Civil War Book Review: Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign

by James Durney on January 15, 2011 · 1 comment

Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign
by David Powell

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Savas Beatie (November 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932714871
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932714876

Failure in the Saddle Chickamauga David Powell“Would you like to go on a battlefield walk in Chickamauga?”  Answering “yes” to this question introduced the author to me.  Each year, I spend a weekend in March following him from site to site marveling at his knowledge of the Chickamauga Campaign.  If you are listing experts, David Powell will be very high on the list.

The book opens with a look at the leaders of Bragg’s cavalry from Corps to Brigade, starting with Joe Wheeler and Nathan Forrest and the strained relationship between these men, Wheeler a West Pointer and Bragg supporter just is not a fighter like Forrest.  Following is a detailed look at Bragg’s Cavalry, training, discipline, accomplishments and failures.

With this foundation, we quickly cover Tullahoma. Coverage of the Union movement from Chattanooga gives us an understanding of Bragg’s problems and the challenge of determining their route.  Done in a straightforward manner this section makes clear complex issues and the importance of cavalry to a Civil War army.  Using his knowledge, experience and considerable ability, David shows us the cavalry’s influence on the campaign and actions during battle.  The reader sees cavalry theory as practiced by the Army of Tennessee in 1863, a story of personalities, ambition and management going awry at a critical time.

The heart of the book is a detailed look at CSA Cavalry operations leading up to, during and after the Battle of Chickamauga.  This is not a pretty picture, showing how little good information Bragg had.  Both Wheeler and Forrest fail, for different reasons, to provide realistic timely information.  Wheeler, often disobedient, consistently is out of position or making bad decisions.  Forrest suffers from being a new Corps commander having a Division or Brigade commander mentality.  This is the first detailed look at the pursuit of the Army of the Cumberland I have read creating questions about accounts written after the fact.  The author looks at what is said and done at the time not what people remember.

The book ends with an appraisal of the Confederate Cavalry and how historians evaluate the campaign.  While a major victory, Chickamauga did little for the Confederate cause in the West.  This book explains why this victory was more luck than anything was.

The book is fully footnoted with a full Bibliography and index.  Fifteen full-page maps keep the reader positioned.  A fully illustrated driving tour with 31 stops complements the text.  Appendix 4 looks at the Forrest-Bragg confrontation, tracing the roots of the story and taking a historical look at it.

The author has a clear style that is easy to read and very informative.  Savas Beatie is a top shelf publisher dedicated to producing high-quality histories.  David Powell and Savas Beatie result in a must have book for anyone interested in Chickamauga, the Army of Tennessee, N.B. Forrest, cavalry operations or just wanting a good read.

Failure in the Saddle Book Trailer


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ted Savas January 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Hello Brett

Many thanks for your interest in our titles in general, and this title in particular. We appreciate the obviously thorough review and your kind attention to detail.

In my opiinion David Powell IS Mr. Chickamauga, as his outstanding work so aptly demonstrates. Working with someone of David’s quality is a pure pleasure. He has a real interest in scratching more than shoe-top deep, regardless of what he finds or who emerges with stain or glory. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the books we have read on the Civil War rely largely on the (often biased) work of others rather than a deep understanding of the primary sources and battlefield itself.

We are, naturally, more than pleased to be able to say David published with Savas Beatie.

(And thanks for posting our trailer!)

Ted Savas
Savas Beatie LLC

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