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The Wilderness Campaign The University of North Carolina Press First printing edition Gary W. Gallagher

31st August 2011 History Books 11 Comments

In the spring of 1864, in the vast Virginia scrub forest known as the Wilderness, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee first met in battle. The Wilderness campaign of May 5-6 initiated an epic confrontation between these two Civil War commandersone that would finally end, eleven months later, with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

The eight essays here assembled explore aspects of the background, conduct, and repercussions of the fighting in the Wilderness. Through an often-revisionist lens, contributors to this volume focus on topics such as civilian expectations for the campaign, morale in the two armies, and the generalship of Lee, Grant, Philip H. Sheridan, Richard S. Ewell, A. P. Hill, James Longstreet, and Lewis A. Grant. Taken together, these essays revise and enhance existing work on the battle, highlighting ways in which the military and nonmilitary spheres of war intersected in the Wilderness.

YA?In 1864, Ulysses S. Grant’s Union troops collided with Robert E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia in the densely wooded area known as the Wilderness. The ensuing battle was the opening salvo in a campaign that ended 11 months later with Lee’s surrender at Appomatox Courthouse and the virtual end of the war. This title presents eight essays by noted Civil War scholars that examine the many aspects of this crucial battle including the leadership, the composition of each army, why the soldiers fought, critical events, legends that arose in the decades following the event, the individual heroics, and how this battle set the tone for what was to follow. The essays are well written and organized chronologically, which makes the ebb and flow of this encounter easy to follow.?Robert Burnham, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

“Those interested in the Wilderness campaign, or in the Civil War in general, will find much of interest here.”
Military History of the West

This book offers detailed, in-depth analyses of key events or overlooked aspects of an important campaign.

Journal of Southern History

This book is an excellent addition to the Civil War students shelf.

Blue & Gray Magazine

Well conceived and well presented.

Richmond Times Dispatch

An important contribution to our understanding of this complex campaign.

The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)

Overall, these essays . . . tend to intrigue and enlighten the serious student of the Civil War.

H-Net Reviews

“Those interested in the Wilderness campaign, or in the Civil War in general, will find much of interest here.”
Military History of the West

This book offers detailed, in-depth analyses of key events or overlooked aspects of an important campaign.

Journal of Southern History

This book is an excellent addition to the Civil War students shelf.

Blue & Gray Magazine

Well conceived and well presented.

Richmond Times Dispatch

An important contribution to our understanding of this complex campaign.

The Free Lance-Star

Overall, these essays . . . tend to intrigue and enlighten the serious student of the Civil War.

H-Net Reviews

The Wilderness Campaign (Military Campaigns of the Civil War)

  • 11 responses to "The Wilderness Campaign The University of North Carolina Press First printing edition Gary W. Gallagher"

  • Seano
    14:28 on August 31st, 2011
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    Once again, Gary W. Gallagher has compiled a wonderful collection of essays in this latest volume of the Military Campaigns of the Civil War Series. Each chapter or essay focuses on a different aspect of the campaign and is written by a different author. This allows for a new perspective on the campaign with each chapter. Among the topics covered by the various essayists are Confederate perception of Antietam as a victory or defeat, Confederate logistics, Confederate artillery, the use of the Antietam battlefield as a classroom for military leaders in the 20th century, the impact of new recruits on the Army of Potomac’s effectiveness, and the experiences of individual units.

    All of the essays are well-written and contain wonderful insights into their selected aspects of the campaign. Due to the focus of the series on military events, other important issues related to Antietam are only briefly mentioned. Most notably, issues related to emancipation and foreign intervention are mentioned in passing. This, however, is a result of the decision by the editor and the press (University of North Carolina Press) to focus on military aspects. Despite this weakness, I would highly recommend this and all other books in the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series to anyone with an interest in the Civil War.

  • Ripel
    16:21 on August 31st, 2011
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    This is the first book I have purchased in his “Military Campaigns of the Civil War” series and I assure you this will not be the last! The essays are fantastic. They are crisp and well written.

    He has picked his scholars well and each one has a great in-depth analysis of their topic. Each article has enlightened me about aspects of this battle I never thought about before; most notably that of the other General Grant and his Vermont regiment and the mental states of both armies as they began the Overland Campaign of 1864.

    The articles concerning the historical accuracy of the Lee’s advance with the Texans in Widow Tapp’s field and the success of Longstreet’s hammering flank attack of Hancock’s II Corps, on May 6th, has me hooked and excited about reading other volumes in this series as well.

    These essays also provide additional help in examining these events in greater detail and providing the reader an opportunity to obtain greater knowledge as to how events developed and progressed in the choas we have come to know as the Battle of the Wilderness.

    I highly recommend this book as an addition to any other texts you may own concerning this first battle between the armies of Lee and Grant.

  • Anna Poelo
    20:40 on August 31st, 2011
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    Gary Gallagher has written/edited a number of books on the Civil War. This book is an edited volume, focusing on several aspects of the sanguinary battle at Antietam, fought in 1962. All told, there are ten essays in this volume, with Gallagher contributing the lead essay. As with all edited volumes, some of the works may not be up to the same standards as others. But, overall, this is a useful volume. It might best be used by reading it alongside one of the better histories of the battler, such as Stephen Sears’ “Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam.” Let’s take a look at some of the essays to illustrate what the book is about. . . .

    Gallagher begins the book with an essay on how the south saw the aftermath of the battle. He notes that, in the final analysis, southerners were more likely than not to see Antietam as a plus for the cause. In the aftermath of the Peninsula successes of General Robert E. Lee and the remarkable victory by the Confederate forces at Second Manassas, this was seen as the denouement of a stretch of marvelous fighting by the Army of Northern Virginia.

    Brooks Simpson authored a more positive than usual account of Union General George McClellan’s leadership at Antietam. McClellan was often accused of “the slows,” because of his seeming inability to fight aggressively. Simpson argues that some of McClellan’s arguments made sense, such as logistical problems associated with the movement of the Army of the Potomac toward Antietam.

    The last chapter is a nice counterpoint, examining how Antietam was used by the Army for training/education before World War I. This battle was one example used at the Army War College to prepare officers for command. They would go over maps and scenarios (e.g., what if McClellan had hurried toward Antietam after finding Lee’s orders as opposed to his rather movements). The students and teachers were pretty much unanimous in concluding that McClellan had not generaled his forces very well–up to Antietam and at the battle site itself.

    Other chapters speak to addition key issues, such as: how poorly supplied Confederate forces were, the Confederate cavalry’s and artillery’s role in protecting the Confederate flank, the action at Bloody Lane, and the ineptitude of Confederate artillery chief William Pendleton.

    For those interested generally in Civil War history and, specifically, the battle at Antietam, this will be a welcome volume. While there is some unevenness across the chapters, all in all this is a solid volume.

  • HPBlue
    6:27 on September 1st, 2011
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    Early in September, 1862, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River into Maryland in what became the Confederacy’s first invasion of the North. General McClellan received command of the Union troops following the disaster of Second Manassas. In a daring move, Lee divided his army in an attempt to capture Harpers Ferry, and McClellan had the good fortune to recover Special Order No 191 detailing the movements of the Confederate units. McClellan pressed forward, albeit cautiously, and the result was the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg) on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest single day in American history. Following the battle, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Antietam, rather than the more famous Battle of Gettysburg, is increasingly regarded as the pivotal moment of the Civil War.

    The Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam have provoked no end of controversy. This excellent collection, “The Antietam Campaign”, edited by Gary Gallagher, consists of ten essays by as many different students of the Civil War examining in detail various aspects of the Antietam campaign. The essays are thoughtful and provocative and will cause the reader to rethink commonly held assumptions about Lee’s first invasion. The book is part of a series edited by Gallagher titled “Military Campaigns of the Civil War”.

    Various aspects of the Battle itself are examined in three essays in the volume. Robert E.L. Krick’s article, “Defending Lee’s Flank” explores the role of Confederate artillery in holding off the initial Union attacks early in the morning on the Confederate left in the vicinity of Dunkers’ Church and the infamous Cornfield. Robert K. Krick’s essay takes a close look at the Union’s attack on the center of the Confederate line on what has become known as the Bloody Lane. Lesley Gordon’s “All Who Went into that Battle were Heroes” is an essay in history and memory. It examines the fate of the 16th Connecticut, a unit of green volunteers, which had the unenviable task late in the battle of meeting a counter-attack by A.P. Hill’s troops, after Union General Burnside had finally crossed “Burnside’s Bridge” and was pressing the Confederate Army to cut-off its line of retreat.

    An additional essay in the collection, “We didn’t know what on Earth to do with him” by Peter Carmichael covers a little-known aspect of the Maryland campaign. A small component of Union troops attacked the rear of the Confederate Army of September 19, 1862 in an attempt to harass the retreat. Confederate artillerist “Parson” Pendelton failed to hold the line, but the small Union force was, even so, rebuffed with great loss. Carmichael, as are most scholars, is highly critical of Pendelton’s role at Antietam and in the War.

    The remaining six essays in the collection offer broader views of matters related to the Maryland campaign. Three essays focus on the Confederacy. Gallager’s own essay, “The Net Result of the Campaign was in our Favor” explores Confederate reactions immediately after the battle. Confederates looked to the capture of Harpers Ferry, the victory at Shepherdstown, and the hard draw at Antietam as evidence of their Army’s prowess, and were motivated to continue the long, hard fighting of the Civil War. Keith Bohannon’s essay, “Dirty Ragged, and Ill-Provided for is, together with the essay by Carol Reardon, the finest in the collection as it explores the difficulties faced by Lee’s Army resulting from lack of supplies of basics, such as shoes, rations, and ammunition, as a result of the South’s inadequate logistical system. In “Maryland, Our Maryland”, Brooks Simpson examines Confederate hopes that the Maryland campaign would bring the Bay State into the Confederacy. It examines the strong efforts President Lincoln made to hold Maryland for the Union. Simpson concludes that the Confederate failure to rally Maryland to its cause worked as a defining moment for Southern identity in the conflict.

    Two essays take a close look at the Union side of the line. Brooks Simpson’s “General McClellan’s Bodyguard” challenges the view held by many students of the battle that McClellan was at fault for not pressing the attack on September 18. Simpson maintains that McClellan did about as well as could have been expected under the circumstances. Scott Hartwig’s essay, “Who would not be a Soldier” compliments Simpson’s in that Hartwig looks closely at the composition of the Union Army that McClellan led to meet Lee. Much of this Army consisted of raw recruits who had not had basic training, learned to march, or even to fire a weapon. These troops swelled the size of McClellan’s Army but proved a liability in the heat of battle.

    The final essay in the volume, “From Antietam to Argonne” by Carol Reardon takes a close look at Antietam from the standpoint of the United States War College and its studies of the battle prior to WW I. Students were given detailed summaries of the actions in the Antietam campaign and, in addition, toured the battlefield. They were asked to comment on the command decisions of Lee and McClellan, as well as subordinate officers, and on the performance of the troops on both sides. The results, as Reardon explains them, were fascinating and provide a searching look at the campaign and its leaders. For me, Reardon’s essay was the highlight of an excellent volume.

    This collection illuminates greatly the Antietam Campaign and shows how much can be gained by careful scholarship and the willingness to rethink received opinions. Readers coming to this book will benefit by a strong prior background in the Civil War and by a basic familiarity with the Battle of Antietam, as can be gained in works by James McPherson, Steven Sears, or James Murfin.

    Robin Friedman

  • Saner Rijet
    13:22 on September 1st, 2011
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    It seems that for every epochal event, historians cannot resist the urge to examine the event from diverse angles and offer a variety of interpretative analysis; Gary Gallagher has done just this with his editorial stewardship of a fine collection of essays in “The Antietam Campaign.” There are ten essays in this collection, each providing the professional historian and the general reader (like myself) with a different angle of vision on the military campaign that gave Lincoln the basis for the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and which is also considered the bloodiest in American history.
    The essays here do not provide an overarching view of the Antietam slaughter, rather we are given a skillful excavation and interpretative analysis of selective aspects of the Antietam battle from a different angle of vision. The first essay, written by Gallagher, provides a counter to the conventional wisdom in many circles that Antietam was a “turning point” in the eventual outcome of the Civil War”–perhaps so, but Gallagher marshals an array of sources that shows Southerners did not view Antietam as a defeat, instead the Secessionists were emboldened.

    The second essay likewise demonstrates how the historian’s relentless pursuit and imaginative examination of sources can cast a new light on a historical actor. General George McClellan, Commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, is widely viewed by many historians as an overly cautious and reluctant field general who let Robert E. Lee’s forces slip away in retreat when it was arguably within McClellan’s capability to deal a fatal blow to the Confederacy’s premier military leader and some have suggested, even bring the rebellion to an end in 1862. In his piece entitled, “General McClellan’s Bodyguard,” Brooks Simpson offers a persuasive display of sources from which one can reasonably conclude that McClellan’s decision not to peruse the retreating Lee was militarily prudent. That both sides sustained horrific losses is universally conceded, but not much analysis has been given to the impact of the suffering and losses on the willingness of McClellan’s officers and infantrymen to immediately mount an assault against Lee–Simpson does so, and in vivid detail. McClellan is often criticized for his constant over- estimation of the size of the opposing army (chief among his critics was President Lincoln); yet few have closely examined the conditions of McClellan’s forces after the horrors of that first day of fighting–this essay cites to wide sources within the Union ranks that had McClellan resumed the fight immediately he would have been defeated.

    Again, this collection is not designed to give a “complete” history of the Antietam campaign, for example, unless I missed it, I didn’t see any mention of the accidental discovery of Lee’s Special Orders No.191. For this reader, what this collection demonstrates is how an epoch occurrence can be viewed from many angles and that the pleasure of history is the acknowledgement of the endless complexity of the American past.

  • cjinsd
    19:57 on September 1st, 2011
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    As usual, Gary W. Gallagher has compiled a wonderful collection of essays on a wide variety of topics related to the selected campaign, in this case Antietam. Among the topics are Confederate public perception of Antietam as a success or failure, Confederate logistics, the impact of untrained newly recruited troops on the Army of the Potomac, Confederate artillery, experiences of individual units, and how the campaign served as a lesson for future military leaders.

    As with the other books in the series, this book is hard to put down. The essay format covering a variety of topics, along with the quality of writing allows a different perspective on the same events with each new chapter. I would recommend this and other books in the series to anyone with an interest in the Civil War.

  • Reader
    22:46 on September 2nd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Just like previous reviewers, I agree that this book is a fine addition to the on-going series about the Military Campaigns of the Civil War. This installment about the Battle of Antietam is particularly strong because of the quality of scholarship included and the distinguished group of historians that Gallagher gathered for this edition.

    Each author includes an interesting essay that details a specific aspect of the battle. Some examples of topics that are covered include: the supply challenge the Confederacy faced, how new Union recruits reacted to the carnage of Antietam, the role Confederate artillery played, and why McClellan failed to pursue Lee after the battle. I found that every essay presented a compelling argument and really offer the reader a detailed analysis that you will not find in other books about the battle.

    As always, this type of book is not aimed at telling the history of what happened at Antietam. If you are looking for a general narrative of the battle – this is not the right book. On the other hand, it is designed for those who are somewhat familiar with the battle and are looking for the most current research from a find group of historians. I highly recommend the book for people who fall into this category. It will greatly enhance your understanding of key aspects that affected the battle which has been the bloodiest day in US military history.

  • clomid pcos
    6:32 on September 3rd, 2011
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    The thrill of finally putting an end to the war and the enemy raced through many soldier’s minds as both armies had high hopes of victory in early May of 1864. Though facing serious defeats in 1863, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia is ready to tackle the newly appointed former western campaign leader U.S. Grant and his Army of the Potomac. Author and historian Gary Gallagher builds the awareness of such great expectations from both sides which sets the stage for a great conflict. His writing captures the flavor of northern morale and the polictical situation around Washington. The frustration with former Union commanders and a long and brutal war have dampened spirits in the north and this book is great at building the reasons for why and how the spring campaign of 1864 began. This book is written by a multiple of great Civil War authors that enhance this great battle.

    Foiled Union Cavalry movements of Sheridan start the season off as Ewell and AP Hill come to meet and fight the approaching Grant. Writer Peter Carmichael and Gordon Rhea bring these actions to the front with great detail. Movements and maps are easy to follow.

    The famous, “Lee to the rear!” episode of the Wilderness is brought forth by Robert Krick which certainly explains the situation of Lee wanting to lead his men. Many personal soldier accounts are brought into the fold to dispell doubts or conflicting stories about this great event in Civil War history. Carol Reardon and Robert Krick bring together the struggle famous Vermont Brigade battle and Longstreet’s flank attack on May the 6th. Longstreet’s fall from friendly fire and the confusion faced by Mahone’s men is covered well. To understand the Wilderness campaign this is an essential ‘must have’ for anyone trying to understand the thoughts, plans, tactics and outcomes of the battle.

  • TrafficWarden
    6:57 on September 3rd, 2011
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    Similar to past works of Gallagher’s, this book contains invididual chapters written by popular Civil War historians keying in on battle concerns, myths, strategies and political concepts during the campaign. I really enjoyed reading William Blair’s chapter on how Marylanders caught in the middle of political unrest viewed the campaign and Lee’s invasion. Brooks Simpson’s chapter on how the Army of the Potomac was McClellan’s bodyguard according to Lincoln really made me understand the political frustrations the Lincoln party had in regards to McClellan’s slow moving and cautious approach to battle. Keith Bohannon’s view on Confederate logistical problems was very informative and really brought forth information as to Lee’s reasons for invading the north and also his retreat.

    These chapters are just some of the great amount of information brought together in a very fine book. I would recommend this book to someone who has already read a book on the battle itself before reading this one. This book contains some fighting information but isn’t one for coverage on the entire battle. It is one for understanding political unrest, commander motivations, strategies and little unknown and sometimes unclear myths that surround the entire campaign in September 1862. 5 STARS!!!

  • The Dealer
    14:03 on September 3rd, 2011
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    This book is a collection of essays by noted historians on various aspects of the armies of the Potomac and Northern Virginia and the Battle of the Wilderness. Author Gallagher is the editor and all of the essay writers acquit themselves most honorably. I found myself eager to read the next essay, and the only drawback to this work for the general reader is that it supposes the reader already has substantial knowledge concerning Grant’s campaign and the Battle of the Wilderness. That being said, there is much to learn here that will surprise even serious Civil War students.

    The first three essays focus on the armies themselves, their leadership, political factors, and the morale in the armies as well as on their respective home fronts. Both sides looked to the Spring campaign of 1864 as being the decisive conflict of arms in the war, and both expected to win it. Authors Simpson, Gallagher and Hennessey provide about 100 pages of superb analysis, even the oft-overlooked political and morale problems resulting from journalists and their expectations.

    The essay on the performance of the Federal Cavalry commanders (Sheridan and in particular James Wilson) casts a great deal of light on the cavalry’s less than stellar performance during the battle that endangered Grant’s entire campaign and even his tenure as overall commander. Fortunately, these blunders were almost matched by Lee’s slow concentration of forces, most notably the tardy movement of Longstreet’s corps to the battlefield. Nonetheless, putting two competent officers in charge of units for which they were certainly unqualified by experience to command (neither possessed cavalry experience), was nearly an unmitigated disaster. Both learned rapidly from their miscues, however, as Sheridan went on to perform admirably in the Shenandoah Valley with an independent command, and Wilson performed brilliantly at Nashville and later in bringing Forrest to bay at Selma. But here at the Wilderness, Wilson came within an ace of losing his entire command, and Sheridan was guilty of failing to be the eyes and ears of Meade’s army.

    The controversy over A.P Hill and Dick Ewell’s performances actually breaks new ground by Carmichael’s study of the evidence and analyses of the sources. With only Heth and Gordon supporting Lee in his comments against Hill and Ewell, one must look hard at the situation. As the author points out, southern generals almost never missed an opportunity to defend Lee and place blame on subordinates, but in this case the usual suspects are strangely silent. And then there is the problem of Heth’s account with regards to its accuracy. Douglas Southhall Freeman’s work comes into question, and for many years he has been considered as having produced the Bible with respect to Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Carmichael’s work also cannot be called revisionist with the negative implications of the word — it is simply a balanced study and analysis of the evidence which I found rather compelling.

    The famous situation where members of the Texas Brigade promised to carry out Lee’s commands if he would go to the rear (and comparative safety) is thoroughly explored by Krick in an compelling essay. As with all the essays, Krick’s work is extensively annotated with end notes, and his approach exhibits the best in American scholarship.

    The decimation of the Vermont Brigade is a compelling narrative of the actual fighting in the Wilderness, perhaps one of the best in Civil War literature. Author Reardon is to be commended for a superior story of a heroic brigade and its fight against superior forces.

    Last comes an account of Longstreet’s flank attack that almost put the battle into the victory column for Lee. On a battlefield where maneuver was all but impossible, Longstreet managed the near-decisive manuever. Unfortunately for Lee, Longstreet was wounded by “friendly” fire, and an outstanding brigadier, Micah Jenkins, was killed. Again author Krick rises to the top with an excellent scholarly analysis.

    As the reader can see from the above review, the book is not the definitive work on the battle itself, but rather a series of studies of various aspects of the campaign and the battle. Each is extremely valuable in presenting remarkable insight into the subjects they cover, however, and significantly add to the literature of the Civil War.

    I heartily recommend this work to all students of the Civil War.

  • Oma Wedgeworth
    16:33 on September 4th, 2011
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    This is a book of essays concerning the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. It is a collection of essays about that particular campaign, by noted writers and historians. The book might not be for the general reader, but I am writing a book about Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant. This is a very valuable source of informataion for anyone writing about these two generals, since it is the first time they faced each other on the field of battle. I am enjoying this book and its essays about the tactics employed by Lee and Grant.

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