Thursday, August 04, 2011

New and Noteworthy---The Battle of Piedmont and the Raid on Staunton, Virginia

The Battle of Piedmont and Hunter's Raid on Staunton: The 1864 Shenandoah Campaign, Scott C. Patchan, The History Press, 191 pp., notes, bibliography, index, 28 b/w illustrations, 15 maps, 2011, $21.99.

Studying the Civil War, readers come to realize that small military events change large military events. Speculative history, like The Fourth Battle of Winchester: Toward a New Civil War Paradigm by Richard M. McMurry, offers counterfactual questions that are kept within the parameters of what was possible at the time and place. These types of questions aid in gaining a better understanding of past events.

The apparently minor engagement fought June 5, 1864 near the village of Piedmont, Augusta County, Virginia is such a battle. Patchan's The Battle of Piedmont does this. He doesn't speculate but does show the battle was an important gate hinge upon which the war in the Eastern Theater swung open to a different set of circumstances and directions.

On June 5 Union Major General David Hunter engaged Confederates under Brigadier General William E. "Grumble" Jones north of Piedmont. After severe fighting during which Jones was killed, the Confederates were routed. Hunter occupied Staunton on June 6 and soon began to advance on Lynchburg, destroying military stores and public property in his wake.

The Union victory at Piedmont took off the map the only Rebel force available for offering resistance to destruction in the Shenandoah Valley. Davis and Lee were forced to find troops to send to the region. Within a few days Confederate troops under Jubal Early were sent to the valley and another Shenandoah Campaign ensued, one that would lead to the battles of Monocacy, Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek and would become become one of the two famous Shenandoah Valley campaigns. If Hunter hadn't won at Piedmont but had lost like Siegel at New Market, then Early's troops may have stayed with the Army of Northern Virginia.

Strengths of Patchan's work, and The History Press's Civil War Sesquicentennial series, is the focus on biography and personalities. Less familiar with readers maybe generals David Hunter, John Imboden, William Jones, medal of honor winner Julius Stahel, captain and master artillerist Henry DuPont, colonels Joseph Thoburn, William Tibbets, and Thomas Wildes. Each is crucial to the outcome of the Battle of Piedmont and the raid on Staunton. Within the limits of pages available, Patchan offers a great deal of command, control and combat episodes and stories. The front line soldiers speak throughout. In Chapter Seven, "I Never Want To See Such A Sight Again", the voices from the 18th Connecticut, 28th Ohio, 45th Virginia are heard as the wounded and dead are recovered from the field.

Hopefully, History Press will soon offer The Sacking and Battle of Lynchburg as a title in its Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. After Staunton, Hunter moved southward up the Valley to Lexington, where he burned VMI on June 11. His troops freely looted civilian property as well. Hunter's men plundered a number of private homes and burned the home of former Governor John Letcher and destroyed the library of Washington College. Hunter was defeated by Early at the Battle of Lynchburg on June 19.

Once in awhile Patchan will offer a phrase or word in quotes that were not spoken or written by another person. Examples are "Valley of Humiliation", "corked", and "Lost Cause". The quotation marks are unnecessary and are a minor distraction. Quotation marks for "Beast" Butler, "Black Dave" Hunter and "Grumble" Jones are acceptable. The book's maps are clear and easy to understand though topographic lines are not shown. Overall, CWL looks forward to adding Patchen's Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign [2009] to the reading list. His July 2011 Second Manassas: Longstreet's Attack and the Struggle for Chinn Ridge is already on the personal book shelf and the next book to be read.

In response to this review, Joanne Shelby, a CWL friend sent this note: "The book Heroines of Dixie by Katherine Jones has the letter from Henrietta Bedinger Lee to General David Hunter regarding the burning of her home. Quite a moving letter."

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