Richard J. Sommers
Savas Beatie, 2014 (1981 first edition), $37.95, 661 pp. + 30 pp. introduction
Image courtesy of amazon.com
In 1981, the first edition of Richmond Redeemed hit the shelves and was praised for its stories of heroism, humanity and courage. It was also considered the greatest history of the fifth offensive strategy of the Siege of Richmond by James I. Robertson Jr. Now, for the sesquicentennial, the book has been re-released under Savas Beatie and has been revised and expanded in order to be more accessible for the Civil War student and reader. A new addition to the already in-depth appendices is the timeline of September through October in 1864. What is delivered in this text is a great study of the Siege of Richmond which should be in every library of the student of the war in 1864.
Richard J. Sommers has already contributed extensively to the Civil War academia and has written more than one hundred chapters, articles, entries and reviews on the conflict. He has recently retired as the Senior Historian of the Army Heritage Center where he had served for more than forty years. He has won numerous awards including the Bell Wiley Prize for Best Civil War book published in 1981-1982, the Harrisburg Civil War Round Table General John F. Hartranft Award “for meritorious service,” and the Army Heritage Center Foundation General John Armstrong Award “for significant contributions.” He still teaches at the War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
In this year, there have been a plethora of books published about the Petersburg Campaign and much like the other works, this one shines as a testament to the study of the great campaign. What is incredibly noticeable in this work is the great combination of the soldier and commander narrative in the text. In the opening chapter, Sommers sets up the book by giving us an idea of where we are in the story of Petersburg by telling us what the commanders were doing at the time of the campaign. As the text opens up later in the book, his use of primary sources give us an idea into the reality of the battles which Sommers showcases. Also, another way the book shines is the use of maps throughout the book which not only gives us a clear idea of what the battlefield looked like, but also gives a commentary of how to interpret the map. As stated before, the book already had a great in-depth appendices but another is added which is a timeline. Sommers goes day by day adding our understanding of the battles and the Fifth Offensive of the Siege of Richmond. Another appendix which is added is the Senior Officers of the Fifth Offensive Cross-Referenced by State, Grade and Command. One of the major issues with the Civil War that new students often tell me is that there are too many commanders to keep track of. In Richmond Redeemed, there are many commanders mentioned and this appendix helps to differentiate all of those commanders.
Richmond Redeemed is the most academic study into the Battles of Chaffin’s Bluff and Poplar Spring Church I have ever read by a combination of the sweeping narrative and the extensive appendices. Much as Coddington’s work on the Gettysburg Campaign is the staple study of Gettysburg historians, Sommers’ Richmond Redeemed should be considered the greatest resource of the Fifth Offensive of the Siege of Richmond. I highly recommend this book and it should be on the bookshelf of any major Civil War historian. I am pleased to see that this book was not only reprinted, but was revised and expanded to give us a better understanding of the battles. Highly recommended.