Chancellorsville’s Forgotten Front – Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White

The Battles of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church, May 3, 1863

Chancellorsville has always been a neglected battle for its size.  It is overshadowed by Gettysburg, which has the advantage that both sides actually did something.  Hooker’s complete moral collapse on first contact doesn’t make a good story.  The confusing ground also didn’t help.  Aside from the story of Jackson’s Last Battle it slides into obscurity.

How much worse, then, does the half of the battle where Hooker, Lee, and Jackson did not participate in fare?  Quite a bit worse.

But the forces involved were substantial, about 30000 men in the VI Corps under Sedgwick  against a two or three Confederate divisions.  Certainly books have been written about smaller portions of battles before.

When Joe Hooker executed his outflanking operation against Lee, he managed to get the bulk of the Army of the Potomac into Lee’s rear without incident.  The job of Sedgwick was to distract Lee while he did that.  This he did.  The time was ripe for Hooker to make his move, and he pulled two Corps from the Fredericksburg forces to do so.  Then he lost his nerve and stopped when Lee advanced on him rather than retreating.  He then ordered VI Corps to attack and come to his aid.

Some historians, trying to boost Hooker’s historical status, claim that having the VI Corps attack was part of the original plan.  If so, it would have been stupid to subtract those extra army Corps from the decisive attack force to sit idle with an inactive force. So you can imagine the surprise when the orders arrived and Sedgwick was told to improvise an attack against an unknown opponent and march into unknown territory toward Lee.  And Sedgwick wasn’t the most aggressive officer in the usually reluctant Army of the Potomac.

But eventually he managed to force Early away from his road to Chancellorsville and march to Salem Church, where he was met by first Wilcox’s brigade and then the rest of McLaws’ division.  Here he was brought to a halt while Hooker continued to stand idle.  With Early’s division hovering in his rear, and Lee free to send Anderson’s division to join the attack Sedgwick decided to fall back on the one place he could recross the river, Banks’ Ford.   He managed to do this and recross the river after taking severe losses.  Many of the other Corps with Hooker had virtually no losses for the campaign.

Chancellorsville was the worst-fought battle by the Army of the Potomac in the entire war.   Lee was weakened by the dispatch of Longstreet to southeast Virginia, but Hooker weakened his army even more by dividing it, and then keeping most of it entirely passive and idle.  Then, in a final blunder, he retired before Lee could make a “Malvern Hill”-like mistake and attack his entrenched force at a severe disadvantage.

This book is a fine corrective in that it details the actions of the force that actually did do some fighting and attacking at the battle rather than act as a punching bag for the Army of Northern Virginia.  Good work!

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The Crisis of Rome – Gareth C. Sampson

The Jugurthine and Northern Wars and the Rise of Marius

Another great book on Roman History from Pen and Sword books.  Like many of the others, instead of rehashing the well known periods, this book addresses a lesser known time between the Punic Wars against Carthage and the last years of the Republic – 140 BC to 100 BC.

Instead of strictly following the tone of the few sources we have for the period and calling this time a period where Rome was unchallenged aside from “internal decay”.  Instead, if you look at the entire picture you have wars in Spain, Macedonia, and then the Near East and south Gaul straining the resources of the country.

Then two new powers added to the strain – Jugurtha the leader of Numidia, once a Roman ally but now a threatening power, and the appearance of the migrating Germanic tribes of the Cimbri and the Teutones.  The initial dealings were disasters for Rome on both fronts – humiliation in Africa as the army was forced under the yoke and in the north having armies crushed at Noreia in 113 outside Italy, and then after the Cimbri marched north of the Alps into Gaul being defeated twice more, most notably at Arausio where two armies were destroyed entirely.

This view of a strained nation being faced with severe pressure forms a better picture why Gaius Marius, who finally defeated and captured Jugurtha, would be called on to be named consul an unprecedented five times in a row in absentia to deal with the Cimbri threat in Gaul and North Italy, and would be acclaimed a ‘founder of Rome’ for defeating that threat.

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun – J.R.R. Tolkien

With the discovery of a nearby low cost used bookstore. I finally got the impetus to scratch the itch of getting all of the Tolkien books lumped together as “The History of Middle Earth“.  Well, guess what – this isn’t part of that at all.

This, instead, is a retelling/translation of some old Norse/Germanic myths that the professor had done, along with some notes on the process by his son.  So in this way they were similar to the History of Middle Earth books.

Seems pretty well done, and the volume is first class.  However, verse is not my favorite medium.

Corinth 1862 – Timothy B. Smith

Siege, Battle, Occupation

Often it seems like there are only two kinds of Civil War campaigns – those that are done to death, with a thousand books rehashing the same territory and those that are not covered at all.  The prime example of the former is of course, Gettysburg.  There are quite a few of the latter – Petersburg, the post Gettysburg 1863 Virginia campaign.

But pride of place has to go to the post-Shiloh Corinth campaign of 1862.  I can’t recall a single treatment of any size.  The armies were large, and the goal was important.  Holding Corinth, a key railroad junction, would block any move up the Mississippi Valley into Tennessee.

The book centers on this vital little town and the capture of it by the Union under Henry Halleck.  It continues to the attempts by Earl Van Dorn to take it back, ending in the medium-sized Battle of Corinth in October, 1862.

The Advance

In March and April, 1862 the Confederates in the West, under Albert Sydney Johnston, concentrated all of their force to repel Ulysses Grant‘s army of the Tennessee at Shiloh.  They were thwarted due to some good fighting and to the arrival of Don Carlos Buell‘s Army of the Ohio at the end of the first day.  Corinth was the staging ground for this attack, and the force fell back on that town after the battle, now commanded by Beauregard after Johnston’s death at Shiloh.

Halleck, in overall head of the Union forces in the west, was taken aback by the near run battle.  More men had fallen at Shiloh than in the entire Revolutionary War.  Halleck wanted no such risks, so he collected his entire force to face the army in Corinth 22 miles away.  He reorganized the forces, kicking Grant to a ‘second in command’ role and putting Buell, George Thomas, and John Pope (fresh from taking Island #10) at the head of the three armies.  In all, he had over 100,000 men.  With a large superiority of force and some careful movements, this would be a sure thing.

In the end, it was too sure a thing.  In the first week they were about two thirds of the way to Corinth. There were a few skirmishes, and then Halleck began an almost siege-like creep forward toward the city, entrenching at each stop.  The advance became a crawl.  By the end of May, Beauregard decided to pull out and managed to sneak his entire army away before Halleck noticed.   Corinth had fallen. but it was an empty victory.

Interlude

Halleck split up the army, sending part east to try and take Chattanooga and secure the entire state of Tennessee.  Grant had the other half, spread out to hold the western half.  Then Halleck was called east to command all the armies, taking Pope with him.

Beauregard was sacked, and Braxton Bragg took most of the Confederate forces to beat Buell to Chattanooga and begin the Kentucky invasion.  Buell had to follow.  Grant was tied down holding Memphis, Corinth and the area between.

Counteratteck

Earl Van Dorn, left in charge in North Mississippi, was itching to jpin in the tide of offensives the South was undertaking in September 1862.  Lee was heading to Maryland, Bragg was in Kentucky heading for the Ohio River…only Grant had not lost ground.  But his troops were spread out and perhaps vulnerable.

The first try went awry as Grant planned at attack on half of the Confederate force under Stirling Price.  Forces under Ord and Rosecrans would trap him at Iuka, coming in from both directions to crush him.  The initial attempt failed as Ord’s troops did not hear the fight and Roescrans fought alone at Iuka.  Price then marched out of the trap, as Rosecrans had left an unblocked road for him to escape on.

With this escape, Van Dorn decided to try a similar trick to destroy Rosecrans at Corinth.  He would circle to the north to attack, hitting from an unexpected direction and blocking reinforcement from the rest of Grant’s army.

In early October he struck.  The fighting was furious, but the Union were aided by reusing the Confederate’s lines from the May campaign against them.  There were some breakthroughs, but in the end Van Dorn was repulsed.

Thsi left him trapped between Corinth and Grant’s arriving reinforcements.  But again, an unblocked river crossing and road allowed the army to escape south.  This was the last offensive in the Mississippi Valley, and now the attempts to take Vicksburg and divide the Confederacy at the Mississippi would begin.