Author Interview: John Horn, Author of The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864

SiegeOfPetersburgWeldonRRBattlesHorn2015John Horn and Savas Beatie have teamed up to produce The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864, a new and improved second edition of his H. E. Howard series book The Petersburg Campaign: The Destruction of The Weldon Railroad: Deep Bottom, Globe Tavern, and Reams Station: August 14-25, 1864.  I contributed to the list of questions asked of author John Horn, and I’m very pleased with his answers.  Read more, and you’ll see that this second edition is a real improvement over the original, and is a must have for anyone interested in learning more about the Siege of Petersburg.  By the looks of it, Horn has fully covered Grant’s Fourth Offensive against Petersburg and Richmond.  Read on to learn more about this upcoming book:


Q: What got you interested in Petersburg? And what caused you to focus on the Fourth Offensive specifically?

A: My wife’s grandmother asked me to trace her ancestors, and I found several Confederate soldiers in her line. The book is dedicated to her. I wrote about the Fourth Offensive because I had already written about Second Reams Station, and the Fourth Offensive was the more interesting of the two topics Harold Howard suggested to me; the other was Fort Stedman.


Q: How much attention do you give to the Second Deep Bottom operation north of the James? In other words, what portion of the book is dedicated to those events?

A: I gave Second Deep Bottom 101 pages and 12 maps, Globe Tavern 96 pages and 5 maps, and Reams Station 60 pages and 5 maps. This book is better balanced than its earlier edition, The Destruction of the Weldon Railroad, because the new edition gives far greater and more appropriate emphasis to Second Deep Bottom, particularly to August 14, the most important day of the operation.


Q: Which sources did you find most useful in writing the book?

A: The Official Records, including the correspondence, were by far the most important single source, though I read them very critically. One day I will have to write an essay called, “Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Official Reports.” Officers of both sides during the War of the Rebellion spent a lot of time covering their rears.


Q: Do you think the Confederates could have done more to keep Warren’s corps from gaining a permanent foothold on the Weldon Railroad?

A: Yes. As I explain in Chapter 8, August 20 was the critical day of the fighting around Globe Tavern because the Confederates, by failing to mount another attack, allowed the Federals to fortify.


Q: Which units and leaders do you think performed well during the 4th offensive? Which performed poorly?

A: My opinions are all set forth in Chapter 13. For example, Grant and Lee both performed well in some respects and poorly in others. Rather than just summarize what is in Chapter 13, though, let me observe that this edition points out how important it was to have an officer such as Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys as chief of staff of the Army of the Potomac. He and Meade saved the day for the Federals at Globe Tavern on August 19 by getting reinforcements to Warren who were in condition to fight at the critical time. Beauregard could have worked with Lee in a similar fashion—the Louisianan had worked as a chief of staff with Joseph Johnston at First Bull Run and with Albert Sidney Johnston at Shiloh—but the relationship between Lee and Beauregard was much cooler than between Beauregard and the Johnstons.


Q: If you had to pick one key to the Federal success, what would it be, and why?

A: The only Federal success lay in tying down at Petersburg troops that were heading toward Washington or could have been sent to help defend Atlanta. Severing the Weldon Railroad did not amount to sufficient progress within the context of the Siege of Petersburg itself to constitute success. Sufficient progress within the context of the siege would have been capturing Richmond—that’s why Grant and Meade pushed Warren so hard at Globe Tavern and were dissatisfied with his victory there: he didn’t capture Petersburg and force the abandonment of Richmond.


Q: Could Hancock have done anything differently to avoid disaster at Ream’s Station?

A: Yes, Hancock could have had Gibbon’s division improve the fortifications and extend the slashings instead of allowing Gibbon’s men to lie around all day on the eve of the battle.


Q: The Confederates used several odd mixtures of brigades from different parent organizations during the August 18-21 attacks. Why did this happen? Do you think it affected their offensive capabilities?

A: The Confederates found it easier to employ troops already in reserve or in fortifications far from the Federals rather than take units out of the trenches near the enemy. Mahone believed it affected their offensive capabilities, but his performance on August 19 with two brigades from Colquitt’s Division and one brigade from his own contradicted his belief.


Q: What’s next? Do you have any other books with a Petersburg slant earmarked for release in the future?

A: I am under contract with Savas Beatie to complete The Petersburg Regiment, 12th Virginia Infantry. Six of its ten companies haled from Petersburg. I have already delivered the manuscript. Thirty-one maps and eight diagrams are undergoing revision. I must scan in and deliver the illustrations. George S. Bernard, who compiled and edited War Talks of Confederate Veterans, and whose second volume of War Talks I helped edit into Civil War Talks, The Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and his Fellow Veterans, belonged to the 12th Virginia Infantry. He was one of sixteen men who joined the regiment more than once. One day I would like to revise The Petersburg Campaign to include the perspectives of more individual soldiers and to include a map of every significant action during the siege. That will be a lot of maps.


For more information on The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864 and other fine books on the Civil War, make sure you visit Savas Beatie’s web page ( They truly are the finest non-academic publisher of Civil War books in America today.


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