Monday, March 1, 2021

Booknotes: The Assault on Fort Blakeley

New Arrival:
The Assault on Fort Blakeley: The Thunder and Lightning of Battle by Mike Bunn (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Press, 2021).

The failure to neutralize or capture the major blockade running Gulf port of Mobile until very late in the war remains one of the biggest complaints that modern armchair generals have about Union strategy. Though the two big masonry forts guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay were finally seized during Admiral Farragut's celebrated torpedo-damning naval assault of August 1864, Mobile itself and its network of earthwork defenses did not fall until April 1865. The crowning military event of the Union campaign was the successful storming of Fort Blakeley on April 9. Only Chester Hearn's Mobile Bay and the Mobile Campaign (1993) examines both major military phases of the long 1864-65 Mobile Campaign at some depth in a single volume, but it's far from exhaustive. Paul Brueske's recent book The Last Siege: The Mobile Campaign, Alabama 1865 (2018) offers arguably the best overall treatment of the land campaign, but even its coverage of the final fort assaults is only lightly detailed. This brings us to Mike Bunn's just-released The Assault on Fort Blakeley: The Thunder and Lightning of Battle, which does set out to recount those events at unprecedented scope.

From the description: "On the afternoon of April 9, 1865, some sixteen thousand Union troops launched a bold, coordinated assault on the three-mile-long line of earthworks known as Fort Blakeley. The charge was one of the grand spectacles of the Civil War, the climax of a weeks-long campaign that resulted in the capture of Mobile--the last major Southern city to remain in Confederate hands." The director of Historic Blakeley State Park, Bunn is presumably well positioned to gather expert-level knowledge of available primary sources and of the fighting ground itself. "With a crisp narrative that also serves as a guided tour of Alabama's largest Civil War battlefield," his book "pioneers a telling of Blakeley's story through detailed accounts from those who participated in the harrowing siege and assault."

Once past the book's introductory sections, four chapters recount the clashes over redoubts 1 through 9. Each of these chapters starts with the author's descriptive narrative before transitioning to an "In Their Own Words" section that presents a series of select passages taken from participant accounts of those events. The author's unit summaries (down to the regimental level) add further context to accounts written by officers and men, with the material additionally supported by numerous maps. As noted in the description, touring information is embedded into each chapter. The book also includes a large collection of unit flag photographs and images of modern park grounds. I'm looking forward to reading it.

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