Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Booknotes: The Key to the Shenandoah

New Arrival:

The Key to the Shenandoah Valley: Geography and the Civil War Struggle for Winchester by Edward B. McCaul, Jr. (McFarland, 2023).

Winchester, Virginia is one of those small, otherwise unexceptional American towns that the Civil War made very well-known to the rest of the country. It is perhaps most recognized by today's readers as one of the war's most fought over locations, exchanging hands a great many times during the conflict. From the description: "During the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley was the scene of 326 engagements, many taking place around Winchester. The city was occupied and evacuated 72 times and five major battles were fought in the vicinity, including First and Second Kernstown and Cedar Creek."

Obviously, Winchester's location in the Shenandoah Valley was key to its wartime significance. More from the description: "Geography was a crucial factor in the struggle to control Winchester, which was key to controlling Virginia. Confederate occupation gave them psychological dominance of the central valley and enabled them to disrupt enemy operations. When Union forces prevailed, they dictated the tempo of operations in the region. The decisive Union capture of the city in 1864 foretold the end of the Confederacy." All of this is discussed in Edward McCaul's The Key to the Shenandoah Valley: Geography and the Civil War Struggle for Winchester.

Being a study of how geography influences history, the book is described in the author's introduction as a "philosophical history book," the goal of which is to "give the reader a better understanding of the overall impact geography has had on military actions and more specifically those around Winchester, Virginia" (pg. 1). The text is supported by numerous maps and photographs. I like all of McCaul's previous full-length works, which include books covering early-war Upper Mississippi naval operations and artillery fuzes, so I am looking forward to checking this one out.

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