Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bowery and Rafuse: Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign

This week I purchased the Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, the most recent entry in the U.S. Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles, published by University Press of Kansas and edited by Charles R. Bowery, Jr. and Ethan S. Rafuse.  Based on my initial glance, there is much to like in this mammoth (500 page) title.  Similar to other works in the series, the Guide furnishes a useful companion to those touring the battlefields of the 1864-65 campaign.  The book is not intended, however, to provide a detailed campaign narrative or a lengthy discussion of the whys and hows.    

The military actions at Richmond and Petersburg pose a stiff challenge to the editors of such a work.  Stretching over many months and scattered over dozens of locations, the campaign involved a dizzying series of complicated operations and hard-fought battles.  Any effort to catalog these events and organize them in a fashion useful to the visitor is a difficult one. However, in this case, it seems that Bowery and Rafuse have succeeded. 

The book features two parts. The first includes three segments covering events that took place within the Petersburg National Battlefield:  1) the initial Petersburg attacks in June 1864, 2) the Battle of Fort Stedman in 1865, and 3) the Battle of the Crater in July 1864.  The second part contains six separate excursions (i.e., driving tours) in and around Richmond and Petersburg, which lead visitors to the sites of various engagements - including several covered in Richmond Must Fall, such as the fighting at the Darbytown Road and Burgess Mill.

Each of these sections features a short introduction, a list of the key events, driving or walking directions, and lengthy excerpts from important official reports and other primary sources.  The excerpts from these first-hand accounts comprise the bulk of the book's text and provide colorful background that will enhance the experience for those visiting these battlefields.   

The numerous maps are terrific.  Prepared by Steven Stanley, they display modern and period road networks, topographical details including elevations and tree cover, fortifications, and the movements of the units involved in each engagement.  Though the small details sent me reaching for my reading glasses, these maps are handsome and, in some cases, provide tactical details not necessarily discussed in the text. 

Given the nature of the book, I would have liked to have seen a critical, descriptive bibliography (rather than a bare list of titles) to point readers to other sources on this sprawling campaign.  But that's a feeble quibble and I look forward to digging into the volume further.