A Critical Review of Osprey Publishing’s “Shenandoah Valley 1862”

To successfully describe the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign can be a challenge because the campaign was so dynamic. Osprey Publishing recently released a new book on the campaign, “Shenandoah Valley 1862”, and unfortunately it fails to meet the challenge. The following are some examples of why it falls short.

Maps are a great way to help the reader in civil war history books and Osprey books typically feature interesting maps. But the maps in this book are part of the problem.  For example, on the overview map at the beginning of the book it says that Confederate General Joseph Johnston moved his force from Centerville to Orange Court House on March 7; but the map titled ‘The Disposition of Forces March 1862’ shows Johnston moving from Centerville to Fredericksburg on March 9;  while in the Chronology list it says Johnston moved from Centerville to Culpepper Court House on March 9.  Thus Johnston is said to have moved to three different places at the same time.  This inconsistency in describing where Johnston moved is confusing.

Keeping track of forces and using numbers to help explain events is an important component of civil war history books.  With the Valley campaign it is especially tricky because force compositions changed several times.  Banks command is a good example of this.  In February he commanded a Division in the Army of the Potomac. In early March he was elevated to Corps command, his Corps consisting of his own division and General Shields division. Then Banks was ordered to relocate his division to Manassas, leaving Shields at Winchester.  He had only partly moved when Jackson attacked Shields at Kernstown.  Banks returned to Winchester with two of his brigades, but the third brigade stayed east of the Blue Ridge never to rejoin his command. In early April, Lincoln split Banks command off from the Army of the Potomac, changing its designation from the V Corps to the Department of the Shenandoah. Then at the end of April, Lincoln decided to also detach Shields division, leaving Banks with just his original division less a brigade.  So over the two month span from late February to late April, Banks command first doubled in size then shrunk to smaller than it had been at the beginning while at the same time its label was changed from a Division to a Corps to a Department.

The book does follow some of these changes but it does not do so clearly and at times mixes things up and adds to the confusion.  For example, in talking about the opening moves of the campaign, the book contains the following four statements:

  • “Major-General Nathaniel Banks was preparing to lead his 30,000 man Federal division out of Frederick City, Maryland and march in the direction of Winchester.”
  • “Major-General Nathaniel P Banks, V Corps, Army of the Potomac, crosses the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry Virginia. His Corps includes 38,000 men”

  • “Banks arrived in Charlestown, 7 miles from Harpers Ferry, on February 28. His reported strength was now up to 16,801 officers and men present for duty.”  [Note: 16,801 is the number reported in the Official Records as the “Aggregate Number Present and Absent” for the month of February]

  • “The 8,500 troops that Nathaniel Banks led over the Potomac River in February 26, 1862…”

All four of the above are describing the same force within the same time frame, yet each states a different strength number and in one case it refers to a Corps that had not yet been created.  The last sentence quoted above  is followed by a discussion of individual regiments, with eight regiments mentioned by name.  The problem is that none of those eight were part of the troops Banks led over the Potomac River — they were all part of Shields division at the time.  So when the book says that the 84th Pennsylvania “joined Banks’s division on January 2” it is wrong.

A factual error that bothers me greatly is at the end of a passage about the situation right after the battle of Kernstown:  “Banks took up the pursuit of Jackson at daybreak on March 24, but his uncertainty as to the exact size of the army he was chasing made him wary. Estimates ran as high as 15,000 men, and rumors abounded of Jackson being reinforced by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet, who was currently supporting Johnston on the Peninsula.”  Was Longstreet actually “currently supporting Johnston on the Peninsula”, as the book says?  No.  Not only that but Johnston wasn’t on the Peninsula either.   It would be over two weeks after March 24 before Longstreet or Johnston went to the Peninsula.  On March 27 Johnston wrote to Lee that he had Ewell’s division on the Rappahannock, Stuart’s cavalry beyond, and the divisions of Longstreet, DH Hill, Early and DR Jones near Rapidan.  The day before he had written Lee that “Brigadier-General Jones, just ordered with about 5,000 men to the Blue Ridge, to support General Jackson.”  So, unlike the author’s false assertion that Longstreet was currently on the Peninsula, the rumors of reinforcements going to Jackson were actually based on fact.

There is a similar issue at the end of the book. In the chapter called Aftermath is a quote from a message of June 12th in which Fremont claimed “Jackson has been re-enforced” after which the author writes “Jackson would have loved to have been reinforced”,implying that the idea of reinforcement was just wishful thinking. But Jackson had actually been reinforced: Lee sent him the brigades of Lawton, Hood and Whiting — in all 14 new regiments — the arrival of which was what Fremont detected.

The above examples illustrate some, though by no means all, of what frustrated me about this book. It is my opinion that due to its poor presentation and factual errors, this book is actually detrimental to historical understanding.


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