Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Booknotes: Six Days of Awful Fighting

New Arrival:
Six Days of Awful Fighting: Cavalry Operations on the Road to Cold Harbor by Eric J. Wittenberg (Fox Run Pub, 2021).

In Six Days of Awful Fighting Eric Wittenberg returns to his frequent stomping grounds of mid to late-war cavalry (particularly Union mounted operations) in the eastern theater. Picking up where Virginia cavalry fighting left off after the conclusion of Phil Sheridan's May raid on Richmond (the highlight of which was the May 11 Battle of Yellow Tavern and mortal wounding of Jeb Stuart), the book discusses at great length the lead in to Cold Harbor beginning with Sheridan's Pamunkey crossings below and east of the main armies grappled together along the North Anna.

From the description: "From May 27 to June 1, the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac and the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia slugged it out at places like Hanovertown, Haw's Shop, Matadequin Creek, Hanover Court House, Ashland, and, finally, Cold Harbor itself, setting the stage for the well-known infantry battle that broke out on the afternoon of June 1, 1864."

The highly active six-day period addressed in the book encompasses both a major battle that doesn't get much recognition in the popular imagination and the noteworthy arrival of new Confederate cavalry leadership. More from the description: "The May 28, 1864, battle of Haw's Shop was considered the harshest cavalry battle of the war to date; but, it was eclipsed two weeks later by the battle of Trevilian Station. Haw's Shop marked Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton's emergence as the new commander of the Army of Northern Virginia's Cavalry Corps in the wake of the death of the lamented cavalry chief, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, 16 days earlier."

Deep research and abundant maps are characteristics of all of Wittenberg's military history studies, and we certainly see that again here with Six Days of Awful Fighting's primary source-filled bibliography and 25 maps. Orders of battle for each major engagment [Hanovertown Ferry (May 27), Haw's Shop (May 28), Old Church/Matadequin Creek (May 30), Hanover Court House (May 31), Cold Harbor (May 31), Ashland (June 1), and Cold Harbor again (June 1)] are also included in the appendix section.


  1. Drew. Your job is made a little easier. You almost don't need to write a review when it comes to 4 authors - Eric Wittenberg, Tim Smith, Earl Hess & Dave Powell. When it comes to anything written by these 4 gentleman Civil War Scholarly studs it is a given that I will be buying it...They are that good. All 4 have demonstrated the ability to cross over domains and write about nearly any subject they choose. (i.e. Eric Wittenberg although a Eastern Cavalry maven wrote the excellent book on the pre-cursor to Chickamauga - Reeds'Bridge Action and Minty's Brigade.) Earl Hess can range effortlessly from his Fortifications Trilogy, to Supply and Logistics to the Knoxville Campaign to the assaults on Vicskburg). Dave Powell can become the authority on Chickamauga but still write about command issues with Siegel during the early 1864 Valley Campaign and then move to a book on Lookout Mountain. Tim Smith as you noted earlier is on a mission to provide the most comprehensive study on the Western Theater from Grant's Invasion of Tennesse (Jan 1862) all the way to the Fall of Vicksburg July 1863. Other authors I consider as the to source on certain campaigns - Frank O'Reilly for example on Fredericksburg, and John Hennessey on Bull Run. But these 4 gentleman are at the very top right now of Civil War Military Scholarship. Curtis Thomasco

    1. Indeed. We are very fortunate. I was talking to someone else about this the other day. It's easy to constantly lament about what's missing, but it's also important to be thankful for what we have, which is a lot and none of it inevitable.

    2. Curtis, thank you so much for very kind words and for placing me in such esteemed company. I appreciate it very much. Stay tuned....more to come....

    3. Eric, I belong to a number of Facebook Civil War groups...the non poisonous ones anyway. I posted on an Atlanta Campaign and Sherman's March to the Sea a comment about the lack of any study of role of the Cavalry in the campaign before the crossing of the Chattahoochee River. I noted of course Sherman's Horseman by David Evans but pointed out that it really only covers in depth cavalry action from the middle of the campaign on. I also have Attacked On All Sides: The Civil War Battle of Decatur, Georgia, the Untold Story of the Battle of Atlanta (which Drew reviewed on his site) dealing with Kenner Garrard's action on the same day as the Battle of Atlanta that was doomed to obscurity as a result, another book - Kilpatrick's raid around Atlanta, and a book the "McCook-Stoneman Raid" as well as Ed Bearss paper on the Rousseau cavalry raid. I lamented that the role of the Cavalry in the second half of the campaign is well covered but not from May 1864 - early/mid July 1864. I was asking the group if anyone knew of anything that existed other than an Army Command College paper by a Maj Leach on the role of the Union Cavalry in the Atlanta Campaign. None other than Dave Powell replied that "sadly no such study exists". What a fascinating mounted cavalry study this would make. Dave Powell mentioned to our Roundtable that he is working on something on Atlanta a month ago but not necessarily cavalry focused. From what I can tell Sherman's cavalry did everything wrong during this period and Wheeler was everywhere he was supposed to be. Possible future project? Curt Thomasco

  2. I concur with everything said. I would only add a minor point - Eric's versatility goes well beyond cavalry, shown by his excellent work with Dave on Tullahoma, his book on the 1865 surrender in NC, and his co-authoring an excellent volume on the creation of West Virginia.

    On the theme of "where we are", let's not omit the Emerging Civil War crew.

    Regarding Frank O'Reilly, I'll resort to my constant refrain that I look forward at some point to his study of Malvern Hill (and to Krick the Younger's book on Gaines's Mill, as well)


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