- Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia ed. by Caroline E. Janney
A powerful mythology has enveloped Appomattox. In popular culture especially, inevitable Union victory culminates with Robert E. Lee's surrender, which is portrayed "as a moment of reconciliation" (p. 255). The authors of Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia seek to reclaim "the contingent nature of Union victory in the spring of 1865 and examine the ways in which the outcome at Appomattox continued to resonate years and even decades later" (p. 5). The nine essays that make up the volume, ably edited by Caroline E. Janney, achieve great success in offering "a more nuanced and ambiguous portrait of the war's final months" by drawing on military, social, and cultural history (pp. 1-2). The volume effectively mediates between the rank and file and the high command, while demonstrating refreshing methodological breadth. Petersburg to Appomattox marks a fine addition to the signature series Military Campaigns of the Civil War.
It is a propitious moment for scholarship on the transition from war to peace. Recent studies on Union and Confederate veterans, the military campaigns of 1864 and 1865, and the long freedom struggle have demonstrated both the war's tumultuous close and the conflict's long shadow. Petersburg to Appomattox makes an important contribution to the burgeoning historiography by addressing military commanders, political leaders, contested battles, published memoirs, famed brigades, and individual soldiers between the late winter and early spring of 1865. The essays work together extremely well, even if the authors sometimes miss opportunities to engage each other's work.
Union leadership was central to realizing victory, as essays by William W. Bergen, Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, and Stephen Cushman attest. In "Grant Finally Takes Command: How the Race to Appomattox Was Won," Bergen isolates Ulysses S. Grant's aggressive style of warfare and upper-level leadership changes as keys to military success. Bergen posits that for the first time [End Page 461] the Army of the Potomac's officer corps was "at least equal to Lee's carefully constructed high command" (p. 28). No commander was more important to Grant and the Union cause than Philip H. Sheridan, according to Hsieh. In his excellent essay, Hsieh demonstrates how the Cavalry Corps became successful because of technological advances, personal leadership, and institutional shifts, each of which transformed a branch of service that had languished during General George B. McClellan's tenure. Like Hsieh, Cushman turns to Sheridan, using the cavalier to examine how the "realities of book publishing and market demand" directly informed the "shaping of Civil War memory" (p. 221). Sheridan's Personal Memoirs illustrates a commander who, when confronted by challenges, developed and executed effective strategies to overcome adversity—qualities that brought Lee to heel.
Sheridan and Grant faced determined foes in the form of Confederate leaders and veteran soldiers. John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade, the subject of Susannah J. Ural's superb case study, demonstrated a hardened resolve to continue fighting, even during the Confederacy's darkest days. "Pride in what they had accomplished helped to sustain the men's morale, as did their faith in their commanders," notes Ural (p. 74). Despite the fighting ability of units such as the Texas Brigade, Lee, John C. Breckinridge, and John A. Campbell anxiously sought to negotiate a peace settlement, as William C. Davis explains. Lee, Breckinridge, and Campbell took "the lead in trying to save the South from even greater trauma and loss than was already inevitable, both during the last months of the war and in the months and years of readjustment to follow" (p. 165).
Lost Cause mythology largely eclipsed Union leadership and, by so doing, negated Federal officers' abilities and maligned Confederates such as George E. Pickett. With great precision, Peter S. Carmichael deconstructs the mythology surrounding the battle of Five Forks, noting that Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee have...