A Campaign of Giants: The Battle for Petersburg.
While traditional military history studies have fallen somewhat out of vogue with academic audiences, the campaign for Petersburg, June 1864-March 1865, has enjoyed some resurgence in Civil War historiography. Most recently, Caroline Janney's Petersburg to Appomattox (2018) offers a collection of essays that explores the war's final acts and Gordon Rhea's On To Petersburg (2017) finishes his definitive series on the Overland Campaign. Still, the Union and Confederate struggle for Petersburg, which marks the longest and most complex campaign of the Civil War, lacks a thorough and detailed campaign study. A. Wilson Greene, former president of the Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, has produced an authoritative study on the fight for Petersburg. In A Campaign for Giants: The Battle for Petersburg: Volume One: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater, Greene explores the maneuver to Petersburg, beginning on 5 June 1864, moves on to the Army of the Potomac's crossing of the James, and concludes with the fighting at the Crater on 30 July.
Ultimately lasting 292 days and involving four armies, the fight for Petersburg is too often reduced to and portrayed as a lengthy siege with minimal military maneuver. Greene argues otherwise. In a thoroughly detailed narrative at all levels of war, strategic, operational, and tactical, Greene characterizes the initial fight for Petersburg as a campaign of aggressive maneuver, defined by three Union offensives: 15-18 June, 22-24 June, and 26-30 July. Throughout his narrative, Greene challenges common assumptions and offers a more nuanced view of the fight for Petersburg. For example, Greene offers a reevaluation of Union General William "Baldy" Smith's performance as the 18th Corps failed to capture the city. Here, instead of casting blame singularly on Smith, Greene explores the roles that other Union officers played in this failed attempt.
In addition to his meticulous narration of the operations around Petersburg, Greene undermines entrenched interpretations of the behavior of the generals in the Army of the Potomac. Most significantly, Greene offers a critical portrait of General Ulysses S. Grant. Indeed, the popular canard holds that Grant directed operations, while General George Gordon Meade was relegated merely to executing Grant's orders. Greene consistently challenges this interpretation and portrays Grant as having been uninvolved and aloof from the army's operations. In fact, Greene finds that Grant's "fingerprints are all but invisible" on the Union's first offensive, between 15 June and 18 June. Personal tensions characterized the Army of the Potomac at all levels of command. Here Greene offers an invaluable contribution to the interplay between the politics of command and the success of military operations.
A Campaign for Giants is the first of three projected volumes on the Petersburg Campaign. Greene's research is exhaustive, and when this is combined with his personal, unparalleled knowledge of the Petersburg battlefield, the result is certain to be the definitive study of the Petersburg Campaign. Given Greene's mastery of the operations around Petersburg, his assessment of the Union high command and his portrayal of both the common soldiers' ordeals and the impact of the siege on the city's civilians, the existing gap in Petersburg historiography has more than adequately been filled. To be sure, Civil War scholars and students will anxiously await subsequent volumes.
Oklahoma State University
Jennifer M. Murray
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|Title Annotation:||THE AMERICAS|
|Author:||Murray, Jennifer M.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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