Edwin C. Bearss and Bryce A. Suderow
Savas Beatie, 582 pages, 2014
Image courtesy of tower.com
Every once and a while, a work comes out about a campaign that redefines how we think about certain battles and how we study these events. With the Petersburg Campaign Volume II, the chronicle of battles from the campaign comes to a finish and the excellence put forth in Volume I continues in Volume II.
Edwin Bearss is one of the most respected Civil War historians of our age and got his start at the Vicksburg National Military Park. From there, he has stretched himself all around the Civil War world as an authority on the campaigns and the people. A Marine who has served in World War II, he was severely wounded in the Pacific. From 1981 to 1994, he served as Chief Historian to the National Park Service and has authored many works and was pivotal to raising the USS Cairo. Bryce Suderow is a Civil War writer and researcher and has published many articles and is considered one of the finest archivists in the country. If it were not for Suderow, this work might never have come to light.
The battles studied in this volume show how the slow decline of the Confederate army not only destroyed their numbers but brought down morale as well. Bearss mentions the importance of the campaign because the excessive number of engagements not only makes it one of the longest sieges in American history, but one of the most violent. But one thing noticeable in the work, both in Volumes I and II, is the politicking going on in the Union army compared to that in the Confederate army. There seemed to be more to step around in the Union army while the Confederate army held a high regard for each other. Once again, as in Volume I, Bearss narrative is sometimes interrupted or introduced by Suderow which is a positive thing for the reader. For those not aware of what was happening during the campaign, these editorials throughout the narrative aid in the understanding of the battle. Bearss essays written for the use of the park service in Virginia, show us that even though they had been written years ago prove that there is something new to learn not only about the battles, but about the war as a whole. Those readers familiar with the Gettysburg Campaign will notice many characters reappearing in higher rank showing their talents and how much they have grown since those three days in July. In the essay about the Battle of Fort Stedman, one in particular, John Brown Gordon, shows that he is a capable commander in the field and is well trusted by his superiors. Once again, Bearss gives more of a narrative of Gordon’s actions at Fort Stedman instead of giving you too much background information. The importance is not his actions previous, but his actions at Petersburg.
As stated before, this collection should be on the bookshelf of every Civil War historian. Much like his work on the Vicksburg Campaign, this two volume work is the definitive source on the Petersburg Campaign and a great introduction into the decline of the Confederate army in Virginia. Bearss and Suderow have created something which will be talked about among Civil War historians for quite some time.