Review by Jeff Fuller
The Wilderness Campaign comprises a series of eight essays each by a different contributor and is an excellent companion to a study of the Overland Campaign of May – June 1864.
The first two essays examine the political, domestic and military context in which the Campaign was to be fought. Brooks D. Simpson’s ‘Great Expectations’ sets out the hopes and aspirations of the Union and Gary W. Gallagher’s ‘Our Hearts are Full of Hope’ deals with those of the Confederacy. These essays set the scene for the Overland Campaign examining the outlook of the respective home fronts and the setting of the political context is a most interesting and often overlooked perspective.
In both essays the anticipation of the coming clash between Lee and Grant is tangible on the domestic and political fronts as well as within the military, from the upper echelons of command to the private soldier. John J. Hennessy’s ‘I Dread the Spring’ addresses the preparations of the Army of the Potomac for the Campaign and the reorganisation which preceded it, before two essays which examine the performance of several key commanders. Gordon C. Rhea’s ‘Union Cavalry in The Wilderness’ expertly analyses the performance of the Union’s new cavalry commanders Sheridan and Wilson and Peter S. Carmichael’s ‘Escaping the Shadow of Gettysburg’ looks at the commands of Ewell and AP Hill and both writers produce some interesting conclusions.
The final three essays examine three of the more renowned events of the Wilderness Campaign. Robert K. Krick’s ‘Lee to the Rear’ provides a detailed account of the famous incident with the Texas Brigade; Carol Reardon follows the Vermont Brigade and the record of Lewis A Grant in ‘The Other Grant’; and Robert E.L. Krick looks at Longstreet’s flank attack and the Lt. General’s wounding by friendly fire in ‘Like a Duck on a June Bug’.
All the essays are well written and researched and are of a length that easily allows for each to be read in a single visit although I found several benefitted from being approached in two parts. They also offer interpretations of some of the key points of the Wilderness Campaign and it is reassuring that the editor has allowed contrary opinions of command performance to remain.
This book does not tell the whole story of the Wilderness Campaign nor convey some of its horrors to the extent that other volumes do, but it is an excellent and valuable companion to those interested in the Wilderness and Overland Campaigns both in setting the context for the actions of 1864 and in exploring in detail some the key issues and events.
Edited by Gary W. Gallagher. Published by The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill & London