Year of Glory: The Life and Battles of Jeb Stuart and His Cavalry, June 1862-June 1863 by Monte Akers, Casemate 2012, $32.95
The 12 months covered in this book—June 1862 to June 1863—arguably marked Jeb Stuart’s zenith as the Army of Northern Virginia’s chief of cavalry. Among the flamboyant general’s accomplishments were his two rides around George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, his celebrated December 1862 Dumfries Raid and his continual success in battle, such as at Brandy Station in June 1863. This period also includes what many consider Stuart’s finest hour, when he assumed command of the ANV’s Second Corps at Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863, after Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded.
Not all was rosy for Stuart, however. He suffered his first outright defeat at Upperville on June 21, 1863, and followed that with his ill-timed ride into Maryland and Pennsylvania, which many claim made him a culprit in Robert E. Lee’s eventual defeat at Gettysburg. It is also worth noting that the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps came of age about this point of the war, and by Gettysburg the Federal horsemen were every bit the equals of Stuart’s vaunted troopers. Oddly, author Monte Akers mostly overlooks the reality that Stuart, though ultimately victorious, was badly surprised at Brandy Station, and he generally ignores the other events that occurred in late June 1863.
Akers’ book is a mixed bag. For those interested in either a broad overview of Stuart or an introduction to cavalry operations during this period, it should do quite nicely. It reads well, with a fast-paced narrative of events. There are also some useful illustrations, including a section of handsome color photographs.
But those looking for depth, extensive research and new insight will be disappointed. Akers seems to rely primarily on secondary resources such as biographies and campaign studies, with the memoirs of Stuart staffers Henry B. McClellan and W.W. Blackford apparently the only primary sources consulted. The narrative also suggests that little time was spent on the various battlefields exploring how the terrain may have influenced the fighting.
I have long believed that there is no such thing as too many maps in a Civil War book. Cavalry battles in particular require extensive mapping because they tended to be fluid and cover large areas. Although this book looks at a number of skirmishes, battles and raids, it has only four maps: a theater map, one of Stuart’s first ride around McClellan in June 1862, one of the Battle of Antietam—where Stuart’s cavalry did not play a significant role—and a general map of Chancellorsville that doesn’t focus specifically on Stuart’s role there.
At least a dozen more maps would have been very beneficial, including—but not limited to—the Lewis Ford cavalry engagement at Second Manassas, Stuart’s second ride around McClellan, the Loudoun Valley fighting after Antietam, the Hartwood Church Raid of February 1863 and Kelly’s Ford (worth at least two maps alone).
Since Jeb Stuart and Civil War cavalry novices clearly seem to be the book’s targeted audience, the paucity of maps will more than inevitably leave such readers somewhat lost.
As a final note, Akers has triggered another one of my strongest pet peeves by not including a bibliography. Because I want to know which resources the author has or hasn’t consulted, I often decide whether to purchase a book based on its bibliography. I prefer not to be forced to question the book’s legitimacy.
—Eric J. Wittenberg
The Civil War in Georgia: A New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion Edited by John C. Inscoe, University of Georgia Press 2012, $22.95
The vignettes John Inscoe selected for this anthology serve as an excellent template for how well Civil War studies have broadened and deepened our understanding in the past 50 years. Inscoe uses writers with a broad spectrum of expertise—from historians and sociologists to film critics and re-enactors—to provide stark perspective on how the war devastated Georgia’s soldiers and civilians on both the battlefield and home front.
Even with 62 contributors, The Civil War in Georgia remains uniformly clear and informative. The 1864 Atlanta Campaign in examined in less than 10 pages, and William Harris Bragg’s essay on the turbulent Reconstruction years is a model of synthesis and clarity. But diversity, not brevity, is the collection’s hallmark. Also explored are the book and film Gone With the Wind, Georgia’s role as an industrial and manufacturing center and the tribulations of wartime newspaper publishing. Inscoe more than keeps his promise that these “new historical perspectives allow us to appreciate the conflict as a complex and multifaceted experience.”
The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory: The Black Hats From Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter by Lance J. Herdegen, Savas-Beatie, 2012, $65
At the September 1862 Battle of South Mountain, a particularly aggressive Union brigade caught the eye of Maj. Gen. George McClellan as it pushed back the Confederates during the afternoon fighting in Turner’s Gap. “What troops are those fighting in the [National] Pike?” McClellan reportedly asked Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, who quickly informed his intrigued commander that they were John Gibbons’ men, a brigade composed almost entirely of Western soldiers. McClellan simply shook his head and declared, “They must be made of iron.”
Iron Brigade expert Lance J. Herdegen’s latest look at the famed Black Hats (a popular reference to their distinctive headgear) is exhilirating. The brigade—originally pulled together from three Wisconsin regiments (the 2nd, 6th and 7th) as well as the 19th Indiana and an artillery battery from the 4th U.S.—is probably best known for its performance at Gettysburg, where it helped George Meade’s army hold the high ground west of town on the first day of fighting. But the Black Hats fought in virtually every major engagement in the Eastern Theater, from Second Bull Run to the sieges of Richmond and Petersburg, suffering the most casualties, proportionately, of any Federal brigade during the war.
This is one of those rare books that can claim scholarly status while also reading like the best popular history. At a time when you wonder if anything new can be said about the war, Herdegen delivers a resounding yes. He has drawn from a fresh vein of fascinating primary sources, including previously unpublished letters and journals, to craft his masterpiece.
As one grizzled veteran recalled, the brigade “fought on more fields of battle than the Old Guard of Napoleon and [has] stood fire in far greater firmness.” The sense of awe with which the solider recounts the achievements of his old unit reaches across the decades to raise goose bumps in the modern reader.