Hunter’s Fiery Raid Through Virginia Valleys
by Gary C. Walker, Pelican Publishing, 2008, $40
In a press release trumpeting Gary C. Walker’s book Hunter’s Fiery Raid Through Virginia Valleys, Pelican Publishing inexplicably minimalizes the Civil War by calling it merely “one of America’s bloodiest conflicts in history.” The release also claims that the author, Walker, is “the only writer in the Commonwealth of Virginia to make his income writing about America’s Civil War.” Granted, it would be an injustice to condemn a book solely because of a publicist’s slapdash memo, but after reading just a few pages it is obvious that Walker has earned such condemnation, and more.
No serious student of the Civil War takes satisfaction from ripping another’s work. And if Walker’s effort is an epic mishmash of bad history and worse writing, it nevertheless represents an effort to inspire interest in the subject—in this case, Union General David Hunter’s controversial Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. But Hunter’s Fiery Raid is not just third-rate scholarship: It is filled with the kind of misguided and infuriating statements that mislead impressionable young readers and tarnish the work of better-informed and broader-minded historians. “Views of slavery contrast sharply between Northern and Southern writers,” Walker asserts. “This is due in part to two major reasons: what did the writer see and what did the writer want to see?” Pretty confusing; fortunately Walker by then has clarified his position by declaring that slavery “was not a major contributory cause of the war.”
When not butchering the English language or quoting soldiers’ opinions as facts, Walker busily indulges tired stereotypes. Sherman “raped Georgia,” he notes casually, while referring to the “whiskey-drinking” Grant as “the Great Hammerer.” Walker also writes in generalities guaranteed to leave readers asking questions: “As [Hunter] climbed through the ranks, he literally left two dead bodies behind….When Hunter decided that a commanding officer was to be body number three, he went too far.” And the general was apparently a bigger villain than any historian has realized: “The time ‘Black Dave’ wasted warming his vengeful heart with punitive fires allowed the South to…survive for almost one more year. The responsibility for the pain, the wounds, the deaths, and the destruction that would occur could be placed directly on Hunter.” It was all your fault, General Hunter.
Hunter’s Fiery Raid Through Virginia Valleys is a murky draft in need of a complete overhaul. Readers interested in a coherent and balanced look at the general and his controversial campaigns should instead turn to Edward A. Miller Jr.’s 1997 book, Lincoln’s Abolitionist General: The Biography of David Hunter.
Originally published in the November 2008 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.