Civil War Talk Radio: September 19, 2008

by Brett Schulte on September 20, 2008 · 0 comments

Air Date: 091908
Subject: Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Books: Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign
Guest: Peter Cozzens

Summary: Peter Cozzens discusses his new book on the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

Brett’s Summary: Gerry leads off the hour by mentioning he feels as if he has known Peter Cozzens for a long time.  As a graduate student at Harvard in 1990, Gerry first discovered Peter Cozzens’ book on the Battle of Stones River, a topic he had planned to write a book on!  Instead, as many TOCWOC readers know, Gerry moved on to write an excellent book on the Army of the Ohio, All for the Regiment.

Cozzens describes the methods he used to collect data for his books while working for the State Department, often overseas.  Unfortunately for readers, Cozzens made known he will be taking a break from writing for quite awhile.  Cozzens does not have a formal history background, but like many Civil War authors, he had been interested in the Civil War since childhood.  He chose Stones River as the topic of his first book because no one had written a modern book length treatment of the campaign.

An interesting discussion ensued about the need to “walk the ground” of a battlefield in order to be able to write any kind of definitive study of a campaign.  Talk turned also to battlefields such as Iuka which is now completely gone and how it applies to Cozzens’ new book on the Valley Campaign.

Gerry has positive words for Cozzens regarding his opening description of the Valley Campaign, adding his book is better than many “battle books” which describe brigades going to certain places without any description of why.  As an aside, I’m curious which books specifically Gerry is referring to.  Most campaign studies I’ve read typically set the stage with a description of the campaign area, whether they focus on the Civil War or other conflicts.

Gerry leads off segment two with some kind words for Cozzens’ book.  He asks if the last full campaign study for Jackson’s campaign was Robert Tanner’s study from the 1970.  Cozzens answered in the affirmative, but adds that Tanner’s book suffered too much from a focus on Jackson’s Confederates at the expense of the Federal side of the story.  Cozzens believes this was a major flaw of the book and that you really need to view both sides to come to any solid conclusions.  Talk turned a bit to Gary Ecelbarger’s book on Front Royal and Winchester, covered several weeks ago on Civil War Talk Radio, and Cozzens laughingly mentioned that the two authors have fairly similar views on the Campaign as a whole.

Frederick Lander, an aggressive Union general early in the war who died at least partially from an unhealed wound prior to the Valley Campaign, also merits some discussion.  Lander could have possibly done some damage in the Valley in 1862, according to Cozzens, but his untimely death necessitated a new Union commander in the Valley, Nathaniel Banks.  James Shields assumed command of Lander’s Union division.

In his account of the early stages of the Valley Campaign, Cozzens gave Nathaniel Banks much more credit than he typically merits.  He comments on this during the interview, saying his look at all of the evidence led him to his conclusions.  He points to the small number of men Banks had available to combat Jackson’s advance on Front Royal and Winchester from Strasburg and Stanton’s refusal to allow Banks to withdraw to Winchester earlier.  He says Banks’ withdrawal to Winchester in extremely unfavorable circumstances was done coolly and was in the end a success.  He was outnumbered 3:1 and lost less 100 wagons out of a total of about 550.  This seems to be a far cry from the extreme caricature of “Commissary Banks”.

The third segment of the program starts with talk of Cozzens’ views on Stonewall Jackson.  The author is not nearly as complimentary of Jackson as history up to this point has been.  He admits Jackson succeeded in his goal of keeping Union troops away from McClellan in front of Richmond.  However, Cozzens points out that until the final few weeks of the Valley Campaign, there were not all that many Union troops in the Valley.  Cozzens, much like Ecelbarger in his book on Front Royal and Winchester, is critical of Jackson’s tactical deployments throughout the campaign.  Cozzens also criticizes Jackson’s tendency to calls his victories “God’s Will” while blaming his defeats on subordinates.  He chides Jackson as well for his penchant to keep his plans from everyone but himself.  Gerry, in an interesting question, asks Cozzens if Jackson even knew what came next.  I got the sense that Cozzens believes Jackson did have a plan all along but simply chose not to relay the information to his subordinates.

Gerry moves the conversation along to James Shields, who almost had a duel with Abraham Lincoln decades prior to the Civil War.  He finds the sources on Shields vary quite a bit depending on political affiliation.  Cozzens believes Shields was a decent general but that he “was in over his head.”  He chides this general for inflating his own victories while allowing Nathan Kimball fight his battles, for criticizing other generals, for poorly managing the pursuit of Jackson prior to the battle of Port Republic, and for lying to his subordinates about reinforcing them prior to that battle.  Cozzens wonders what might have happened had Frederick Lander been in charge rather than Shields.

To close out the hour, Gerry discusses writing with the author.  He discusses the antiquated, sanitary style of writing which downplays the human destruction of the Civil War.  He believes Cozzens finds a good balance when describing wounds suffered during the battles he writes about. Cozzens prefers to allow those who were there present a description of what it was like to be in battle through diaries and letters rather than attempting to embellish or sanitize the experience himself.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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