24 December 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 7 comments

While at Barnes & Noble today, I finally had a chance to get a look at a book I’d heard about and which held a certain amount of interest for me due to its subject matter. I’d heard that George Walsh had a new book out titled Those Damn Horse Soldiers: True Tales of the Civil War Cavalry. The book is intended to be a one-volume study of Civil War cavalry operations. I had high hopes for it.

Instead, what I got was EVERYTHING that I hate most about Civil War books. The book is VERY broad brushstrokes overview, attempting to cover all Civil War cavalry operations in 480 pages. It covers the period 1862-1865, and tries to cover all theaters of the war. That, by definition, means that the book cannot provide the sort of detailed examination that I would otherwise expect out of this kind of a book. The discussion of the Battle of Brandy Station covers a total of six pages. A fourteen hour long battle that was the biggest cavalry battle ever fought on the North American continent, and it gets six pages. There is no depth and no analysis. It’s just a narrative. I guess that’s okay, but there is absolutely no substance to the book.

The book has no bibliography. That, in and of itself, precludes it from the list of books I would ever considering purchasing. The lack of a bibliography permits the author to hide the lack of substantive research since there’s no recital of what sources were reviewed. The last book I reviewed that had no bibliography was Carhart’s festering pile of turds. I had the same reaction then, too.

I had a chance to take a look at the end notes. They’re quite spare, and what notes there are cite mainly to secondary sources. More than half of them cite to secondary sources. The rest are to readily available published primary sources such as the Official Records, the Southern Historical Society Papers and other similar sources. There were no references to any unpublished manuscript material whatsoever or to any newspaper sources. Few of the published primary sources are particular rare or difficult to find. In short, it is clear that the author did almost no research of any depth, and that what research he did was shallow at best.

There is not one single map in the book. Given the fact that it addresses several dozen actions (albeit not in any depth), unless the reader is familiar with those actions on his or her own, the readder will get absolutely no guidance or assistance in understanding these events from maps. In my humble opinion, books can never have enough maps, and the failure to include them is indicative of either extreme cheapness on the part of the publisher, laziness on the part of the author, or, worse yet, a combination of the both.

Finally, there is not a single illustration anywhere in the book. Again, given the numerous personalities who pop in and out of the story along the way, being able to match up a face with the name is an extremely useful and helpful thing, but there’s not a single illustration to be found. Again, that represents either chintiziness on the part of the publisher, laziness on the part of the author, or some very unpleasant combination of both.

Another thing interested me. There are five blurbs on the back of the dust jacket. Two of them pertain to other books by the same author. The other three are about this book, but none of them are by anyone known or recognized as an authority on the Civil War. One of them is by the novelist Steven Coonts, best known for writing techno-thrillers. I have never heard of the other two blurbists. That nobody know as being a Civil War expert was asked to endorse this book ought to tell you everything you need to know about it.

Save your money. Don’t buy this book. If you want an overview of Civil War cavalry operations, your money will be better spent on Samuel Carter’s excellent 1982 book The Last Cavaliers: Confederate and Union Cavalry in the Civil War or Stephen Z. Starr’s classic three-volume set, The Union Cavalry in the Civil War

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  1. Sun 24th Dec 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Eric, — I reviewed his book on the Army of Northern Virginia a few years ago for Civil War Times Illustrated and it was an absolute disaster. If I remember correctly this is the guy who was responsible for seeing _The Killer Angels_ through to publication. I guess this is what qualifies him to write Civil War History. Too bad, I was going to send that one to you for Christmas – just kidding.

    Enjoy the Holidays!

  2. Sun 24th Dec 2006 at 5:33 pm


    LOL. Gee, thanks. Just what I need…another book to use as a doorstop. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Same to you and yours.


  3. Wade Sokolosky
    Sun 24th Dec 2006 at 7:03 pm


    Over the past couple years your work with me on my first book and in general helped raise my scholarship of the war to a greater level. The first thing I do now when I see a book is turn to the bibliography and than the endnotes. It is amazing how much stuff is out there for sell that is based on secondary sources.

    No maps or illustrations just leaves me hanging on the edge and will immediately turn me away from a book. As a reader, I believe an author can preclude this from happening with the proper use of maps, illustrations and pictures of the combatants.

    Thanks for the heads up on the book, I don’t have enough doors in the house for anymore doorstops.

    Wishing you and Susan a Happy Holiday!! My new years resolution is for the history of Wyse Fork to come alive in 2007.

    Wade Sokolosky

  4. Sun 24th Dec 2006 at 7:19 pm


    There’s no doubt at all about it. It’s my pet peeve, that’s for sure.

    Merry Christmas to you, Tracey, and your family. I hope 2007 is a happy, healthy, and prosperous year for all of us.

    I approve of your new year’s resolution. ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. Steve Basic
    Sun 24th Dec 2006 at 11:54 pm


    When I first saw the book here at the local Barnes and noble, I, too leafed through it, and automatically thought to myself, wait until the Cavalry boys get a load of this. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    To quote Sherman Potter of M*A*S*H fame, I believe this book is nothing but horsehockey.:)

    Hope all is well.


  6. Dan
    Fri 05th Jan 2007 at 11:06 pm


    I just didn’t feel comfortable with the lack of photos, illustrations, and maps, and I went home to look at possible internet reviews on the book. The only one out there was yours. It wasn’t favorable and my hesitation seems warranted. My main criticism is a lack of bibliography to truly reflect material the author utilized in his writing. I found nice extras in the recent book by Michael Martin on the 4th Wisconsin Regiment with a complete roster and other information in appendixes. This further helps to aid the reader and researcher. I found your comments and others to nix my purchase idea, and I will look for something else that is of better value.

    I hope you and your family had a nice holiday season.


  7. Elan
    Mon 26th Mar 2012 at 2:51 am

    I am doing research on horses during the Civil War and came up with a book you might be interested in that has more of the items that were left out in Walsh’s.

    It’s The Union Cavalry in the Civil War and is a two volume set by Stephen Z Starr from 1981.

    I would be interested in hearing your comments on this source.



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