Civil War Book Review: Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign

by Brett Schulte on July 16, 2014 · 0 comments

Bowery, Charles R. Jr. and Rafuse, Ethan S. Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. (University Press of Kansas: May 2014). 420 pages, 36 illustrations, 47 maps, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN: 978-0-7006-1959-7 $39.95 (Cloth).

GuideRichmondPetersburgCampaignBoweryRafuse2014Charles Bowery and Ethan Rafuse’s Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign is the next in a long line of U. S. Army War College Guide Series books on the Civil War published by the University Press of Kansas. The editors cover the nine plus month long penultimate operation in the East in 420 pages, making sure to give equal consideration to events occurring north of the James River near Richmond.

The U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles series is well-established at this point, a “by-product of the historical staff-ride program” started in the early 1980s. Excerpts from the Official Records and other first-person accounts make up the vast majority of the text with only some interpretation by the editors. This is done on purpose. The idea is to provide a background of what happened alongside the modern day sites visitors will want to see.  Rafuse and Bowery took advantage of Broadfoot Publishing’s Supplement to the Official Records as well, utilizing Volume 7 of that series to add key accounts from a source that isn’t easily accessible by the public. More non-OR accounts seemed to be used this time around, with good reason, as you’ll see below.  The text is accompanied by modern maps crafted by Steven Stanley showing readers exactly where events took place and how to get there. Like the Atlanta Campaign Guide I reviewed several years ago, this book focuses on the campaign as a whole rather than on one individual battle.

Major Charles Bowery is a U.S. Army officer with quite a bit of Civil War experience.  He has taught Civil War courses at West Point, led Civil War battlefield tours, and is a previously published author.  His book Lee and Grant: Profiles in Leadership from the Battlefields of Virginia seems to have been well received, though I am not familiar with it. Ethan Rafuse should be very familiar to readers of this blog.  He participated with Mark Grimsley and Brooks Simpson at the now defunct, though still available online, Civil Warriors group blog.  He is currently a Professor at the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas, and has written many books on the Civil War, the most important of which to me is undoubtedly his revisionist look at Little Mac in McClellan’s War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union.

The Petersburg-Richmond Campaign was the largest campaign of the Civil War in terms of casualties and men present.  It was also the longest of the Civil War at nine plus months.  After ten Union offensives, nine by Grant, Petersburg finally fell and led to Lee also abandoning Richmond in early April 1865.  The war in the East would end a mere week later at Appomattox Court House. An effort has been made lately to call this campaign the “Richmond-Petersburg Campaign,” both to restore the battles around Richmond to an equal place with those south of the James and Appomattox rivers, and to also point out that the “Siege” of Petersburg was not a siege in its strictest sense.  Grant’s army didn’t come close to surrounding Lee’s army, the major requirement for a true siege.  Lee could have left at any time, and did so only after Petersburg became untenable. The book covers all of the major battles of the campaign in inly 420 pages.  Due to its length and the number of battles fought, I would have liked to have seen this campaign broken in two just as the Atlanta Campaign was.

The book is not laid out in chronological order, which is a little disconcerting at first.  However, this being a guide book at heart, it was laid out with touring the Petersburg and Richmond Battlefields in mind.  So the Battle of Fort Stedman, almost last chronologically, is found near the front of the book with the June 15-18, 1864 Battle of Petersburg because they occurred in the same general area.

Steven Stanley’s maps are par for the course.  In a word, they’re excellent.  These are some of the best maps done on the Siege of Petersburg, one of the last frontiers of Civil War publishing. I haven’t seen better maps for the June 16 and 17 fighting at Petersburg than in this book, for instance, as well as the one on the June 22 fighting at Jerusalem Plank Road.  In all there are an amazing 47 maps, including the little known battles of Lewis Farm and White Oak Road during the Five Forks campaign.  Orders of battle are included for both sides on June 15, 1864, September 29, 1864, and April 1-2, 1865.

As someone who has been avidly collecting first person accounts of the Siege of Petersburg for over five years, I can appreciate the choices made by the editors to represent the Confederate side.  The Official Records accounts for the Confederates are extremely thin for this campaign, so other sources needed to be mined and likely candidates selected.  I was both pleased and disappointed that I recognized all of the sources Bowery and Rafuse utilized.  I was pleased because it means my detective work has been going well, and a bit disappointed not to discover some new sources to read and evaluate. It was surprising to find that John Schmutz’s book on the Crater was not listed in the bibliography, while Richard Slotkin’s book made the cut.  I’m not saying Slotkin’s book is bad by any means, but I rated Schmutz’s as slightly better.

Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign is another solid entry in the ongoing U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles published by the University Press of Kansas.  As in all of the newer books in this series, the maps have moved from functional to outstanding.  Editors Rafuse and Bowery did an excellent job of sorting through Confederate sources, utilizing the expensive and hard to find Supplement to the Official Records by Broadfoot Publishing to good effect. It would have been nice to see this volume broken up into two due to the length of the campaign and the number of battles involved, but I can understand why it wasn’t.  The book is offered in both paperback (my review copy) and cloth (my purchase copy) versions.  In this case, I could make the argument to buy both.  The paperback makes a good companion on the Richmond-Petersburg battlefields, while the cloth version holds its value and looks nice on a home library bookshelf.  Civil War battlefield stompers will want to pick this one up, and just in time for the 150th anniversary of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, aka the Siege of Petersburg. Collectors of this series will want to add this latest edition to their collections.  Those new to the campaign might find it a bit lean on explanation and might wish to look elsewhere before moving on to this book.

The paperback version of this book was provided gratis for the purposes of this review.

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Check out the Siege of Petersburg Online for daily posts on battle accounts in newspaper articles, diary entries, letters and more!

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