Monday, June 28, 2021

Booknotes: The Boy Generals

New Arrival:
The Boy Generals: George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac by Adolfo Ovies (Savas Beatie, 2021).

Back in 2004, Adolfo Ovies self-published Crossed Sabers: General George Armstrong Custer and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Comparing a review of it (see the link above) to the blurbs attached to his new book The Boy Generals: George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, it sounds like the author has been more than willing to address the shortcomings displayed in his first attempt at a serious foray into the topic of G.A.C.'s Civil War career.

Part of an ambitious new project, The Boy Generals is "the first installment in a remarkable trilogy to examine the strategy, tactics, and relationships of the leading Union army’s mounted arm and their influence on the course of the Civil War in the Eastern Theater." Every year sees the release of multiple Custer books, but Ovies claims that this book adopts an uncommon approach. According to the author, "most Custer-related studies focus on his decision-making and actions to the exclusion of other important factors, including his relationships with his fellow officers. Custer developed his tactical philosophy within the politically ridden atmosphere of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps. His relationship with his immediate superior, Wesley Merritt, was so acrimonious that even Custer’s wife Libbie described him as her husband’s “enemy.”"

Eric Wittenberg's recent book Six Days of Awful Fighting (which I will review here sometime soon) contrasts Custer's more old school saber-charging fighting style with the firepower-focused dismounted tactics favored by the other cavalry generals in the Army of the Potomac in 1864. Apparently, that opposing philosophical stance was firmly embodied in the relationship/rivalry between Custer and division commander Wesley Merritt.

More from the description: "With these diametrically opposed belief systems, it was inevitable that these officers would clash. What has often been described as a spirited rivalry was in fact something much darker, an association that moved from initial distaste to acrimony, and finally, outright insubordination on Custer’s part." In devoting an entire book to this topic, Ovies "exposes the depths of one of the most dysfunctional and influential relationships in the Army of the Potomac and how it affected cavalry operations in the Eastern Theater," and it is suggested that a reading of his study "will change the way Civil War readers think of the premier Union army’s mounted arm, as well as George Custer’s legacy."

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