

Booknotes: Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah

New Arrival:
Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah: Major General Franz Sigel and the War in the Valley of Virginia, May 1864 by David A. Powell (Savas Beatie, 2019).

David Powell is, of course, one of the leading experts on the Battle of Chickamauga, but his research and views on other topics outside the mountainous wilds of the Tennessee-Georgia border have invariably proved interesting as well. His new book Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah: Major General Franz Sigel and the War in the Valley of Virginia, May 1864 examines from the Union perspective the western wing of Grant's multi-pronged spring offensive in the eastern theater.

From the description: "Union General Ulysses S. Grant regarded a spring campaign in the Valley of Virginia as integral to his overall strategy designed to turn Robert E. Lee’s strategic western flank, deny his Army of Northern Virginia much needed supplies, and prevent other Confederates from reinforcing Lee. It fell to Union general and German transplant Franz Sigel to execute Grant’s strategy in the northern reaches of the Shenandoah while Maj. Gen. George Crook struck elsewhere in southwestern Virginia. Sigel’s record in the field was checkered at best, and he was not Grant’s first choice to lead the effort, but a combination of politics and other factors left the German in command.

Sigel met Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge and his small army on May 15 just outside the crossroads town of New Market. The hard-fought affair hung in the balance until finally the Union lines broke, and Sigel’s Yankees fled the field. Breckinridge’s command included some 300 young men from the Virginia Military Institute’s Corps of Cadets. VMI’s presence and dramatic role in the fighting ensured that New Market would never be forgotten, but pushed other aspects of this interesting and important campaign into the back seat of history.

"Previous works have focused on the Confederate side of the battle, using Sigel’s incompetence as sufficient excuse to explain why the Federals were defeated. This methodology, however, neglects the other important factors that contributed to the ruin of Grant’s scheme in the Valley."

Not another micro-treatment of the New Market battle (we already have that in spades, the best being Charles Knight's Valley Thunder), the book is broader in scope. Though it does include a multi-chapter account of the Battle of New Market, Powell's book is more of an operational-scale examination of parallel Union offensive movements in West Virginia (the campaign there culminating in the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain) and the Shenandoah Valley.


  1. I'm looking forward to this.

  2. Very interested in this one, I assume Powell will hit it out of the park yet again.


***PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING***: You must SIGN YOUR NAME when submitting your comment. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties, anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be removed. Thank you for your cooperation.