I’m in the midst of writing my biography of Ulric Dahlgren. Beginning with Franz Sigel’s appointment to corps command in the Army of Virginia in June 1862, until Sigel was relieved of corps command in the Army of the Potomac in early 1863, Dahlgren served as on Sigel’s staff, and for much of that time, was Sigel’s acting chief of artillery. During October and November 1862, but especially during October, Dahlgren was particularly active, leading daring scouting missions, chasing Confederate guerrillas, and then commanding a bold dash into the town of Fredericksburg on November 9. Dahlgren particulalry distinguished himself during this period of time.
It’s an interesting period. Although there wasn’t much in the way of major fighting during this time frame, there was a lot of skirmishing, particularly cavalry skirmishing, in the Loudoun Valley. Some, in fact, have argued that this time frame truly marked the turning point for the Union cavalry and not the spring of 1863, as I have claimed in print. Stuart’s Second Ride Around McClellan occurred during this time. It’s also the period when Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s tenure as commander of the Army of the Potomac was under the heaviest scrutiny and when Abraham Lincoln became most dissatisfied with McClellan’s “slows,” as Lincoln put it. Consequently, McClellan was relieved of command on November 6, just before Dahlgren’s mad dash into Fredericksburg.
However, after a fair amount of searching, I have yet to find a detailed treatment of events (especially dealing with the tactical aspects that fall) during this period. I’ve even sent out e-mails to the discussion groups that I belong to, looking for input on books that address this period, all to little avail. That brings me to the point of this post.
Although there have been countless books written about major events, such as the Battle of Gettysburg–why in the world do we need yet another book on Pickett’s Charge, anyway–there are none on other, lengthy periods of the war where important events occurred. There are so many areas that have been done to death, and yet there are other significant areas where nothing at all has been written. The asymmetry of this can be stunning. I have tried very hard to choose topics that are off the beaten path–obscure things and events–instead of writing yet another useless account of Pickett’s Charge, or the invention of some bizarre theory in the hope of making my mark by coming up with something new on ground that’s already been plowed too damned many times. A careful review of my work will demonstrate this. When I have written about big battles like Gettysburg, I’ve selected small or obscure aspects of it. From my perspective, the more obscure the better.
Let me use one of my own books as an example. Sheridan’s second raid–and the resulting Battle of Trevilian Station–were important aspects of Grant’s Overland Campaign, but had not had any sort of a detailed treatment. There was PLENTY of excellent primary source material out there just waiting for somebody to tackle it, but it had never happened before I tackled it. I was able to cobble together a nearly 150,000 word treatment of this campaign that has been very well received, and has sold reasonably well.
Here’s another example. Until just a handful of years ago, there hadn’t been a good, modern, scholarly treatment of the Fredericksburg Campaign until two appeared in the space of one year–George Rable’s and Frank O’Reilly’s–that covered this campaign in the sort of detail it had been crying out for. The Petersburg Campaign really needs a detailed treatment–the entire campaign has never had one; only Andy Trudeau’s The Last Citadel covers the whole campaign, and that’s more of an overview than anything else. This campaign lasted 8 months, was really one of the most important phases of the war, but yet it’s been largely ignored by historians in spite of some brutal, bloody fighting. It really needs the sort of superb multi-volume treatment like the one that Gordon Rhea’s done on the previously overlooked Overland Campaign. I don’t understand why this hasn’t happened to date, but it clearly hasn’t.
Still others have gotten some attention, but cry out for a really thorough treatment. Two come to mind immediately. Until Ken Noe’s excellent Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle was published in 2001, the only detailed treatment that the Battle of Perryville had received was the God-awful and unreadable book by Kent Hafendorfer. Yet Perryville marked the high water mark of the Confederacy in the West. It needed a real treatment, and Ken finally gave it one. Or John Hunt Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio Raid of 1863, which also needs a solid tactical treatment based on real scholarship, and not on family oral history that cannot be corroborated.
Even though there have literally been tens of thousands of books published on the Civil War, there are still very large gaps in the historiography and there are still plenty of worthy topics that remain virgin, untouched territory. I would love to see someone beside me tackle some of these more obscure topics and a lot less speculation on Lee’s “true” plan at Gettysburg. Ultimately, we will all be richer for it.Scridb filter