Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864
Hampton Newsome, Kent State University Press, 2013, $65
Richmond Must Fall is a first-rate addition to scholarship on the military history of the Civil War. It looks at the operations around Richmond and Petersburg, where Ulysses S. Grant attempted to build on the successes his Union forces had achieved in the Fifth Offensive that Richard Sommers so superbly chronicled more than three decades ago in Richmond Redeemed.
Less than a week after the Fifth Offensive of late September and early October 1864 ended, the operations that are the book’s focus opened with Robert E. Lee attempting to roll Benjamin Butler’s forces north of the James River at New Market Heights and Fort Harrison. After Butler’s men foiled the Confederate offensive, he sent them north, with some reaching all the way to the 1862 battlefields of Fair Oaks and Old Tavern, in an unsuccessful attempt to work around the Confederate defensive lines east of Richmond. The highlight of the operations Newsome chronicles, though, was an effort by the Army of the Potomac to reach the South Side Railroad that fell far short, but produced a sharp engagement for Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps on October 27 at the Boydton Plank Road.
Like much of the Richmond– Petersburg Campaign of 1864-65, these operations have not received a great deal of attention from students of the Civil War, even from those who consider themselves serious enthusiasts of the war in the East. In part, this is because there simply has not been adequate attention paid to the campaign in the literature. Here, Newsome provides the work (albeit a rather expensive one) that has long been needed on the operations of mid-to-late October 1864. His research is solid, while his analyses of men, terrain and events are both persuasive and compelling. Newsome also demonstrates a keen talent for describing events in a way that is thoroughly detailed but does not lose track of the larger picture. In this he is aided by the book’s many outstanding maps.
We can no doubt expect to see a number of additions to the literature on the long-neglected Richmond– Petersburg Campaign over the next few years. If enough of them are the quality of Newsome’s, it will be a most welcome development in Civil War scholarship.
Originally published in the November 2013 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.