Thursday, December 15, 2022

Booknotes: Small but Important Riots

New Arrival:
Small but Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville by Robert F. O'Neill (Potomac Bks, 2023).

As successive elements of Lee's army shuffled north in June 1863, Union cavalry tasked with tracking their progress and location had to penetrate the gaps in the Blue Ridge mountain range that naturally screened the Army of Northern Virginia's right flank. Those efforts resulting in a series of small battles, the full details of which were first published in Robert O'Neill's The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville: Small But Important Riots, June 10-27, 1863 (I don't know if it's correct, but I see 1993 listed as the date for both first and second editions). It remains one of the better regarded installments of H.E. Howard's long out of print Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders series, a number of which have recently been republished in heavily revised and updated form. If I recall correctly, it has become a bit of a convention to release the new versions with old title and subtitle elements reversed in order to easily distinguish between the two, thus this 2023 edition of O'Neill's study is now titled Small but Important Riots: The Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville.

From the description: Small but Important Riots "is a tactical study of fighting from June 17 to 22, 1863, at Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, placed within the strategic context of the Gettysburg campaign. It is based on Robert O’Neill’s thirty years of research and access to previously unpublished documents, which reveal startling new information." In the preface, the author describes the book as "new in every respect." In it he "correct(s) errors, timeworn assumptions and interpretations, and offer(s) new explanations and conclusions" (xi).

I never did read an earlier edition, but it appears that correcting views on Pleasonton's actions during this period is a major theme at least of the new book. According to O'Neill, "(n)o officer's role in the Loudoun Valley has been more misunderstood or misrepresented" (xii). More from the description: "Since the fighting in Loudoun Valley of Virginia ended in June 1863, one perspective has prevailed—that Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, who commanded the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, disobeyed orders. According to published records, Pleasonton’s superiors, including President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and army commander Joseph Hooker, ordered Pleasonton to search for General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during a critical stage of the Gettysburg campaign, and Pleasonton ignored their orders. Recently discovered documents—discussed in this book—prove otherwise."

The text is supported by 18 original maps created by Julie Krick, a cartographer new to my notice. Her work looks pretty good to me. Anyone interested in these events will undoubtedly want to pick up a copy of this title, and it certainly sounds like those who already own an earlier edition will want to upgrade.


  1. Drew: Updated editions of books often have little in the way of important new information or conclusions. Publisher descriptions on forthcoming books often exaggerate. Neither is the case with Bob O’Neill’s updated book on Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville. He has spent the better part of his life studying these cavalry battles. I had the good fortune of being part of a group tour recently led by Bob on these three battlefields as well as attending an all-day series of talks the next day by Bob and other noted historians on cavalry operations in the Gettysburg campaign. He has uncovered some fascinating documents regarding these battles and the role of the much-maligned (often deservedly) Albert Pleasanton that should change the interpretation of these three battles. I just received my copy. Julie Krick is Bobby Krick's wife and has done other cartography.

    1. John, that's the truth. I was looking forward to a revised or updated edition of one "classic" book because the literature clearly had expanded greatly since first publication, and all the new edition added was a preface consisting of a few small paragraphs.

      IIRC, O'Neill also did an Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville issue of Blue & Gray.

      Maybe Julie K. is doing the maps for her husband's long anticipated Gaines' Mill battle study!

  2. Surely someone, somewhere must know something regarding the long anticipated studies of Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill which have been rumoured about for so long now. I swear I read a snippet from an 2022 CWRT discussion in which Frank O’Reilly was to speak about his upcoming book on Malvern Hill but for the life of me I cannot find it anymore. It would be truly a shame if these projects have been shelved for good.

    Cheers, John

    1. Allegedly, as of about a year ago the Krick, Jr. manuscript was supposed to be in the vetting process with his father. As we all know, there is a desperate need for a competent GM study. The O'Reilly MH project just seems to spin and spin and spin on the internet. I think we're going on to 10 years.


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