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BOOK REVIEWSI69 Such displays of armchair generalship are unrewarding. Rhea does much better when he explains why commanders did what they did instead of kibitzing about what they should have done. It is in his ability to reconstruct the circumstances as they appeared to men at the time and to evoke the ebb and flow of the combat itself that Rhea really shines. He brings to life the tantalizing opportunities, sudden reversals, and desperate fighting in a way few authors can match. His concluding assessment of the battle, for its part, is on the whole judicious and well done. Rhea could have done even more. Some units in the Wilderness battles performed well. Others, placed in seemingly identical circumstances, did not. Why? The author's explanations are too often perfunctory. The collapse of Hancock 's Second Corps on the afternoon of May 6, for example, simply begs for analysis. 'They were not running, nor pale, nor scared, nor had they thrown away their guns," one observer wrote of the veterans he saw in retreat. "They had fought all they meant to fight for the present, and there was an end of it!" (375-76) Similarly, Rhea does not do enough to illuminate the cultures of the rival armies. His portrayal of the Confederates' offensive spirit is so vivid that it inspires one to wonderjust where such a spirit could have come from. It was notjust Lee. Time and again, Rebel leaders at all levels of command chose the counterattack—frequently despite incredible odds—as the best solution to a battlefield crisis. Often enough, it worked. Clearly their conception of combat stressed a psychological dynamic that overshadowed "rational" concerns about position and firepower. It would be useful to know more about it. Such criticisms aside, The Battle of the Wilderness is the best book yet to cover the subject. While not in the same league with Albert Castel's Decision in the West (1992)—an insightful work that displays a firm sense of historical context as well as good writing and prodigious research—it is engaging and worthwhile. Mark Grimsley The Ohio State University Andersonville: The Last Depot. By William Marvel. (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994. Pp. xi, 337, $29.95.) The scholarly study of the largest Civil War prison began with William B. Hesseltine's Civil War Prisons: A Study in War Psychology (1930), which in attempting to balance the previously published diatribes of former Union prisoners ended in a rather apologetic presentation. In 1955, MacKinlay Kantor went far to the other extreme in his novel Andersonville, which graphically described deliberate Confederate mistreatment of captives. Without the impact of the Kantor book's best-selling circulation, a young historian named Ovid L. Futch wrote a far more objective dissertation published in 1968 as History ofAndersonville Prison. The present work represents a partial reversion to Hesseltine's approach. 170CIVIL WAR HISTORY In source material it goes far beyond Hesseltine, who relied almost wholly on the published War ofthe Rebellion records and on printed accounts by exprisoners . Marvel uses printed sources more critically than previous writers because he compares their content carefully with the best available sources— the unaltered contemporary diaries of the prisoners, which he uses more heavily than did Futch. He also has mined the unpublished records in the National Archives, extensively and deeply, though not exhaustively. Moreover, he has benefited from the use of materials collected in preparation for the recent improvement at the Andersonville National Historic Site. From all of these sources, Marvel crafts a narrative history that focuses on the struggle of the Confederate officers at Andersonville to manage a camp that became a city termed by Marvel "the fifth largest in the Confederacy" ( 1 1 1 ). The author attributes the problem of excessive overcrowding to the breakdown of exchange. He credits Gen. John H. Winder, the overall commandant, and Capt. Henry Wirz, commander of the prison's interior, with sincere efforts to improve sanitation, food, and shelter. Marvel frequently attempts to show similarities in the condition of guards and prisoners. Thus he says that the former "endured the same ration constraints" as prisoners, with the very significant exceptions of "better...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 169-171
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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