Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Review - "The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville" (2 Vols.) by Kenneth Hafendorfer [to be continued]

[The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville, Volume I: Tupelo to Perryville by Kenneth A. Hafendorfer (KH Press-Author, 2017). Hardcover, 74/174 maps, illustrations, notes. Pages main/total:xxv,438/562. ISBN:0-9648550-6-2. OP]

The best part of it built up over the past three decades, the current state of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign's military history literature is more than respectable in size and quality. We have two full-length Perryville studies in Kenneth Noe's Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle (2001) and Kenneth Hafendorfer's Perryville: Battle for Kentucky (1981, revised and expanded in 1991). Indeed, Hafendorfer, a Kentucky physician and avocational historian, has contributed more than any other individual to the campaign literature. In addition to Perryville, his other book-length military studies include an exhaustive operational history of Confederate mounted forces during the campaign [They Died by Twos and Tens: The Confederate Cavalry in the Kentucky Campaign of 1862 (1995)], the 1997 book Nathan Bedford Forrest, The Distant Storm: The Murfreesboro Raid, July 13, 1862, and a far more detailed treatment of the Richmond battle [The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky - August 30, 1862 (2006)] than the one found in D. Warren Lambert's 1995 book When the Ripe Pears Fell: The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky. Lewis D. Nicholls's A Masterful Retreat: The Story of the 7th Division's Retreat Across Eastern Kentucky from Sept. 17 to Oct. 3, 1862 (2006, rev. and expanded 2014) covers the successful escape of Union general George Morgan's division from its encirclement at Cumberland Gap. There is also an excellent essay anthology edited by Kent Masterson Brown titled The Civil War in Kentucky: The Battle for the Bluegrass State (2000). The standard single-volume history of the campaign remains James Lee McDonough's War In Kentucky: Shiloh To Perryville (1994); however, the level of detail in that work pales in comparison to that presented in Kenneth Hafendorfer's final work, a two-volume study titled The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville (2017). While Hafendorfer was able to complete this mammoth capstone to his Civil War writing career, he unfortunately passed away during publication. Released in a very limited print run of only 108 numbered copies, the set is out-of-print and certain to become difficult to find on the secondary market.

As indicated by its title, The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville, Volume I: Tupelo to Perryville covers background history and all events leading up to the campaign's climactic clash of arms. There isn't a great deal of source commentary or direct engagement with other authors in either main text or notes. The positively gargantuan bibliography listing primary and secondary sources of every type (including a vast number of manuscript collections) mainly serves the author's descriptive military narrative, which is an exhaustively detailed, day-by-day account of the campaign. The maps (174 in total, 74 in this volume) come in all different scales, with both tactical and operational maps exhibiting useful unit and topography information at a high degree of detail. Assisted by very helpful captions, these numerous original maps are closely tied to the text and are of above-average craftsmanship (though magnification aids might be required for some eyes).

Hafendorfer's military treatment is remarkably comprehensive. Of course, the heart of the narrative follows the main columns of each side (Don Carlos Buell's Union army and the combined Confederate armies of Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith). Addressed in Volume I are Bragg's redeployment to Chattanooga, Kirby Smith's bypassing of Cumberland Gap and plunge north into Central Kentucky, the "Race to Louisville" (won by Buell), and the various maneuvers from both sides leading up to the October 8 Battle of Perryville. The Battle of Munfordville is presented in detail, but the fighting at Richmond is accorded only summary treatment (likely because, as mentioned above, that battle has already been addressed thoroughly by the author in another book).

Volume I also encompasses related campaigns and movements in North Mississippi, Tennessee, and SW Virginia/SE Kentucky. In addition to Armstrong's Raid in West Tennessee, the fighting in Mississippi at Iuka, Corinth, and Davis Bridge is recounted at unexpected length in the text, and the relevance of these actions to the distant Kentucky Campaign is clearly explained. Confederate generals Price and Van Dorn were ordered to move against Union forces west of the Tennessee River in hopes of keeping Grant and Rosecrans from sending reinforcements to Buell. However, unbeknownst to the Confederates, heavy detachments from Grant's command had already been sent north, and Bragg's wish that Van Dorn and Price cover his western flank in Kentucky proved unrealistic against heavier than expected opposition. Though no one writing specifically about the Kentucky Campaign before now (including McDonough) has reserved this much space to associated events in West Tennessee and North Mississippi, emphasis on links between the fighting in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi in 1862 can be found in Earl Hess's Banners to the Breeze: The Kentucky Campaign, Corinth, and Stones River (2000). On the campaign's opposite flank, Bragg and Kirby Smith received less than hearty cooperation, at least initially, from General Humphrey Marshall's small command as it advanced into Kentucky from S.W. Virginia. As these events clearly show, the entire Confederate campaign in the Middle West during the late summer and early fall was hampered by inaccurate knowledge of the opposition and failure to employ a truly unified command structure.

While the author mostly prefers to present events as they happened and leave detailed critiques of command decisions to the reader, the most enduring and prominent points of controversy are duly addressed in some manner. Much censure has been heaped upon General Buell over the years for not immediately attacking Bragg's smaller army in Tennessee, a movement that could have quashed the Confederate campaign right from the beginning. The book's minutely detailed account of Bragg's march north from Chattanooga, which was very effectively screened by Confederate cavalry and especially by Bragg's skillful exploitation of the difficult terrain of the Cumberland mountains and plateau (a region heavily cut by steep ridges and long valleys connected through narrow gaps), seems to indicate that a decision to plunge ahead into that kind of forbidding military topography was far from straightforward in terms of weighing risk versus reward.

Buell has also been frequently criticized for not attacking Bragg's army at Munfordville during the so-called "Race to Louisville." Bragg's army was clearly more vulnerable there than it was earlier in the campaign, but Buell still declined to attack in favor of continuing on to Louisville. Though the author cites fairly substantial evidence from Union sources that Buell's consideration of his army as unfit for battle (worn-down and low on supplies after its long march through Tennessee and Kentucky) wasn't mere excuse making, it would be difficult to argue that the fighting condition of the Confederates could have been any better. Regardless, the controversial decision to avoid confronting Bragg until the army was fully refit and reinforced at Louisville was militarily (if not politically) justifiable. Indeed, the way the army was directed from Louisville in the days leading up to Perryville indicated that Buell's decision was about to pay off in a big way with a defeat of Bragg's army in detail. Alas, as is so often the case in war, the masterful setup to Buell's counterstroke from Louisville was flubbed in its final execution.

In addressing the performance of the Confederate high command, there's the usual critical discussion of the campaign's absence of unified command leadership from the outset and lack of full cooperation between Bragg, Kirby Smith, and Marshall. Like others have before him, Hafendorfer sees Bragg's performance as sharp and decisive, even brilliant, during the early phases of the campaign. However, frustration (with fellow generals and with the Kentucky population's reluctance to rise up in support) and crippling indecision set in as the operation progressed. By the time Buell's rejuvenated army left Louisville, Bragg's command was scattered and unable to respond to the new higher tempo of operations. Bragg, who believed Buell's two-division diversionary column launched toward Frankfort to be the enemy's main effort, ordered Polk to march north from Bardstown and hit the Union army on the flank. Polk, who at that moment had the better grasp of the military chessboard, realized this would take his marching corps across the front of Buell's main body and refused to comply. Examining the best evidence through the advantage of hindsight, most historians and writers (including Hafendorfer and recent Polk biographer Huston Horn) side with Polk on the matter. Nevertheless, Polk's exercise of command discretion earned Bragg's lasting enmity, and Polk's fateful October 6 message to Bragg reporting that the enemy force opposite the army's left flank west of Perryville was not large only reinforced Bragg's confusion about where the enemy's main thrust was being directed.

Another part of the army that let Bragg down during the climax of the campaign was his cavalry. Hafendorfer's narrative places heavy emphasis on the cavalry's role in the campaign. Drawing heavily from his earlier work in They Died by Twos and Tens, the author is persuasive in arguing that the Confederate mounted arm that was so instrumental to success during the early stages of the campaign, had by October been rendered only a shell of its former self. Coincident with the diminution of Bragg's cavalry strength and effectiveness was the rapid expansion, reorganization, and overall rebirth of Buell's formerly outclassed cavalry force. With mounted superiority on the other foot, Buell's multi-column advance out of Louisville was so effectively screened from prying eyes that the convergence of three Union corps on Perryville came as a complete surprise to the Confederates. The severely worn-down condition of the Confederate cavalry left them unable to render assistance to Bragg's increasingly confused mind. With little help from the eyes and ears of his army, Bragg was unable to reconcile the contradictory reports about enemy strength he received from Kirby Smith on the right east of the Kentucky River and Hardee/Polk on the left near Perryville. With their commander in the dark, Confederate forces were spread out over a wide area at the very moment when concentration was essential for any chance at success.


NOTE:
The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville, Volume II: Perryville to Knoxville has also been reviewed on the site.
< < < < Click HERE to read the combined review of both volumes > > > >




Links to other books mentioned in the review:
Perryville: Battle for Kentucky* by Kenneth Hafendorfer.
Nathan Bedford Forrest - The Distant Storm: The Murfreesboro Raid of July 13, 1862 by Kenneth Hafendorfer.
War In Kentucky: Shiloh To Perryville by James Lee McDonough.
Battle of Richmond, Kentucky - August 30, 1862 by Kenneth Hafendorfer.
They Died by Twos and Tens: The Confederate Cavalry in the Kentucky Campaign of 1862 by Kenneth Hafendorfer.
A Masterful Retreat: The Story of the 7th Divisions Retreat Across Eastern Kentucky from Sept. 17 to Oct. 3, 1862 by Lewis Nicholls.
When the Ripe Pears Fell: The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky by D. Warren Lambert.
Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle by Kenneth Noe.
Banners to the Breeze: The Kentucky Campaign, Corinth, and Stones River by Earl Hess.
The Civil War in Kentucky: The Battle for the Bluegrass State ed. by Kent Masterson Brown.

* - I've come across secondary market listings of a 1989 printing of this title with enough frequency to believe that it exists. If it does, it's probably a straight reprint (as those same listings typically falsely claim it to be a first edition, first printing); however, it does seem odd that Hafendorfer would have done that after eight years just to release a new updated/expanded edition only two years later. As far as I know, this is the only Hafendorfer book for which multiple editions or printings exist.

12 comments:

  1. Yet another Hafendorfer work not available to us with a limited budget. I fortunately obtained the worthy Mill Springs and Battle of Wilcat Mountain when I had the chance.







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    1. Yes, it definitely helps to get them while still in print, which was difficult to track in the pre and early internet days. I don't know if I will ever get the Murfreesboro book.

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  2. Drew,
    Thanks for the superior review. Sorry I could not be of more help regarding how much I have read of Haffendorfer’s Kentucky Campaign of 1862.
    Time commitments with family, business, etc., forced me to put the First Volume Down.
    What I did start with (about mid-way through Volume I) I completely agree with your assessment. Dr. Haffendorfer’s book is a fantastic blend of the operational, strategic, and tactical level of the Kentucky Campaign from the beginning of June 1862 and Bragg’s assumption to command of the Army of the Mississippi. His decision to re-deploy his forces from Tupelo to Chattanooga via a circuitous route of 800 miles for the advance into Kentucky and how he was able to pull it off in the face of Halleck and Buell’s vastly superior numbers has always amazed me.
    I agree that Haffendorfer does a magnificent job of adroitly moving between the Strategic & Tactical level in complicated movements crossing 4 states - Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama. As you note it is often on a daily basis covering all of the daily maneuvering, skirmishing, clashes between multiple Armies and commanders – Halleck, Smith, Buell, Bragg, Humphries, Price, Van Dorn, Rosecrans and Grant.
    He does a great job in helping you understand and view the Heartland Campaign as I have always thought it should be viewed with equal emphasis on the actions occurring in West Tennessee, North Mississippi, Buell’s advance from Nashville towards Chattanooga and Humphries minor support from SW VA into Eastern Kentucky. I think that viewing these attending movements in other areas of the Western Theater are key to understanding the totality of the campaign.
    I think it interesting that you mention the “flanks” of the campaign being Van Dorn and Price’s attempt to keep Federal forces pinned in West Tennessee and on the complete other end of the campaign the importance of the Cumberland Gap related to Smith and Humphries initial movements in Kentucky and Eastern Virginia.
    It points to a hole in the literature in my opinion waiting to be filled in the literature by the right historian. The hole being the actions post -Shiloh from mid-April 1862 to the end of June 1862. These events being the twin Siege of Corinth and the Confederate occupation and retreat from the Cumberland Gap in June 1862 with Morgan’s seizure of the gap. Somehow I have to think that just the way Haffendorfer treats the North MS/West TN movements and the SW VA & Eastern KY movements the events of the Siege of Corinth, movement towards Nashville and the actions at the Gap all relate to each other on a Strategic level. One can only hope that a historian like Haffendorfer will fill this Gap no pun intended and create a similar theater wide Operational, Strategic and Tactical study similar to his of this period from post-Shiloh through to the redeployment away from Tupelo to Chattanooga at the end of June.
    Curt Thomasco

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    1. Hi Curt,
      I haven't check in with him in a long time, but Chris Slocumbe is presumably still hard at work on his Siege of Corinth study. I need to revisit Hess's "Banners to the Breeze" someday.

      Drew

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  3. Thanks for tackling these two volumes, Drew. Too many people, including a good friend of mine, consider Kentucky a "backwater" of the Civil War. Hopefully, your review of both volumes will change some minds. Glad I obtained my set. Hopefully, one day another edition will be published so this work gets wider circulation. Looking forward to your review of Volume II and your concluding thoughts.

    John Sinclair

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    1. John,
      I bet things would be different if Perryville had blown up into a big battle instead of a sputtering anti-climax between only parts of both armies. Maybe...

      I am looking forward to reading Vol. II (I needed a break after the first one).

      Drew

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  4. Hi Drew - thanks for mentioning my project. I work on it every day. In the last couple years I've decided to jump off the deep end, so to speak, and try to include a true statistical study of casualties from the siege - both from the small battles and from disease using state AG records and CSRs at the National Archives. A clearer picture of the medical craziness during the siege is slowly emerging. It's been a long road, especially as we've welcomed two kids and have moved three times in the last handful of years. I've finally got to a point where I'm making faster progress.

    Tim Smith provides a wonderful shorter study of the siege in his Corinth 1862 from 2012.

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  5. Hi Drew - thanks for mentioning my project. I work on it every day. In the last couple years I've decided to jump off the deep end, so to speak, and try to include a true statistical study of casualties from the siege - both from the small battles and from disease using state AG records and CSRs at the National Archives. A clearer picture of the medical craziness during the siege is slowly emerging. It's been a long road, especially as we've welcomed two kids and have moved three times in the last handful of years. I've finally got to a point where I'm making faster progress.

    Tim Smith provides a wonderful study of the siege in his Corinth 1862 from 2012.

    Chris

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  6. I managed to pick up one of the final copies of this set, justifying it by picking up overtime at work, and am very glad I did. I am definitely more of a Western Theater student, and it is great to have this massive set in a prime spot on my shelves.
    The late author's work was excellent and groundbreaking. Hoping a few others pick up the torch on Kentucky in the War and keep carrying it forward.

    ReplyDelete

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