Thursday, February 13, 2020

Booknotes: Decisions at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House

New Arrival:
Decisions at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House: The Eighteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battles by Dave Townsend (UT Press, 2020).

Decisions at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House is the seventh volume in UT Press's rather stimulating Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series. With multiple titles released every year, there's no sign that the series is slowing down (a Tullahoma installment will soon follow this one). The book also marks the arrival of another new contributor. As far as I can tell, this is Dave Townsend's first Civil War book (his author bio, a masterstroke of modest succinctness, only states that he's "a retired engineer").

Giving that SCH directly followed the Wilderness fighting, it makes sense to combine them in a single volume. Following the established format, Decisions at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House "introduces readers to critical decisions made by Confederate and Union commanders throughout the two costly meetings. Dave Townsend examines the decisions that prefigured the action and shaped the course of each battle as it unfolded. Rather than a linear history of the battles, Townsend’s discussion of the critical decisions presents readers with a vivid blueprint of the battles’ developments. Exploring the critical decisions in this way allows the reader to progress from a sense of what happened in these battles to why they happened as they did." The decision analysis is presented by Townsend in three phases: the Wilderness (8 decisions, including pre-campaign), transition to SCH (4 decisions), and the battle of Spotsylvania Court House (6 decisions).

While all authors closely adhere to the general series framework established by the Spruills, there are varying styles and features, and it will be interesting to see what Townsend will do. It does appear that he has reinvigorated the tour sections a bit. Also, his conclusion section sorts the decisions by how well they achieved the intended result. This is new, I believe, and perhaps a good feature for future volumes to adopt. Of course, delving more into these matters will have to await the actual review.

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