“The Devil’s to Pay” John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour by Eric J. Wittenberg

Gettysburg – one of the key battles in the Civil War that turned the tide in favor of the Union. It also is an excellent example of the use of cavalry. General Buford expertly led Union cavalry on the first day of the battle. Eric J Wittenberg chronicles the actions of Buford and his men as they delayed Confederate forces in his book “The Devil’s to Pay” John Buford at Gettysburg.

Wittenberg brings his traditional skills of excellent writing and thorough research to this book. I consider the book a “page turner” because Wittenberg’s writing is casual and easy to follow. He sprinkles in plenty of maps to keep the reader apprised of the tactical situation.

As with most descriptions of the Gettysburg Campaign, Wittenberg gives an excellent summary of the Union and Confederate movements prior to the battle. For obvious reasons, he gives particular attention to Buford and his division. Wittenberg also gives good biographies of the main actors in the fighting—giving particular attention to Buford and his brigade commanders Colonels William Gamble and Thomas Devin.

As I have mentioned in previous reviews, Wittenberg is an expert in Civil War cavalry. He has written many articles and books on cavalry tactics and operations. This knowledge is on full display in the book with his analysis and understanding of Buford’s tactics to delay the Confederate infantry. Wittenberg frequently references Civil War cavalry manuals and how Buford’s actions were textbook. Buford deployed his men with maximum effect.

Not only is the narrative and analysis of Buford’s actions great, Wittenberg’s appendixes are just as strong. He includes appendixes on the myth of the use of Spencer rifles by Buford’s men in the battle; the nature of Buford’s defense (defense in depth or covering force). Finally, Wittenberg includes a walking and driving tour of Buford at Gettysburg—something I will definitely take on my next trip to Gettysburg!

The book would be an awesome addition to the library of any Civil War enthusiast.

 

Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War by David A. Powell and Eric J. Wittenberg

When I am struggling to figure out what to read, I go to a familiar topic—the Civil War. I also try to read an excellent author’s work. My latest read hits both of these. Although Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War is not solely written by Eric Wittenberg (it is co-written by David Powell), I can see his influence in the words.

Although the Tullahoma Campaign under General William S. Rosecrans does not garner the attention of the other two major campaigns that occurred simultaneously (Gettysburg and Vicksburg), the success of his army (Army of the Cumberland) was pivotal in the Union’s war efforts to conquer the South. The Campaign’s success cleared most of Tennessee of Confederate forces and changed the course of the war in the Western Theater.

Powell and Wittenberg do yeoman’s work establishing the situation for both sides prior to the Campaign. They describe the strategic and tactical circumstances in the region and Theater. They also detail the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, including in leadership and supplies.

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The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid through Mississippi by Timothy B. Smith

I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on the Civil War, but periodically I am surprised by an event that I have not read about. This is the case with Timothy Smith’s The Real Horse Soldiers.

The book is a great narrative and analysis of the Union raid led by Colonel Benjamin Grierson. Smith describes the strategic situation in Mississippi prior to the raid. He then explains in detail the Union plans to divert Confederate attention with several raids and how those raids were planned to be executed.

Smith also excels in his descriptions of the major officers and men (Union and Confederate) that proved pivotal in the main raid. For example, he rightly criticizes Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, area commander, for vacillating on whether to confront General Grant or pursue Grierson. This vacillation doomed the Confederacy at not only at Vicksburg, but also in the Western Theater.

Smith highlights numerous examples of Grierson’s superior decision making abilities. For instance, during the raid, he made the decision to push his troopers through the night in order to avoid pursuers and surprise a new target.

Smith’s writing is easy to read and follow. He explains complex strategy and tactics in simple terms that even the most novice reader can follow. He also includes plenty of maps throughout the book.

Holding the Line on the River of Death: Union Mounted Forces at Chickamauga, September 18, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg

My favorite Civil War author, Eric J. Wittenberg, has recently written a book on the Union mounted force’s delaying action on September 18, 1863 at Chickamauga in Holding the Line on the River of Death.

Wittenberg is my favorite author because he details the actions of individual units, but also gives a great overview of the surrounding battle. He continues this trend in this latest book. He describes the actions of the Union and Confederate units as they fight each other, but also describes how those fights affected the surrounding units.

Wittenberg has written several books on cavalry during the Civil War, including one on Buford’s delaying actions on July 1, 1863 at Gettysburg. He takes his knowledge of Buford’s actions and compares it to the actions of the Union men at Chickamauga – he gives a slight edge to the Chickamauga men. He does not discredit Buford’s or his men’s actions, but rightly points out that Colonels Minty and Wilder and their commands at Chickamauga had fewer men and fewer repeating rifles, and were fighting more Confederates than Buford.

One of Wittenberg’s greatest strengths in the book is his discussion on the role of cavalry in delaying actions. He describes the tactics that should be used in such actions, including having vedettes and outposts in front of the main line of defense. Minty and Wilder executed textbook delaying actions.

Wittenberg includes detailed footnotes that further describe figures or actions that do not bog down the narrative. Sprinkled throughout the text are numerous photographs and wonderful maps that allow the reader to follow the narrative.

The book is an excellent addition to anyone’s Civil War library.