The Petersburg Campaign, Volume I: The Eastern Front Battles, June-August 1864

 Edwin C. Bearss, with Bryce A. Suderow; Savas Beatie

When the Petersburg Campaign began in June 1864, Southerners still harbored  hopes they could overcome the unrelenting pressure that Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals were exerting on their armies and resources. By the time Richmond and Petersburg fell in April 1865, the end of the Confederate war effort in Virginia was only a week away. Yet, despite the campaign’s unquestioned importance in shaping the war’s outcome, the literature on those critical nine months of fighting has long been wanting. Ed Bearss’ new book reflects a rising and welcome change on that front.

Among Bearss’ many duties during his decades-long career as a National Park Service historian was producing studies to aid in the interpretion and preservation of the Petersburg sites and operations. Here, with assistance from Bryce Suderow and Patrick Brennan, a number of those studies are made accessible to a broader audience. Bearss chronicles the events that occurred east and south of the Cockade City during the first three months of the campaign, beginning with an attempt by elements from Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James to seize the city in early June and ending with the rout of the Union II Corps at Reams Station in late August. A series of good maps complements Bearss’ engaging text.

Though nothing can truly capture the color or flair with which the incomparable Bearss leads folks around a battlefield, his book does offer the sort of highly detailed accounts of troop movements and engagements that are also a Bearss’ trademark. To be sure, for readers seeking something more than “drums and trumpets” military history, there will undoubtedly be more appealing works on the war in 1864-65. Others may lament the focus on Petersburg’s eastern front and the limited treatment of the Deep Bottom operations and the Wilson-Kautz Raid that also took place during this same period. But for students of the war looking to understand why Confederate arms were able to fend off defeat at Petersburg for so long in 1864, this book will have considerable appeal.


Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.