- Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaigned. by Gary W. Gallagher and Caroline E. Janney
After a five-year hiatus, the University of North Carolina Press adds to its Military Campaigns of the Civil War series. Editors Gary W. Gallagher and Caroline E. Janney present ten essays by academic and public historians covering the end of the 1864 Overland campaign. Although not stressed by the editors, common themes emerge, especially the overturning of preconceived ideas and myths.
Gallagher examines Robert E. Lee's and Ulysses S. Grant's public images during the campaign, finding that while the southern press generally praised Lee, Grant's reputation was politically divisive in the North. Gallagher attributes this difference to the two-party system present in the United States but [End Page 436]missing in the Confederacy. Copperhead Democrats painted Grant as a "butcher," a perception that still lingers despite having little to do with actual military events (p. 7).
Robert E. L. Krick details the cobbled together units that reinforced the Army of Northern Virginia just before the Overland campaign. They proved effective during the battle of Cold Harbor, helping seal the one breach that Union troops made in the rebel lines. Skillfully utilizing a rich collection of primary sources that he has gathered as a historian at the Richmond National Battlefield Park, Krick overturns the perception of Lee's army as a shell of itself after Gettysburg. The new troops boosted the army's numbers, helping restore veteran troop morale.
Kathryn Shively Meier focuses on Union soldiers, expanding concepts she established in a previous work. What she labels "self-care" helped soldiers endure the physical and psychologically hardships during their time in the Cold Harbor trenches (p. 75). Because of a widely promulgated anecdote about soldiers pinning their names on themselves before the disastrous main assault at Cold Harbor, the perception remains that the Union army was pessimistically shell-shocked at the end of the grueling Overland campaign. Meier demonstrates, however, the army was resilient and ready to keep fighting.
Keith S. Bohannon examines General Lee's late-war creation of engineer units. The author argues that West Point-trained officers initially did not want soldiers digging and fighting behind trenches because it would drain troop energy. In truth, impressed slaves did much of the Confederacy's digging, largely because such labor was seen as work fit only for black bodies. By 1864 the Emancipation Proclamation made such arrangements impractical (if brought to the frontlines to dig, slaves might run to Union troops, something Abraham Lincoln's edict was designed to encourage), and white troops came to appreciate the life-preserving merits of entrenching. Yet Bohannon never details these cultural and racial dynamics that help explain why rebel soldiers were self-entrenching by 1864 when they had resisted doing so earlier. His focus is military history, demonstrating that once established, Confederate engineers did an effective job, although too few in number and hampered by soldiers who entrenched where they stopped marching—not always ensuring proper placement.
Joan Waugh's essay is an odd fit, though it continues the series tradition of featuring at least one biography. She details the interesting life of Francis Channing Barlow, a quick-rising star in the U.S. Army until his poor performance late in the war. Waugh restores his tattered reputation, arguing that wounds, illness, and the loss of his wife explain his ineffectiveness during the Overland campaign.
Gordon C. Rhea transitions the book to Petersburg, examining Grant's crossing of the James River. Historians often paint this as one of the general's best maneuvers, as he skillfully flanked Lee to lay siege to Petersburg. Rhea is less laudatory, demonstrating that logistical problems reduced the number of troops available for the initial Petersburg assault. Further, he criticizes Grant for directing the crossing instead of coordinating the opening attacks on the...