Sunday, July 12, 2009

New and Notable: Trench Work and Warfare at Petersburg

In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat, Earl J. Hess, University of North Carolina Press, 480 pp., maps, illustrations, index, $35.00

The Petersburg campaign began June 15, 1864, with Union attempts to break an improvised line of Confederate field fortifications. By the time the campaign ended on April 2, 1865, two opposing lines of sophisticated and complex earthworks stretched for thirty-five miles, covering not only Petersburg but also the southeastern approaches to Richmond. This book, the third volume in Earl Hess's trilogy on the war in the eastern theater, recounts the strategic and tactical operations in Virginia during the last ten months of the Civil War, when field fortifications dominated military planning and the landscape of battle.

Hess extracts evidence from maps and earthworks systems, historic photographs of the entrenchments, extensive research in published and archival accounts by men engaged in the campaign, official engineering reports, modern sound imaging to detect mine galleries, and firsthand examination of the remnants of fortifications on the Petersburg battlefield today. The book covers all aspects of the campaign, especially military engineering, including mining and countermining, the fashioning of wire entanglements, the laying of torpedo fields, and the construction of underground shelters to protect the men who manned the works. It also humanizes the experience of the soldiers working in the fortifications, revealing their attitudes toward attacking and defending earthworks and the human cost of trench warfare in the waning days of the war.

Tracy Power, author of Lee's Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox:
"The last volume of Earl J. Hess's trilogy on field fortifications in the East completes a figurative breakthrough as impressive as Grant's literal breakthrough at Petersburg. It and its companion volumes, displaying a masterful blend of narrative, description, and analysis, are among the most significant Civil War studies of this or any time."

A. Wilson Greene, Pamplin Historical Park, author of The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign "Earl Hess has written the finest study of the Petersburg Campaign in more than a century. By relating the development of the army's field engineering to the course of the combat action, and through the use of previously untapped sources, Hess brilliantly unravels the complexity of the Petersburg story. This is simply one of the finest Civil War studies of our generation."

Earl J. Hess is associate professor and chair in the Department of History at Lincoln Memorial University. Previous books in his series on field fortifications are Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864 and Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign.

Text and Image Source: University of North Carolina Press

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