20 August 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 8 comments

I’m often asked why I continue to write books about the Civil War. Surely, they say, with the thousands of books that have been written on the subject, what could possibly be left to cover?

The answer, amazingly enough, is plenty. I’ve always tried to choose topics that others don’t. Take a look at my studies of Sheridan’s Trevilian Raid or the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads if you need examples of what I mean here. From my perspective, the more obscure, the better. There are, of course, exceptions: our forthcoming book on Stuart’s ride during the Gettysburg Campaign is a topic that has been covered previously, but we’ve brought a completely different approach to the subject that will set our book apart from any other treatment of it.

There are a surprising number of major gaps in the body of literature. Although the world most assuredly does not need yet another book on Pickett’s Charge, there are significant holes in the modern coverage of the war that definitely need to be filled. Here are a couple of examples.

The most notable example I can come up with is one that’s been discussed here before, the lack of a really detailed study of the Petersburg Campaign of 1864 and 1865. This campaign lasted nearly ten months, and saw brutal, hard-fought combat. Andy Trudeau’s The Last Citadel is the only book devoted to the entire campaign, but at 514 pages, it obviously does not go into real depth on any single aspect of it. Dick Sommers wrote his mammoth book Richmond Redeemed in 1981, but it covers only Grant’s fifth offensive in the summer of 1864. Will Green’s Breaking the Backbone of the Confederacy deals only with the breakout from Petersburg in April 1865. H. E. Howard has published a number of volumes dealing with small pieces of the campaign, usually of uneven quality, that deal with small bits and pieces of the campaign such as Ream’s Station, the Wilson-Kautz Raid, Globe Tavern, etc. However, other than Andy Trudeau’s book, there is no true study of the campaign. This is a gap that must be filled. I remain hopeful that a scholar of Gordon Rhea’s caliber will step up and write a series of books on the campaign that will document it as well as Gordon documented the 1864 Overland Campaign.

Jubal Early’s Valley Campaign encompassed the months of July-November 1864. However, no published history of the campaign has covered the first two months of the campaign in any detail. Jeff Wert’s fine book From Winchester to Cedar Creek really covers the fighting between Sheridan and Early and does not cover the early phase of the campaign in any detail. Tom Lewis’ The Guns of Cedar Creek likewise gives this period short shrift.

I just finished reading the second half of Scott Patchan’s landmark study on the first portion of Early’s Valley Campaign. Patchan deserves every bit of the praise that this book will generate. He’s covered this period in exhaustive detail, giving the best account of the Second Battle of Kernstown–the critical event of this period–yet written. He likewise touches on the burning of Chambersburg and the resulting crushing defeat of McCausland’s cavalry at Moorefield a couple of days later yet tackled. This book fills a gap that has remained unfilled for far too long, and Scott is to be commended for doing such a fine job of it.

His work is a fine example of the sort of works that are still out there, just begging to be written. So long as works of this caliber touch on these neglected portions of the Civil War, the health of its scholarship will remain robust. However, once we fall back on publishing nothing but the 79th book on Pickett’s Charge with nothing new being added, then there will be no reason to go on. At that moment, I will lament both the state of scholarship, as well as the overwhelming lack of interest in anything new among the consuming public.

Kudos to Scott. Keep up the good work, Scott. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing this one in print.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Andy Papen
    Sun 20th Aug 2006 at 10:41 pm

    Good points on the lack of published work on Petersburg and other campaigns. Price’s raid through Missouri in 1864 needs a detailed study as well.

  2. Sun 20th Aug 2006 at 11:13 pm

    Andy,

    Eric and I have actually been gathering an enormous amount of primary material on Price’s Raid, much of it never used before. Very obscure stuff. We first became interested in the topic through the Pleasonton connection, but then became very interested in the entire subject.

    Not sure if or when we will actually tackle it (Eric and I both have several separate projects in the fire, and our three-volume study of the cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign to work on) but it’s one for which we have a good start on the material.

    J.D.

  3. Andy Papen
    Mon 21st Aug 2006 at 8:41 am

    That is super to hear! Price’s Raid is a fairly obscure topic anyway, but it’s always surprised me that no one has stepped up for a decent campaign study of the raid. If anyone could do justice to a cavalry operation like Price’s, it would be the two of you. Good luck if you can tackle it. If any Missourians like me can help, just ask.

  4. Mon 21st Aug 2006 at 11:59 am

    Andy,

    I quite agree with you about Price’s Raid. As JD said, we’re working on it.

    I do understand that Prof. Kyle Sinisik of The Citadel is also working on a study of Price’s Raid. I know Kyle and know him to be a diligent historian.

    Eric

  5. Andy Papen
    Mon 21st Aug 2006 at 1:09 pm

    Eric

    I’ve heard about Kyle’s work as well, and I’m looking forward to it.

    Thanks, and good luck with your current projects.

    A.P.

  6. Jim Epperson
    Mon 21st Aug 2006 at 5:37 pm

    Rumor has it that a book is being prepared on the 1864 end
    of the Petersburg siege, along with appropriate tie-ins to the
    Valley Campaign. The author is relatively unknown, but I have
    it on good authority that he does know a lot about the siege.
    Look for a book from Nebraska Press in a couple of years.

    Also, I think he is visiting your CWRT this fall ๐Ÿ˜‰

    JFE

  7. Mon 21st Aug 2006 at 7:50 pm

    Jim,

    Please tell that relatively unknown author that it’s about time. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Eric

  8. Mon 21st Aug 2006 at 11:17 pm

    There are still plenty of holes. I was surprised to learn that no one had written anything on Confederate sharpshooters since 1899, but it did give me something to write about. Much of the 1864 Valley campaign has gotten little attention, same with Petersburg.

    FWIW I was talking to someone associated with the mainstream publishing industry who said that as far as the big boys are concerned, the CW market is Gettysburg, Antietam, and Abe Lincoln. That’s what they think they can sell, so that’s what they buy, from big names.

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