Friday, May 8, 2020

Booknotes: Custer's Gray Rival

New Arrival:
Custer's Gray Rival: The Life of Confederate Major General Thomas Lafayette Rosser by Sheridan R. Barringer (Fox Run Pub, 2019).

Some readers might recall this title being in the production queue of another publisher for a long time before disappearing (those things happen). However, those who were looking forward to it should be delighted to know that Fox Run Publishing picked it up and released it recently. Though a relative newcomer to the scene, Fox Run has published, among other things, a pair of very good Eric Wittenberg titles covering the Battle of Aiken and the Bennett Place surrender. Getting back to the matter at hand, General Rufus Barringer biographer Sheridan Barringer's new book Custer's Gray Rival: The Life of Confederate Major General Thomas Lafayette Rosser is "the first serious biography of this important officer."

Though it's likely that few cavalry aficionados would rank Rosser among the best generals the war produced, he was at the very least an interesting individual. From the description: "Tom Rosser served in nearly every battle of the Army of Northern Virginia. The lanky officer, known as much for his temper as his fighting abilities, resigned from West Point two weeks prior to graduation when Virginia seceded from the Union. He began the war in the artillery, transferred to the cavalry, and ended the fight under a cloud of some disgrace―even after helping win the last victory in Virginia."

Well known to Civil War readers as an intimate and protege of the legendary General J.E.B. Stuart, Rosser proved to be one of those touchy officers who could be their own worst enemy. According to Barringer, Rosser's "ability to take umbrage at the slightest offense was matched by his impatience and oversized ego." More: "Rosser, who believed Stuart was conspiring to keep him from making general, finally achieved that rank in October of 1863 and went on to lead the famous Laurel Brigade in a number of campaigns. In 1864 after Stuart's death, he accused his new commander, General Wade Hampton, of blocking his promotion to major general." His Civil War career was also closely linked to that of West Point classmate George Armstrong Custer (thus the book's title).

Although Rosser certainly had his moments, he's probably best remembered for the two military disasters to which his name is permanently attached. "The cavalryman's most prominent service arrived in the Shenandoah Valley under Lt. Gen. Jubal Early in the fall of 1864, where Rosser led daring raids and achieved success in furnishing the army with valuable intelligence, livestock, and other supplies. His embarrassing failure in the Confederate debacle at Tom's Brook on October 9 against his former classmate and rival George Custer, combined with his absence from the front at a shad bake at Five Forks during the war's final days, cast a dark cloud over his otherwise solid record."

The text is supported by eight maps along with many other illustrations, and footnotes are employed instead of endnotes (which is always nice). In researching the book, Barringer "mined manuscript collections, first-person accounts, and scores of letters and other memoranda written by Rosser himself," and the end result is "a long overdue study of one of American's most interesting characters."


  1. I am the author and have signed copies available from for $32 each with free shipping. See Send payment to:
    S. R. Barringer
    23 Horse Pen Road
    Newport News, VA 23602

  2. I heard, I can't remember were that Sheridan Barringer was also working on a book about Gen. Thomas Munford. Have you heard this anywhere?

    Connan Smith

    1. Yes. His Amazon author bio lists his current projects, among them a Munford biography.

    2. Nice, Wickham too. We're living in a golden age for Civil War books.

  3. Hi Drew
    Glad to hear the author is working on other biographies of lower level officers.

    Don H.


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