The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863
In "The Union Cavalry Comes of Age," award-winning cavalry historian Eric J. Wittenberg provides a long-overdue challenge to the persistent myths that have unfairly elevated the reputations of the Confederate cavalry??'s ???cavaliers??? and sets the record straight regarding the evolution of the Union cavalry corps. He highlights the careers of renowned Federal officers, including George Stoneman, William W. Averell, Alfred Pleasonton, John Buford, and Wesley Merritt, as well as such lesser-known characters as Col. Alfred Duffie, a French expatriate who hid an ugly secret. Wittenberg writes a lively, detailed account of a saber-slashing era in which men fought for duty, honor, and bragging rights. Indeed, a taunting note left behind by Confederate Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee on a raid at Hartwood Church, Virginia, in 1863 sparked Northern retaliation at the Battle of Kelly??'s Ford. The Federal cavalry then evolved during the trials of Stoneman??'s Raid, with their hard work culminating in the Battle of Brandy Station, where they nearly broke the unsuspecting Confederates in a fourteen-hour maelstrom that is considered the greatest cavalry battle ever fought in North America.A skillfully woven overview, this unforgettable story also depicts the strategic and administrative tasks that occupied officers and politicians as well as the day-to-day existence of the typical trooper in the field. "The Union Cavalry Comes of Age" shows that Northern troopers began turning the tide of the war much earlier than is generally acknowledged and became the largest, best-mounted, and best-equipped force of horse soldiers the world had ever seen.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
At times brilliant and other times mediocre, this study of the evolution of the Union Cavalry Corps in the first half of 1863 is a fine addition to the growing body of cavalry-oriented literature that tries to explain the puzzling weakness of Union cavalry in the first war years. Wittenberg sees the Chancellorsville campaign and its sandwiching battles of Kelly's Ford and Brandy Station as the turning point of the Union cavalry. He argues that organizational change (creation of a dedicated cavalry corps), training by George Stoneman, and William Averell, and a newly found spirit of giving cavalry combat missions at army command level (Alfred Pleasonton, Joe Hooker) as the principal reasons for the emergence. While these are all worthy reasons, the actual performance of the Union cavalry in the battles up to Gettysburg showed a continuing stream of failures and missed chances. The key difference to earlier events, however, was that now these failures were the sole responsibility of the cavalry corps and, especially if not mostly, its leadership. At last, the pruning of inept and over-cautious leadership (which started in the infantry in 1861) could begin in the cavalry branch too. Only after the battle of Brandy Station and its resulting purge was the Union cavalry directed by aggressive and (mostly) capable generals. Thus, the turning point is less the extended Chancellorsville campaign but the changes undertaken at its end. The book presents a good narrative on a strategic level. The battle descriptions lack clarity. Rapid movements and the flow of cavalry engagements are difficult to render in text and need visual support the included maps do not provide. Maps appear much too late in the text (eg the map on Brandy Station is found on the tenth page of an eleven page battle description) and cover brigades whereas the narrative focusses on regiments. As brigades had mostly three to six regiments, the largely empty maps could easily have been enriched by regimental positions and tracings of the attack and retreat paths. The conclusion deals with the careers of individual cavalry officers and neglects to summarize the findings of the study. Overall, a mixed recommendation: great topic, flawed execution.
Review: The Union Cavalry Comes Of Age: Hartwood Church To Brandy Station, 1863User Review - Avis Black - Goodreads
Wittenberg is always a good read for Civil War history. Read full review
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