Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Booknotes: The Boy Generals, Vol. 2

New Arrival:

The Boy Generals: George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, from the Gettysburg Retreat Through the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 by Adolfo Ovies (Savas Beatie, 2024).

Author Adolfo Ovies is currently in the middle of a three-part examination of the wartime progression of the cavalry arm of the Army of the Potomac, all viewed through the additional lens of the personal and professional animosity between celebrated "boy generals" George Armstrong Custer and Wesley Merritt, their feuding influencing events. The first volume, The Boy Generals: George Custer, Wesley Merritt, and the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, was published back in 2021. Beginning with the retreat from Gettysburg and ending with the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, the second volume "encompasses a period jammed with tumultuous events for the cavalry on and off the battlefield and a significant change of command at the top."

After Lee's battered army managed to safely return to Virginia, "(t)he balance of 1863 was a series of maneuvers, raids, and fighting that witnessed the near-destruction of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade at Buckland Mills and the indecisive and frustrating efforts of the Bristoe Station and Mine Run campaigns. Alfred Pleasonton’s controversial command of the mounted arm ended abruptly, only to be replaced by the more controversial Philip H. Sheridan, whose combustible personality intensified the animosity burning between George Custer and Wesley Merritt."

It seemed that nothing, including the change in overall command of the Army of the Potomac's cavalry and its growing success rate, could ameliorate, let alone heal, the rift between Custer and Merritt. More from the description: "Victory and glory followed the Cavalry Corps during the early days of the Overland Campaign, particularly at Yellow Tavern, where Rebel cavalier Jeb Stuart was mortally wounded. The spirited rivalry between Custer and Merritt took a turn for the worse and at Trevilian Station, the bitterness and rancor permeating their relationship broke into the open and made it into their official reports. Merritt’s elevation to temporary command of the 1st Cavalry Division cemented their rancor." With cavalry action shifting to the Shenandoah, the hard war against the civilian population also intensified, and "(m)uch of this gritty task fell on the shoulders of (Sheridan's)“boy generals.”"

The bibliography contains a diverse range of sources, including newspapers, significant manuscript research, and a large host of published primary accounts and secondary sources. The battle descriptions are supported by 18 detailed maps interspersed throughout. The volume concludes with the August 16, 1864 fight at Guard Hill.

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