Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Review - "The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville" (2 Volumes) by Kenneth Hafendorfer

[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, photos, illustrations, notes. Pages main/total:xxv,438/562. ISBN:0-9648550-6-2.]

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.

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[The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville, Volume II: Perryville to Knoxville by Kenneth A. Hafendorfer (KH Press-Author, 2017). Hardcover, 100/174 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:626/852.]

Readers diving into this set might be forgiven for expecting to find in Volume II yet another revision/expansion of the author's Perryville work on the level of the incremental changes made between the first and second editions. What one actually gets, however, is a truly stunning transformation. While it's not possible to pick up on more subtle new lines of interpretation without side-by-side comparison with the 1991 edition, anyone familiar with Hafendorfer's Perryville publications will be struck by the totality of the revamping effort that takes place in Volume II. The bibliography is enlarged by an order of magnitude. For example, the number of manuscript sources listed in this 2017 version represents at least a tenfold increase over the 1991 edition of Perryville. The expansion of the author's research in other source types is similarly dramatic, with the number of newspapers increased by a factor of fourteen. The result is essentially a brand new Perryville battle narrative that is vastly more detailed than those that came before it and profoundly enriched by the great multitude of "new" firsthand accounts. By the crude measure of page count, nearly 500 pages of this volume are devoted to a blow-by-blow microhistory of the battle that was addressed in less than 275 pages in 1991's Perryville! The quantitative and qualitative differences in the cartography similarly represent night and day improvement over previous versions.

One of the greatest questions surrounding the battle was why the bulk of Buell's army, which had been perfectly positioned by the early hours of October 8 to defeat Bragg in detail, failed to fully engage the enemy on that day at Perrville. One of the traditional explanations revolves around an alleged acoustic shadow (created by topography and weather conditions) that led Buell to believe no major fighting was underway. Buell's corps commanders also got their orders for the day inexplicably late. Hafendorfer suggests that the couriers sent from Buell's headquarters were either uncommonly slow or got a delayed start with their orders, with perhaps the latter reason being most likely. General McCook's failure to inform Buell after more than an hour of desperate fighting that a major attack was being made against his corps also delayed any possible response from army headquarters. In exploring why that was the case, the author raises the possibility (unsupported by any evidence)  McCook feared that Buell, whose avoidance of direct confrontation with the enemy earlier in the campaign led many to distrust his fighting spirit, would react to such a message by attempting to break contact rather than commit his army to battle.

Another combination of factors explains why Buell's much larger army did not fall upon Bragg's vulnerable left and rear. Wheeler's cavalry fought a successful delaying action opposite Crittenden's corps, but the absence of a general advance is mostly attributed to Buell's misconception of what was happening at Perryville and the fact that his original plan called for an October 9 battle. Buell's lack of realization that a major battle was being fought combined with an injury sustained during a fall meant he never personally visited the front, and his orders to not bring on a battle on the 8th fixed both Gilbert (who did send substantial aid to stabilize McCook's crumbling front) and Crittenden in place. Both corps did send detachments toward Perryville later in the day, and the Union skirmish line even entered the streets of the city before pulling back.

The book devotes a great deal of attention to describing the plight of the wounded and the activities of the medical services of both sides. During the night Bragg's army pulled out from its Chaplin River defense line and placed itself on the road to Harrodsburg, while Buell's army very cautiously followed in the morning. To the northeast, Kirby Smith's forces failed to trap Sill's Division west of Salt River (though a minor action was fought at Dog Walk) before receiving word of Bragg's directive to combine the three armies at Harrodsburg. To prevent Buell at Perryville from slicing below his army to seize Danville and threaten the army stores collected at Bryantsville and Camp Dick Robinson (a movement that would cut the Confederates off from Tennessee), Bragg retreated further without informing Kirby Smith. When Kirby Smith arrived at Harrodsburg, he was dismayed to find that Bragg had already left, but it didn't matter in the end as the pace of Buell's pursuit, which awaited the arrival of Sill's wandering division to round out McCook's battered corps, was very deliberate.

By the 11th, all three Confederate armies (Bragg's, Kirby Smith's, and Marshall's) were concentrated in one place for the first time in the campaign. Though vulnerable to being turned, the Confederate position was a strong one that secured their forward supply depots. However, with the defeat of Price and Van Dorn in Mississippi, no hope of timely reinforcement, no evidence of a pro-Confederate uprising in Kentucky, and increasingly precarious lines of communication, Bragg favored a general retreat. There were also limited supplies and the lateness of the season to consider. Thus, returning to Tennessee was the prudent choice, and the majority of generals attending the council of war that Bragg assembled to discuss the matter concurred with that view (though Kirby Smith and Marshall cast dissenting votes).

On October 12, the retreat began, with Marshall moving back to Virginia through Pound Gap and both Bragg and Kirby Smith returning to Tennessee via Cumberland Gap. According to Hafendorfer, the Confederate cavalry reasserted itself during the retreat, providing Bragg with better information than Buell was receiving. It helped that Bragg finally appointed a chief of cavalry (Wheeler), and the improvement in overall coordination between the previously scattered mounted commands was immediate.

With his attention too long diverted toward Harrodsburg after leaving Perryville, Buell squandered his narrow window of opportunity to cut off Confederate lines of communication and could only follow in their wake. Within days, Buell, with the highland road network not conducive to pursuit and his army stacked up on the Wilderness Road, abandoned his full-scale pursuit in favor of a single corps (Crittenden's) that was soon after pared down even further to a single division. Ironically, Buell dismantled his pursuit at the precise moment the Confederate retreat was getting into major traffic trouble. As predicted, Kirby Smith found himself stuck at Big Hill among the struggling trains of both armies, and the lengthening gap between his and Bragg's commands exposed his long, open right flank to attack. Fortunately for the Confederates, Buell's pared down pursuit was not in position to exploit that vulnerability. Those Union units that did keep up the pursuit were locked into continuous rear-guard skirmishing with Wheeler's cavalry, the fighting force the author credits most with providing the breathing space needed by Bragg and Kirby Smith to maintain an orderly retreat.

Both Union and Confederate army commanders were heavily censured for their respective roles in the campaign. Buell, who failed to cripple or destroy Bragg's army and did not follow it into East Tennessee but rather returned to Nashville against orders, was replaced by General Rosecrans. For his part, Bragg failed in his mission to bring Kentucky into the Confederate fold and was seemingly back where he started. However, Hafendorfer and others persuasively submit that Bragg's campaign did result in some significant benefits to the Confederate war effort. The fact that Kentuckians failed to rise en masse and Price and Van Dorn were decisively defeated in Mississippi (events that were out of Bragg's control) meant that the campaign's gains could only be limited ones. Even so, the Kentucky Campaign secured Chattanooga (the loss of which would have had devastating effects had it been captured and held by Buell in mid-1862), regained Cumberland Gap, offered temporary relief to the residents of northern Alabama, and allowed the Confederate Army to regain a strong foothold in Middle Tennessee.

In terms of supplementary materials, the appendix section contains opposing orders of battle for Richmond, Iuka, Corinth, and Perrville. The Perrville order of battle displays a unit by unit casualty breakdown (where available), but readers will have to return to Noe's book for unit strength information. The volume concludes with over 150 pages of endnotes and bibliography.

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RECAP AND FINAL THOUGHTS: The 1981 publication of Kenneth Hafendorfer's Perryville: Battle for Kentucky was a true landmark event in the study of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign. Before that time, nothing had been published that even approached that level of coverage and depth of detail. There were criticisms. The book, like all of Hafendorfer's contributions, was self-published and rough around the edges. Many of those complaints were addressed a decade later when a second edition of the book was released that included new maps, new sources, and expanded coverage. Though itself marred by rampant typos, Hafendorfer's The Kentucky Campaign of 1862 and Battle of Perryville represent an upgrade of vastly greater dimensions. Using an even more expansive bibliography and incorporating a completely redone map set, the Perryville battle narrative is vastly expanded and improved in both quality and depth.

Like never before, these two volumes fully and properly contextualize the 1862 Kentucky Campaign within the larger sphere of western theater summer and fall military operations. In them, readers are treated to an unprecedented day-by-day account of the campaign from July through October. The perspectives of both sides are also accorded equal weight. Hafendorfer's Perryville work has a rival in Noe's book (indeed many readers will find Noe's narrative of events more accessible), but nothing approaching Hafendorfer's meticulously rendered accounts of the "Race to Louisville" and the retreat from Perryille exist elsewhere in the literature. Hafendorfer's microscopic approach allows readers to fully recognize and appreciate the many factors that went into command-level decision-making along with moments of contingency in the campaign where events might have played out distinctly different from history. The cost and very small print run of these titles will mean that the set will become highly challenging to obtain secondhand, but the most serious students of the Kentucky Campaign will do well to try to obtain a copy of this holy grail-level collector's item.

5 comments:

  1. Ken sent me the giant manuscript, but alas he would not take any advice on editing or footnoting. That was a shame, IMHO.

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  2. Thanks for taking the time to undertake such a detailed review, Drew. Given the scarcity of the book(s), yours may be the most in-depth review this work will receive. Not sure when I will read mine, but I will be sure to have a magnifying glass handy for some of the maps where the regimental numbers are a bit small for my aging eyes.

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    1. I bought reading glasses for the first time just so I could read the map labels in this book! I got tired of squinting throughout the first volume.

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  3. In a way, your comments remind me of how George Washington put down an incipient revolt by his officers in 1783 disgusted by the inaction of Congress. He put on his reading glasses and said: Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have grown not only gray but almost blind in the service of my country. Thank you for your service, Drew. :)

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    1. I'll gladly take any kind of association with GW!

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