Civil War Book Review: Lee’s Army during the Overland Campaign

Lee’s Army during the Overland Campaign
by Alfred C. Young

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press; 1 edition (May 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807151726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807151723

LeesArmyDuringTheOverlandCampaignYoungA very serious book

I have a feeling this is going to be the “gold standard” reference work on this subject.  The question “how many” during the Overland Campaign has been a problem since 1864.

First, record keeping was not consistent within armies as different commands counted the same situation differently.  The definition of “good record keeping” has changed over the last 150 years.  What they considered “good records” simply do not meet our standards of records.

Second, they were rather busy and record keeping was their lowest priority.  Many of the records we do have were done weeks or months later if at all.  To complicate matters, many records were lost or destroyed during the last days of the war.

Last but not least, Lost Cause mythology made a huge investment in the small gallant band in Gray overwhelmed by an endless horde in Blue myth.

All of this contributed to the popular perception of a badly outnumbered Lee butchering Grant’s endless army until forced by sheer numbers into submission.

The author describes himself as an “independent scholar” which seems justified by this book.  Working with the Official Records, pension files, unit histories and newspaper causality lists this book presents very realistic numbers for the Army of Northern Virginia during the Overland Campaign.

This is a very serious book with 195 pages of tables, maps and notes.  It is not light reading.  However, the 235 pages of text are very informative and are not a cure for insomnia.  The text explains the author’s methodology and research.  It covers any problems and provides reasons for estimates for adjustments.  Additionally, the author looks at reinforcements either as units or men returning to duty.  The balance of the text is a look at each brigade, division, corps and support units during the campaign.  These histories are from 25 to 40 pages long with supporting maps.

The tables work from regiment to brigade to division to corps to army.  They have strengths at the start of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.  Supporting these are strengths after Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.

Overall, this is a well thought out look at numbers during the Overland Campaign.  I found that three bookmarks are useful while reading this book.  One keeps my place in the text; two keep my place in the tables.

This book is not trying to overthrow accepted ideas but it will cause you to adjust your thinking.


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