David A. Powell
Savas Beatie, 2016, 392 pp., $34.95
Image courtesy of amazon.com
Since 2015, we have been reading the Magnum Opus of David A. Powell, The Chickamauga Campaign. The first book, A Mad Irregular Battle, provided a coherent study into one of the more complex, and understudied, campaigns of the western theater and walked us through the first and second day of battle. The second, Glory or the Grave, focused on the third day’s combat which also was an incredible read. Barren Victory, is the third and final volume of his trilogy; this book brings a complete understanding of the Chickamauga Campaign by chronicling the aftermath of the battle from September 21 to October 20, 1863.
David A. Powell is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute with a BA in history. For the past ten years, his focus has been on the Battle of Chickamauga, submitting many articles for magazines and the creation of historical simulations. He is the author of The Maps of Chickamauga and Failure in the Saddle of which he won the Atlanta Civil War Round Table’s 2010 Richard Barksdale Harwell Award. He won the same award in 2016 for Glory or the Grave, the second volume in his Chickamauga trilogy.
The third book in this Chickamauga Trilogy opens at the close of the second. The narrative begins with General Bragg with the realization of the victory he obtained. This opening flawlessly leads us into the rest of the narrative, not only giving us a feeling for what one officer for the Confederacy felt, but for what most of the others seemed to feel as well. As I read through the work, I got a sense that many of the officers on both sides of the conflict, seemed to have either a difficulty or a disbelief of the outcome of battle. The narrative in this book is rather short compared to the last two volumes, but the overall meat of this work comes in the exhaustive appendices. These give insights into both Union and Confederate losses, along with order of battle, along with Confederate sources and methodology. Also in the appendices are some analyses of other clashes and commanders who took part in the Chickamauga campaign. Needless to say, there is no stone unturned in this work. But besides the appendices, the narrative for this book shows the victorious Union army grasping with what they had just gained, and it also shows the crushing emotions running through the Confederate end of battle. One of the points of Chickamauga which has always intrigued me was the presence of General Longstreet fresh off the defeat of Gettysburg. Powell does a fine job showcasing his decline as a well respected commander.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Civil War. You do not have to be interested in the Chickamauga Campaign only to enjoy this work. Powell’s final volume in the trilogy brings everything full circle and is an incredible study into the campaign. Speaking on the work as a whole, the entire trilogy should be considered one of the highlights of this age. The Chickamauga Campaign is rarely handled in the annals of Civil War studies, since most studies tend to focus on the war in the east, and Powell has done a fine job of giving us the research and narrative we needed for this battle. With Barren Victory, Powell’s amazing Magnum Opus comes to a close.