Monday, January 29, 2024

Booknotes: Yankee Commandos

New Arrival:

Yankee Commandos: How William P. Sanders Led a Cavalry Squadron Deep into Confederate Territory by Stuart D. Brandes (U Tenn Press, 2023).

From the earliest months of the Civil War, succoring the isolated pro-Union population of East Tennessee was a high priority for the Lincoln administration, which frequently pressed its western generals to send an occupation force into the region. For a variety of reasons, primarily logistical ones, it was not deemed feasible. It was not until the spring of 1863 that a major offensive operation involving the Army of the Ohio under Major General Ambrose Burnside was planned, but even that effort was further delayed by the need to send reinforcements to Grant's army trying to capture Vicksburg in Mississippi. In the meantime, while waiting for the return of his borrowed troops, Burnside ordered a cavalry raid into East Tennessee. The history of that movement is recounted in Stuart Brandes's Yankee Commandos: How William P. Sanders Led a Cavalry Squadron Deep into Confederate Territory.

Though in truth a brigade-sized force (much larger than the titular "squadron"), Sanders's command helped set up Burnside's follow-on invasion for success by gathering intelligence and disrupting Confederate communications surrounding Knoxville. Brandes's book is the first book-length study of the raid. From the description: "In June of 1863, Col. William P. Sanders led a cavalry raid of 1,300 men from the Union Army of the Ohio through Confederate-held East Tennessee. The raid severed the Confederate rail supply line from Virginia to the Western Theater and made national headlines. Until now, this incredible feat has been relegated to a footnote in the voluminous history of the American Civil War."

More from the description: Brandes "presents readers with the most complete account of the Sanders raid to date by using newly discovered and under-explored materials, such as Sanders’s official reports and East Tennessee diaries and memoirs in which Sanders is chronicled. The book presents important details of a cavalry raid through East Tennessee that further turned the tide of war for the Union in the Western Theater. It also sheds light on the raid’s effect on the divided civilian population of East Tennessee, where, unlike the largely pro-secession populations of Middle and West Tennessee, the fraction of enlisted men to the Union cause rose to nearly a quarter."

The Kentucky-born Sanders himself is an interesting historical figure. He was "a cousin of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, and his father and three brothers donned Confederate gray at the outbreak of the war." Though the results of the raid contributed to his elevation to higher responsibility in the Department of the Ohio's cavalry leadership, the 30-year old Sanders's promotion to brigadier general was not confirmed by the Senate. Later that fall, in November 1863, Sanders was mortally wounded in action. Knoxville's Fort Loudon was renamed Fort Sanders in his honor, that defensive point being the center of the maelstrom during General James Longstreet's failed attempt to recapture the city.

Ultimately, "(b)y studying the legend of Sanders and his raid, Brandes fills an important gap in Civil War scholarship and in the story of Unionism in a mostly Confederate-sympathizing state."

No comments:

Post a Comment

***PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING***: You must SIGN YOUR NAME when submitting your comment. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties, anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be removed. Thank you for your cooperation.