Kevin Levin and Battlefield Preservation

I read most of the other Civil War blogs quite frequently, and I will admit that Kevin Levin’s makes me think more than most.  Usually I either staunchly agree or disagree with opinions expressed in his thoughtful posts.

A recent one, however, has motivated me to respond.  Kevin posted about a proposal to build a Wal-Mart near Appomattox on land that witnessed one of the final cavalry scraps of the war.  Now, mind you, it really doesn’t matter to me that the land in question is cavalry-related – my opinion on Kevin’s view would be the same no matter who or what fought on that piece of land.

Kevin quotes Robert Lee Hodge, who wrote an editorial piece about the threatened land – here’s a quote from Hodge’s article:

As I toured Appomattox last year, I saw that development in historic areas has increased more in the last five years than in the past 142 years since the surrender. Wal-Mart announced this month that it will build on the ground that was fought over primarily by a Federal cavalry brigade under Gen. Henry Davies and Confederate troopers under Gen. Thomas Munford — including the 2nd Virginia Cavalry in which Company H was the Appomattox Rangers.

This is where Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia fired its last shots and suffered its last casualties. The Confederate dead are buried on the ground slated for development. The Robertson house that once stood there was used as a Federal headquarters and probably a hospital. This is of interest to reverent people throughout the country.

Kevin then posted the following:

Now make no mistake I have a great deal of respect for battlefield preservationists and I’ve been known to give money to at least one organization.  That said, I cringe at these sappy and vague references to the importance of our Civil War past:

(And he concludes with this from Hodge:)

Whether you are a Southerner or a Northerner; Democrat or Republican; domestic or imported; black, white, yellow, red, blue or gray — these places tell us more about who we are than any other single historical period in our brief existence. It is our road map to tell us who we are, where we are, where we have been, and where we may go.

Kevin then offers his thoughts:

I for one can’t stand the sight of Wal-Marts and I resist shopping there whenever possible.  I am even willing to pay more for an item rather than walk into these cookie cutter – fake hospitality asylums.  However, I honestly don’t know why I should resist plans to build one of these monstrosities on land that was fought over by Federal cavalry.  More importantly, Wal-Marts provide people with jobs and even with all of the controversy surrounding benefits packages that has to have some value – definitely more value than preserving land because Federal cavalry fought over it. 

I am going to go out on a limb here and it will probably upset some, but I actually doubt that most battlefield enthusiasts/preservationists really agree with Hodge’s assessment these sites constitute some kind of road map of national identity.  Most people’s interest in the Civil War extends no further than the battlefields themselves.  Just consider the opposition over the past few years to the NPS’s efforts to broaden our understanding of Civil War battlefields in a way that would connect them to broader issues that go very far in addressing our national identity. 

My guess is that in the end most people desire to save Civil War battlefields so they can walk the ground and imagine for themselves the movements of troops and the fighting that took place there.  We’re not talking about serious reflection about issues of national identity, we’re talking about entertainment.  How can Hodge claim that saving land that was fought over by a Federal cavalry brigade translate into anything other than saving a small piece of a larger military campaign puzzle?  In short, it’s a chance to play soldier in the “Mind’s I.”   The problem is that the people who enjoy walking battlefields constitute a very small interest group. 

If you want to save the battlefields than raise the money and purchase the land.  Hell, I will even help, but don’t preach to me that this issue somehow transcends region, race, and politics. 

I’m not so sure that you’re correct, Kevin, and I’ll postulate that the thoughts of many, if not most, “battlefield stompers” goes beyond just looking at the grass, trees, and the pertinent action.  Maybe I’m being idealistic here, just as I think you’re being radically un-idealistic regarding this issue, but my experience with fellow stompers is that they indeed look at the “larger picture” far beyond just the action that took place on a piece of ground.  And I’ve dealt with thousands of them – I’ve given and participated in tours of both preserved and unpreserved lands more than I can count.  The land and the action indeed drive the initial interest, as well as the preservation efforts, but ultimately folks cherish such lands for its true value – that “road map” to an identity.  I doubt anyone can tell me the opposite is true for places such as Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Appomattox, you name it.  Do not the “minor” surrounding conflicts that took place on nearby lands not also come under the blanket of their larger battles?  For instance, if the battlefield proper at Gettysburg is worth saving because of the ideal of it (not just the particular actions that took place on it), what makes nearby Hunterstown (also the scene of a side-show cavalry battle) any less significant?  It provides “less of a road map” to a larger ideal?  Is not a battle or campaign the sum of its parts?

I think if you looked deeper, Kevin, you’d find much more of that “serious reflection” in battlefield walkers than you imagine.  Much more.

Also check out the comments to Kevin’s post.  I guess there are, and probably always will be, very divergent opinions on this matter.  But for me, when I no longer see that deeper meaning of the land – the meaning that far transcends just the action that took place on it – I’ll quit stomping.  And I get that same feeling on battlefield land, in historic homes, you name it.  If we didn’t, well, why not just create digital 3-D images of all the battlefields and then plow them all under?  If battlefield land has no meaning beyond a study of their actions, we’d lose nothing by doing so, no?

Published in: on April 30, 2007 at 11:43 am  Comments (9)  

Welcome to Nick Kurtz!

Nick Kurtz, aka “Shiloh Nick,” has started a new blog tentatively called Civil War Musings.  Nick has a great start, detailing recent battlefield stomping with great pictures.  Check out his blog.

Nick admits to being hooked on both books and battlefield terrain.  By that measure, that makes him a blood brother of mine!  Welcome to the blog world, Nick, and I look forward to reading your good stuff every day.

Published in: on April 30, 2007 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment  

An hour with General Hood

Today I received this month’s copy of Civil War News, and was pleasantly surprised to see a picture of actor Patrick Gorman on the cover.  You’ll recall that Gorman portrayed Gen. John Bell Hood in the movies Gettysburg and God and Generals.  He was in full Hood uniform (with only a moustache and sans beard ala Hood), and the caption on the photo explained that Gorman was recently at the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation’s first Wayside Soiree in Middletown Va.  It was nice to see that Gorman still does appearances in the Hood persona and takes such an active interest in today’s events.

The picture made me recall my one and only meeting with Gorman.  Back in September 2001, right after the horrid day of 9-11, I was doing living history in Sharpsburg Md near the Antietam Battlefield over the anniversary of the battle.  There was a lot of folks in town for the anniversary festival, and there were about 20 or so of us in camp, with several reenactors missing due to being called up to their respective reserve units.  God and Generals was doing some filming in Harper’s Ferry WVa at the time, and several of the actors took a break by coming up to Sharpsburg for the festivities.  I saw Pat Falci (A.P. Hill) and a few others walking around and talking with the folks.  I was hungry and decided to get a sausage sandwich at one of the street vendors.  As I walked up to it, Gorman came up beside me.  I was in full uniform in the person of Col. Thomas Devin (Federal cavalry officer) and Gorman, dressed in jeans and a shirt, complimented me on the uniform.  We struck up a little conversation about the movies and such, and I offered to buy his sausage sandwich for him.  He readily accepted, although that’s probably the first and last time I’ll have the opportunity to buy a millionaire celebrity lunch!  Unless, of course, I run into Donald Trump on a New York City street and he needs to bum a couple bucks for a hotdog…

Anyway, Gorman was by himself and we continued talking.  We parked ourselves on a step or porch along Main Street and ate our sandwiches as we talked about the filming, Civil War history, reenacting, our families, and all sorts of stuff.  We spent about an hour eating and talking, with folks constantly coming up and saying hello to Gorman.  Although he lived in California, he explained to me that he constantly comes east and has had a life-long interest in American history.

I needed to get back to the encampment, so we shook hands and parted ways.  Gorman was extremely personable and very enjoyable to talk with.  I noticed that in spite of his age, his eyes constantly lit up like a kid’s, and that made him appear very young.  And despite his status, he’s a regular guy who’s terrific to just sit and talk with.

And as I mentioned, it’s great to see that he still keeps up his interest in the Civil War, and portraying Hood at events.  He’ll always be one of my favorite celebrities that I’ve met through Civil War connections.

Next I’ll have to tell about the time friend Steve Basic and I “ran into” actor James Earl Jones on Little Round Top at Gettysburg…

Published in: on April 28, 2007 at 1:58 pm  Comments (6)  

Amazing Trivia

In reading more of Tom Perry’s book that I posted about below, last night I came across an amazing bit of trivia regarding Virginia Tech, scene of the worst shooting rampage last week in our history.  Tom is an alum of the Hokie Nation.  What is today known as Virginia Tech (formally Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University) began as a public land grant in 1872.  The Virginia General Assembly purchased the facilities and land of a small Methodist school called the Olin and Preston Institute.  The state’s new school was instituted as a military school called the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College.  For more on the school’s early history, see the Wikipedia page on VT, among other internet sources.

Which brings me to the trivia… who designed much of the original campus of what later became Virginia Tech?

William Willis Blackford – engineer on the staff of Jeb Stuart.

In fact, there’s one heck of a connection with former Confederates, especially those that served with Stuart either as staffers or within the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia during the war.  VT has a page on the “Stuart Connection” by alumnus Patrick W. Carlton, Ph.D. and retired Lt. Col AUS.  Here are some snippets from that page, which can be found here:

Confederates in the Collegium:
The Influence of J.E.B. Stuart’s Leadership on the Development of Virginia Tech

by Patrick W. Carlton, Ph.D. *
Colonel, AUS (Ret.)

The Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, now Virginia Tech, was created during the aftermath of the American Civil War and Reconstruction, a time of turmoil and dislocation among the populace of the state. Many young men, former Confederate soldiers, were at that time searching for meaningful life’s work in what must have been an atmosphere of dismay and sorrow over immediate past events. A number of these men migrated to Blacksburg in 1872 and the years immediately following, drawn by the opportunity for service with the newly created land grant college of Virginia.

Others became associated with VAMC as a result of their their political connections and service to the Commonwealth. A surprising number of these individuals had served at some time during the Civil War with the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, headed from 1862-1864 by MG James Ewell Brown Stuart. . It is argued in this paper that the association of these impressionable young men with the preeminent cavalry leader of the Confederacy may well have influenced their values and leadership styles in subsequent years. In addition to this discussion of the “Stuart influence,” a discussion of participation by other former Confederates in the early life of the college will be included.

MG Stuart’s connection with the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, (now Virginia Tech), is based upon the men who he trained and with whom he served during the Civil War. A number of former Stuart subordinates appear on the rosters of VAMC during several decades following its creation as one of Virginia’s two land-grant colleges. Some former Confederates served as administrators, some as faculty members, and some as members of the Board of Visitors.

The Stuart Connection – Former Confederates at Virginia Tech
MG J.E.B. Stuart’s
Cavalry Corps 1861 – 1865
MG Fitzhugh Lee
Cmdg Div Cavalry
ANVMG W. H. F. Lee
Cmdg Div Cavalry
ANVMG Lunsford L. Lomax
Cmdg Bde Cavalry

LTC W. W. Blackford
Co CDR, Engr. Officer
1st VA Cavalry & Stuart’s Staff

Cpt Thomas N. Conrad
Chaplain & Scout
3rd VA Cavalry

Cpt Charles L. C. Minor II
Vol Aide, 2nd VA Cavalry
Later Cpt of Ordnance

Pvt John M. McBryde
1st SC Vol Inf.
1st SC Cavalry

VAMC StaffCpt Charles L. C. Minor II
President – 1872 – 1879Cpt Thomas N. Conrad
President – 1881 – 1886MG Lunsford L. Lomax
President – 1886 – 1891

LTC W. W. Blackford
Professor -1880 – 1882

Pvt John M. McBryde
President – 1891 – 1907

Board of Visitors

MG W.H.F. Lee
1873 – 1878; 1886 – 1888

MG Fitzhugh Lee
1878 – 1881

Mr. W. Alexander Stuart
(Brother) 1872 – 1874

Other Prominent Confederates
BG James H. Lane
Commandant of Cadets, 1872 – 1880Dr. (Surgeon) Harvey Black
Rector, BOV, 1872 – 1873BG Joseph R. Anderson
BOV, 1872 –

At a more subordinate level, one encounters LTC William W. Blackford, who served as company commander, assistant adjutant and engineering officer with Stuart and, later, as second-in-command of the 1st Regt., Engineer Troops, ANV. Also associated with Stuart’s command were a lay Methodist preacher, CPT Thomas Nelson Conrad, who performed duty with the 3rd Va. Cavalry, in Fitz Lee’s Division; and CPT Charles L.C. Minor II, a volunteer aide with the 2nd Va. Cavalry and, later, chief ordnance officer of the Dept. of S.C., GA, and FL reporting to MG Samuel Jones. Representing the Confederate enlisted force is Private John M. McBryde, who served, initially, in the 1st South Carolina Infantry and, subsequently, with the 1st South Carolina Cavalry, a unit associated with Stuart’s Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. All these men would appear at VAMC following its creation in 1872.

Following the war Blackford returned to Abingdon, where tragedy struck in the year 1866, with the death of Mary Robertson Blackford. She was laid to rest in the Robertson family plot, joining three of her small children, all of whom had preceded their mother in death. Four other children survived. Blackford , who was then employed as chief engineer with the Lynchburg & Danville Railroad, subsequently spent time in Louisiana as operator of a sugar plantation given to him and his children by his father-in-law, Wyndham Robertson. In 1880, following weather-induced destruction of these holdings, he assumed the position of Professor of Mechanics and Drawing, plus duties as Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, “with general charge of the shops,” at VAMC. (6) Blackford soon undertook the development of a plan for beautification of the campus through the planting of numerous trees and other attractive plants. The BOV directed him to prepare and execute a long-range plan, which he accomplished to the satisfaction of all concerned. Despite the lack of funds to support these efforts, significant improvements were gradually accomplished.

Blackford is credited with developing the vision that resulted in the beautiful campus surroundings VT now enjoys. His legacy lives and his influence is felt to this day!

The writer and reader now return to a claim made at the outset of the paper; to wit, that service with MG J.E.B. Stuart, CSA, positively influenced the development of half a dozen ambitious and intelligent young men, whose later service to the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College was both useful and noteworthy. Of course, the question of “nature versus nurture” figures in the leadership equation . All were scions of fine and accomplished families, with “good blood in their veins.” They were energetic and hungry for success, having just endured agonies of war which most contemporary Americans , happily, have been spared. Clearly, these men were success oriented and deadly serious about their work. These qualities they brought to the professional table. Yet, most young men, it can be argued, tend to develop their leadership patterns through observation of role models during early years. Most of these men had close and favorable contact with. MG Stuart and, one may surmise, later emulated at least some of the general’s leadership and managerial practices. While “Beauty” Stuart built no reputation as a scholar during student days at West Point, he was clearly a charismatic leader-the kind of man that others would follow into “the cannon’s mouth”, and whom they would support in deadly earnest, even at the risk of their lives. The “work ethic” and high order personal qualities that JEB Stuart modeled for his subordinates came , I believe, to be part of their daily behavioral patterns, serving them well during their subsequent service at Virginia Tech. For this contribution it is argued that present day “Hokies” can justify giving a nod of thanks to the “beau sabreur” of the Confederacy, Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart.

Please take a look at the entire webpage, and you’ll be surprised, as I was, of the connection with so many ex-Confederates that VT has.

Published in: on April 24, 2007 at 10:33 am  Comments (5)  

Tom Perry and Jeb Stuart – Brothers in Spirit

My good friend Tom Perry, Jeb Stuart biographer and driving force behind the saving of both Stuart’s boyhood home and his memory, has recently come out with a new book.  Titled Stuart’s Birthplace: The History of the Laurel Hill Farm, the book is a treasure trove of information about Stuart’s family, ancestors, and of course his home in Patrick County, VA.  On Wednesday, I received my copy of the book (which gave me a little something to read and take my mind off having to just bury our dog, as I posted below) and I am very impressed.  The book is softcover and self-published, but a wonderful read and resource.  I will be purchasing Tom’s other two books about Stuart. 

Tom’s website is the, and I encourage you to take a look at his site and consider ordering his book(s).  In my opinion, the information he’s put together really deserves to be collated into one book and nationally published.  But thank goodness that for now we at least have the work that Tom has done.  You can also sign up for the free monthly newsletter via his website.

Wonderful work, Tom.  You deserve all the kudos you receive and you’re a top-notch Stuart historian.

Published in: on April 20, 2007 at 1:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Very tough week

My apologies to my readers for not being active the past few days.  On Tuesday night, our little dog Jenny (11 year-old beagle) passed away after a difficult fight with an aggressive cancer.  It wasn’t diagnosed until that day.  After midnight Tuesday, Jenny fought for every single breath, and finally she gave out as I, wife Karen, and daughter Ashley held her in our arms.  I have a hole in the pit of my stomach right now that makes it difficult to do very much.

On Wednesday afternoon, after about 4 hours of fitful sleep, Karen and I laid her to rest beside our home, where we can say hello to her each time we come and go.  Jenny was my third dog – I had to put each of the first two to sleep, the first when I was about 17 and the second when I was about 28 or so.  This one was especially difficult, since we of course couldn’t get her back to the vet that time of night in order to end her suffering.

Good night, Jenny.  We loved you so much.  One day I will walk through another door, yell out “Jenny!!” like I always did when I came home from work, and I will look for you to come running once more.  Then we won’t have to say goodbye again.

Jenny Lynn Petruzzi (1996-2007)
Our faithful little buddy.

Published in: on April 20, 2007 at 1:19 pm  Comments (12)  

Great time in Central Ohio

This past Wednesday I had a wonderful time visiting with and speaking to the members of the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable.  Eric Wittenberg put up a very nice post on his blog about the meeting.  There were lots of questions afterwards, and I don’t recall seeing anyone fall asleep!  Eric and I even signed and sold several copies of our book.  I want to thank friend Mike Peters for inviting me, and I hope that the members enjoyed the evening as much as I did.  Next month, it’s off to Sylva NC to speak to the Western North Carolina CWRT.

My sister and her husband live in Columbus OH, so I stayed until Saturday.  On Thursday I helped brother-in-law Bob pick up some patio furniture for their new home, and we had a great home-cooked meal.  For Friday, they had set up a talk for me to a local church group.  I spoke about reenacting, living history, and my writing and research.  The 40 or so folks in attendance seemed to really enjoy the talk.  I think it gave them the side of living history, and what goes into writing a book, that they’d never heard before.  In addition, one woman came up to me after the lunch and told me that her mother’s maiden name was Gordon – turns out that the family tree showed her to be a descendant of Gen. John B. Gordon.  This lady was in her 80’s, and told me that her grandparents had moved from the south to Ohio.  Amazing what a small world it always turns out to be.

On Friday night, Eric and his wife Sue took me, sister Lisa and husband Bob out for dinner and the show at the Shadowbox in Easton.  I’ve been to the Shadowbox three times so far, and it’s always a fantastic show.  Whenever you get to Columbus, I urge you to check them out if you can.  More talented folks I’ve never seen!

I left Ohio for my Pennsylvania home on Saturday morning, feeling refreshed, relaxed, and having made many new friends.  I haven’t really been able to take much of a vacation for several months, so it was nice to get on the road for a few days and not have to worry about the office.  Recharged my batteries until the next time!

Published in: on April 17, 2007 at 2:51 pm  Comments (2)  

Elijah White rides again

Tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, I’m off to Columbus, Ohio to speak to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable.  My topic will be Elijah White and his 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, one of my favorite partisan units of the war.  Before Mosby’s Confederacy became, well, Mosby’s Confederacy, it was actually White’s Confederacy.  White and his motley band were truly a thorn in the side of the Federal commanders in Northeastern Virginia during 1862, before Mosby came to prominence.

Today, I came into possession of a copy of Volume 1 of a book called Battle-fields of the South, published in London in 1863.  It’s by “An English Combatant,” identified only by the initials T.E.C. and that he was an artillery officer with the Confederacy.  The book is listed on Google’s Book Search, but a search of internet sources turned up little on the book, and nothing on the author.  There’s a great section in the book on White, and some long quotes from him from a supposed conversation with him after a scout to Baltimore in October 1862.  Has anyone else heard of this book, and have any information about its author?  I can’t locate information on the second volume either – whether it was published or not.  If anyone has more information about these book(s) and the author I’d appreciate hearing about it.  The book gave me some great information about White to add to my talk tomorrow night.

My sister and her husband live in Columbus, so I’ll be staying at the brand new home they just built, which I’m really looking forward to seeing.  I’m staying through Saturday afternoon.  On Friday, I’m speaking at the luncheon of a church group that they set up, so that should be interesting.  The group has requested that I wear my Civil War cavalry officer’s uniform, so my talk will be about both reenacting/living history, and research and writing.  Should be enjoyable.  The group will get to see some of the “toys” involved in a living history presentation.

I’ll post a report sometime Sunday evening after I return.  Hopefully when I get back the Western Pennsylvania weather will have turned back to something resembling springtime!

Published in: on April 10, 2007 at 9:43 pm  Comments (4)  

Behind the camera

My apologies for the lack of posting the past few days, but I just spent a lot of spare time over the past week editing a couple books of others.  One is The Maps of Gettysburg by Brad Gottfried that I mentioned previously, to be published soon by Savas-Beatie LLC.  It’s really a terrific book.  During the manuscript phase, Eric Wittenberg and I assisted Brad with the cavalry sections (East and South Cavalry Fields) and the maps.  Ted Savas sent a pre-publication editing copy of the book, and asked me to run through the entire thing.  I just completed that today, and I hope I’ve helped to make the book stronger.

I’ve also been assisting Tony Klingensmith with a new regimental history of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry that he’s written.  Tony had an article on the regiment’s role during the Gettysburg Campaign in a past issue of The Gettysburg Magazine.  I’ve been helping Tony with the wordsmithing of his book, and also interjecting more source material into the manuscript from my library.  I think it’s going to be a great book once it’s finished, and hopefully we can find a publisher for Tony – I believe we will have success with one that I have in mind.

Wednesday morning I head out “west” for my talk that evening to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable.  Old pards Eric and Mike Peters will be along (both are members).  My Topic will be Elijah White and the 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, which I’m really looking forward to discussing.  My article on White and the unit was published last year in America’s Civil War magazine, which garnered a lot of letters in subsequent issues.  White and his boys don’t get much press, so I think many folks were happy to see the article.  I’m really looking forward to the talk and meeting the members of this prestigious Round Table.

Published in: on April 9, 2007 at 10:53 pm  Comments (3)  

Another great review

Yesterday, my publisher, Ted Savas of Savas-Beattie LLC, faxed a copy of a review of the book by Eric Wittenberg and me – the review is in the April 2007 issue of Army magazine.  Army magazine is the official publication of the U.S. Army.  It was written by Col. Cole C. Kingseed (ret.), a PhD. and formerly a history professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  Eric posted the review over on his blog, and I thought I’d cross-post the review here as well:

Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg. Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi. Savas Beatie. 428 pages; maps; photographs; appendices; index; $32.95.
Reviewed by Col. Cole C. Kingseed, U.S. Army retired
When a number of Southern historians and former Confederate generals examined the Gettysburg campaign to determine why the seemingly invincible Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Gen. Robert E. Lee suffered its first significant military defeat, most of the blame centered on Lee’s flamboyant chief of cavalry, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. In the opening weeks of the campaign, Stuart allowed himself to be detached from the remainder of the Confederate army and Lee stumbled into the ensuing battle without the benefit of the “eyes and … ears of his army.” In Plenty of Blame to Go Around, Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi thoroughly investigate Stuart’s role and conclude that no single person should be made “to shoulder the blame for the crippling Southern loss at Gettysburg.”Both Wittenberg and Petruzzi are emerging Civil War cavalry historians, specializing in Eastern Theater cavalry operations. Wittenberg’s first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, won the prestigious 1998 Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award. Petruzzi is the author of numerous magazine articles on mounted operations and is editor of the popular [Brig. Gen. John] “Buford’s Boys” web site. Both are frequent visitors to the Gettysburg battlefield.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around is actually two books in one. The first section examines Stuart’s controversial ride; the second part addresses the subsequent historical controversy as Stuart’s detractors and his defenders attempted to affix blame for Lee’s failure in the Gettysburg campaign. At the onset of the campaign, Stuart requested permission to leave sufficient cavalry with Lee and then to move the remainder of his force to “attain the enemy’s rear, passing between his main body and Washington … and to join our army north of the Potomac.” Lee unwisely acquiesced and moved his army north with the expectation that if the Union Army moved, Stuart would return to army headquarters to operate in the traditional reconnaissance role.

Contrary to the allegation by Michael Shaara in The Killer Angels that Stuart was “joy-riding” in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Wittenberg and Petruzzi assert that Stuart actually dispatched a courier to Lee, informing him that the federal army was moving north. That report never reached army headquarters, nor did it appear in the official records of the War of the Rebellion. Complicating further communications between Lee and Stuart, however, was the disposition of the Army of the Potomac, which moved north and severed Stuart’s communications with his commander.

Moreover, the Confederate cavalry force became hotly engaged even before it crossed the Potomac River. On more than one occasion Stuart’s mission was compromised and Stuart himself was nearly captured. By the time Stuart joined the Army of Northern Virginia on July 2, 1863, his march had consumed eight days, covered nearly 200 miles and included four sizeable skirmishes and two pitched battles. The Battle of Gettysburg had concluded its second day when Stuart’s cavalry reached Lee and the mounted force was completely exhausted.

The most significant question that the authors explore is what impact, if any, Stuart’s absence from the Army of Northern Virginia had upon the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg. Here, Wittenberg and Petruzzi’s analysis breaks down. Lee certainly was looking for a battle of decision to destroy the Army of the Potomac. Whether that battle occurred at Gettysburg or some other location is irrelevant. Wittenberg and Petruzzi conclude that there is nothing in the historical record to suggest Lee would have acted differently if Stuart’s horsemen had been present. Perhaps, but Lee certainly would have had a clearer picture of the disposition of the enemy’s forces and could have deployed his own army accordingly.

Recriminations against Stuart began as soon as the campaign ended, and it is here that Wittenberg and Petruzzi make their greatest contribution by tracing the evolution of the historiography surrounding Stuart’s controversial role in the Gettysburg campaign. Using contemporary accounts by veterans and correspondents, coupled with a plethora of books written by historians over the next hundred-plus years, the authors argue persuasively that no individual was solely responsible for the Southern defeat at Gettysburg.

As the title suggests, Wittenberg and Petruzzi believe there was plenty of blame to go around for Lee’s failed invasion. None of the senior commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia performed to expectation, including its commanding general, who repeatedly issued discretionary orders to subordinate commanders who required more definitive direction. It is in this context that Stuart’s role must be considered, even though the cavalry leader had performed exemplarily in the army’s previous campaigns. Stuart was certainly operating within the letter of Lee’s order, but he failed to prioritize his tasks properly. Keeping Lee informed was a far more critical mission than the disruption of the Army of the Potomac’s rear area.

To their credit Wittenberg and Petruzzi examine the performance of Union cavalry in impeding Stuart’s advance into Pennsylvania. Vigorous opposition by little known cavalry leaders repeatedly cost Stuart valuable hours and kept him far behind schedule in his efforts to join Lee’s army at Gettysburg. According to the authors, “the plucky Federal cavalry deserve much of the credit for the delays that befell Stuart’s expedition.”

Another interesting feature of Plenty of Blame to Go Around is the book’s appendices. Collectively, they contain a detailed order of battle for each of Stuart’s cavalry engagements, as well as Stuart’s self-serving official report of the Gettysburg campaign. Many readers will also enjoy the final appendix, in which Wittenberg and Petruzzi outline a driving tour of Jeb Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg. In addition, current photographs and excellent maps greatly enhance the text.

In the final analysis, Wittenberg and Petruzzi have written the most comprehensive account of Stuart’s controversial ride. Readers may question the authors’ conclusions, but no study of Lee’s second invasion of the North will be complete without assessing their findings. Plenty of Blame to Go Around is investigative history at its best.

A wonderful review by Col. Kingseed, and Eric and I couldn’t be more flattered.  Collectively, we have about 30 years of research and just plain “thinkin'” in this book, and such praise humbles and pleases us more than we can express.  An online copy of the review can be seen here (scroll down the page to the third review).

Published in: on April 4, 2007 at 11:41 am  Comments (3)