Book Review – The Petersburg Campaign…
Author: Edwin Bearss with Bryce Suderow
Publisher: Savas Beatie LLC; El Dorado Hills, CA; 2012
Best Price/s: Amazon.com – $19.77 – 25.97
Edwin Bearss’ The Petersburg Campaign… is an excellent example of how a writer can recycle work that he did forty or even fifty years ago. In fact, Bearss tells us in the introduction that when he was the Regional Research Historian of the National Parks Service in 1962, he was instructed to prepare troop movement maps and supporting documentation for various battles of the Petersburg Campaign. When it was completed it was filed away, but it continued to be consulted by the Park Service at Petersburg, VA.
Twenty years later, Chris Calkins found the Five Forks manuscript in the park files and updated it, with permission. Then in the early 1990’s, Bryce Suderow discovered hard copies of the manuscripts and began the long, interrupted task of preparing and publishing Bearss’ work in a two-volume publication. By that time, Bearss was a nationally known author, speaker, and Civil War battlefield guide, and had no time for the editing and updating that was needed. But Suderow has done an excellent job.
Bearss gives detailed accounts of the troop movements, mostly at the brigade and division level. He covered the first attack on Petersburg on June 9, 1864, as the Union Army of the Potomac continued to shift south to their left flank to try to get around Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Now thirty days into the Overland Campaign, Lee’s officers knew how to extend their right flank and block Grant once again.
The Petersburg Campaign was not a siege as many often think, but it was a series of battles fought along entrenched lines in an effort to extend around the Confederate right flank.The second assault on Petersburg (June 15-18, 1864) followed a few days later as Meade tried to gain the upper hand. The battle of the Jerusalem Plank Road (June 21-24, 1864) followed with no better results.
Bearss did not write about the battle of the Crater (July 30, 1864) so Suderow asked Patrick Brennan to write this chapter and he did a masterful job. This battle is one of the best known of the campaign for its tragic end, but least understood in terms of the details and events leading up to that. We have thorough details given here.
This was followed by the battle of the Weldon Railroad (August 18-21, 1864) and the second battle of Ream’s Station (August 25, 1864).
The author has supplied some 23 maps throughout the book, copious footnotes, many photos and illustrations, battle statistics at the end of each chapter, and a good bibliography and index.
My one request would be for more maps, perhaps showing hourly troop movements and positions, because it was hard to keep up with the detailed movements in each engagement. Also some occasional larger maps of the Petersburg campaign at the beginning or end of each battle would be helpful to identify the extent of the lines in reference to the Petersburg.
I recommend this book for anyone who wants a good understanding of this important campaign that resulted in bringing the Civil War to an end. But be warned: this is not easy reading.