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)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That is a great review.

  2. Way to go J.D., but what the world really wants to know is this… were the Girl Scout cookies? Seriously, congrats. I just may have to read this book :).


  3. LOL, Rob 🙂

    Your book report is due next month!


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