Civil War Book Review: Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia edited by Caroline E. Janney

by Brett Schulte on September 15, 2018 · 1 comment

Janney, Caroline E. (ed) Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia. (University of North Carolina Press: April 2018). 320 pages, 13 illustrations, 3 maps, notes, bibliography, index.  ISBN: 978-1-4696-4076-1. $35.00 (Cloth)

Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia marks yet another solid entry in the University of North Carolina Press’ “essay series” on the great campaigns of the Eastern Theater in the Civil War.  Covering the last part of the Siege of Petersburg through Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1864-65, a collection of nine essays explores the military, political, and social aspects of the end of the Civil War in the Eastern Theater. The book is notable as editor Caroline Janney’s first solo effort in the series, taking on the task alone after having worked with prior editor Gary Gallagher on the previous book in the series, Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland CampaignPetersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia is another in a long line of excellent books in this series, and should be of interest to anyone who enjoys studying the Civil War in the east.

The “Military Campaigns of the Civil War” series at the University of North Carolina Press is a well-oiled machine, with (by my unofficial count) around a dozen titles.  Gary Gallagher’s (and now Caroline Janney’s) essay series is a special favorite of mine.  I’ve been reading these books since I was in Elementary School, and they’ve never lost their value.  With the publication of Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia, only two more titles remain in the East, focusing on First and Second Bull Run, respectively.

As I alluded to earlier, this is her first solo run as editor, picking up where the great Gary Gallagher left off.  The two were co-editors on the last volume, Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign. In addition, Janney is the author of Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation, also published by UNC Press.  Her choices in this collection were well done.  There is not a single “miss” in the entire book.  Wayne Hsieh’s look at Phil Sheridan’s memoirs as well as Susannah Ural’s work on the morale of Hood’s Texas Brigade late in the war were the best of an excellent bunch.

As I’ve done several times in the past with this series, I’d like to spend a paragraph on each of the nine essays in this book.  Here’s the lineup per the table of contents:

  1. Grant Finally Takes Command: How the Race to Appomattox Was Won by William W. Bergen
  2. We Can Keep All the Yankees Back That They Can Send: Morale among Hood’s Texas Brigade’s Soldiers and Their Families, 1864-1865 by Susannah J. Ural
  3. A Whole Lot of Blame to Go Around: The Confederate Collapse at Five Forks by Peter S. Carmichael
  4. Lucky Inspiration: Philip Sheridan’s Uncertain Road to Triumph with the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac by Wayne Wei-Siang Hsieh
  5. Lee, Breckinridge, and Campbell: The Confederate Peacemakers of 1865 by William C. Davis
  6. Many Valuable Records and Documents Were Lost to History: The Destruction of Confederate Military Records during the Appomattox Campaign Keith Bohannon
  7. We Were Not Paroled: The Surrender of Lee’s Men beyond Appomattox Court House by Caroline E. Janney
  8. Sheridan’s Personal Memoirs and the Appomattox Campaign by Stephen Cushman
  9. The Last Hour of the Slaveholders’ Rebellion: African American Discourse on Lee’s Surrender by Elizabeth R. Varon
  10. BONUS: Bibliographic Essay by Editor Caroline Janney

 

The first essay in the book by William Bergen discusses how Lincoln’s Election finally allowed him to hand pick his Army and Corps commanders, and how this loosening of the reins led to a swift victory in 1865.He believes “Grant’s own brand of aggressive warfare” was finally embodied in Grant’s closest subordinates.

In the second essay in the book, Susannah Ural’s look at Hood’s Texas Brigade, their families, and morale in 1864-1865 was fascinating.  She has an abundance of material from a wide variety of sources.  Just the notes alone are worth much given all of the sources Ural has uncovered.  For further reading, see her book, published by LSU Press, entitled Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit.

The third essay is a traditional battle study focusing on Five Forks by Peter Carmichael.  It is the only essay in the book which explicitly covers the Siege of Petersburg. Carmichael explores the roles of George Pickett and Fitz Lee, the Confederate battlefield commanders.  But he goes deeper, looking at the interactions between those men and Robert E. Lee, and well as Fourth Corps commander Richard H. Anderson and his subordinate Bushrod Johnson.  They were the next in line to the east from Pickett’s combined arms force.  You can probably tell by the title where the author lands as far as who is to blame here. The essay is accompanied by several good maps by the always dependable Hal Jespersen. Carmichael is the biographer of William R. J. Pegram, a famous artillerist in the Army of Northern Virginia who was killed at Five Forks. See his book Lee’s Young Artillerist for more.

The fourth essay by Wayne Hsieh looks into Phil Sheridan’s time as commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps.  He urges readers not to view the Appomattox Campaign in hindsight, that there was no guarantee Lee would have surrendered so quickly without the direct actions of Sheridan and his cavalry, and that this quick ending had larger consequences in terms of shaping the peace that followed.

Essay number five by veteran writer William C. Davis looks at the early 1865 peace efforts of former US Vice President and current Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, Commander of all Confederate Armies Robert E. Lee, and Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell.  These men and others  acted, or in some cases didn’t act, when the time came to try to force Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ hand in peace talks.  Lincoln insisted on no peace without Union, while Davis insisted on an independent Confederacy.  These were clearly mutually exclusive viewpoints, and Confederates who were convinced the war was lost looked for a peace where they would go back into the Union with some leverage.  Davis ably recounts these peace efforts, which ultimately all failed.

Sixth in line is Keith Bohannon’s essay on the destruction of many invaluable Confederate records in Richmond and on the Appomattox Campaign.  As someone who has spent a lot of time poring over the reports and correspondence pertaining to the Petersburg Campaign, I can assure you the lack of Confederate reports of these operations makes it extremely challenging to represent the Confederate point of view from a contemporary standpoint.  Many of the men, writing after the war, either had axes to grind or had forgotten the kind of details you find in reports.  Especially cringe worthy was the destruction of Lee’s headquarters wagon “shortly before the army’s surrender”.  The current discussion of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign would have changed significantly had those papers been saved for posterity.  As Bohannon points out, however, dozens of scholars have partially overcome this challenge by turning to contemporary Confederate first person accounts of this time period.  Though imperfect, it is the only recourse they have.

Editor Caroline Janney takes her turn next, looking at Confederates who chose to be paroled somewhere other than Appomattox.  She takes note of the fact that if Lee had 60,000 men at the start of the campaign, 26,000-28,000 were paroled at Appomattox, and 11,500 or so were casualties, then something over 20,000 men chose to either surrender elsewhere, at a later date, or did not surrender at all.  This essay focuses on these 20,000 men, their motivations for doing what they did, and well as where and when paroles happened. Janney praises Grant’s generous surrender terms as an important reason for many Confederate surrenders in the weeks after Appomattox. Despite these terms, some Confederates, especially cavalry commanders Mumford and Rosser, tried to either make a stand in Virginia or join Joe Johnston’s Confederate army in North Carolina.  None of these efforts went very far. Janney ends the essay by noting how Confederate desire to show how few were actually at Appomattox only serves to reinforce how many men were NOT there.

The penultimate essay in the book was fairly unique in my reading.  Stephen Cushman muses on the “literary merit” of Sheridan’s Memoirs. He compares them, favorably I might add, to the memoirs of the other two men in the triumvirate of Union heroes, Sherman and Grant.  It is interesting to note that by the time Sheridan published his thoughts, first person accounts of the Civil War were passé, and his sales were never going to be as good as those of the other two Northern commanders.  Another footnote to the publication of the Memoirs involves Mark Twain’s letter which pushed Sheridan to finally commit to the work and finish it.  Although Cushman admits Sheridan was quick to find fault with the operations of others, he also points out Little Phil was also critical of his own affairs. Sheridan’s leadership style also comes through in his Memoirs, according to the author, who concludes Sheridan combined “appreciative and unremitting care” with “firm and just discipline” to inspire his men to great deeds. The former attributes often caused the great love of Sheridan his men displayed, writes Cushman.  The essayist concludes by comparing Sheridan’s success on the battlefields of the Appomattox Campaign to the disaster which ultimately befell his publisher in the financial panic of 1893.

The last essay Elizabeth Varon focuses on African America thoughts on Lee’s surrender and what it meant for the future.  Varon observes that many Blacks equated Lee’s surrender at Appomattox to the true end of slavery in America.  She argues that most historians focus on Lee’s surrender as moment of reconciliation.  Varon goes on to point out the two most influential interpretations at Appomattox, that of the surrender saving American and showing American exceptionalism, as well as one causing the Lost Cause version of the Civil War to arise.  This essay posits a third theory, one focusing on Appomattox as a Black independence day.

Implicitly claiming to pick up where the previous volume, Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, left off, the book nominally covers the approximate time period of August 1, 1864 to April 9, 1865, discussing matters in the second portion of the Petersburg-Richmond Campaign as well as Lee’s retreat to and surrender at Appomattox. However, in execution, the book leans heavily to the Appomattox side, with only one essay specifically about the Siege of Petersburg.  As someone who runs a Petersburg site (The Siege of Petersburg Online, http://www.beyondthecrater.com), I was initially disappointed in how little of the materials seemed to be about my favorite topic.  After all, no one has written a book on Warren’s Applejack Raid (Dec. 7-12, 1864) or the Battle of Hatcher’s Run (Feb. 5-7, 1865), and these would have been excellent topics for this book.  Only Peter Carmichael’s essay on Five Forks qualifies as focused solely on Petersburg.  I’m not wholly unsympathetic to the editor and publisher.  In collecting a book of essays, sometimes you have an abundance of good articles which fit the topic, and it makes little sense to solicit someone to write a completely new article, especially one likely to be less popular than Appomattox to the typical student of the Civil War.  With all of that said, I was pleasantly surprised when reading the book to find a lot of ink dedicated to Petersburg interspersed in the rest of the essays.  Susannah Ural’s essay on the morale of Hood’s Texas Brigade in 1864-65 is especially noteworthy in this regard.

The title of Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia is somewhat misleading, especially paired with its status as “volume 2” of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign in this series. But  once you realize it is really mostly about the Appomattox Campaign, this book is an excellent addition to the series so ably started by Gallagher and continued by Janney.  Nine essays, mostly on aspects of the time period from April 1-9, 1865, cover the usual spectrum of military political, and social topics readers have come to expect in this series.  If this is the third to last book in the venerable “Military Campaigns of the Civil War” series, no slip in quality has been detected here.  Buy this book if you are at all interested in the Civil War.  Its variety of coverage and uniformly excellent set of essays will challenge traditional views as well as enlighten and entertain.

Buy Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia at Amazon now!

Note: This book was provided gratis for the purposes of this review.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Horn September 15, 2018 at 4:32 pm

The editors at UNC do their series a disservice by failing to seek articles from established authors on the subject such as W. G. Robertson, Schiller, Howe, Chick, Cavanaugh, Hess, Sommers, or Newsome.

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