What's going on with Valley Thunder?

Here is where you can stay most up-to-date with the publication of Charles Knight's Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market, including the latest info on its release, up-coming appearances by the author, latest reviews, more in-depth looks at various aspects of the battle and anything else that comes to mind.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Upcoming Appearances

The latest listing of upcoming book signings & talks:

May 9, 2012 - 7 pm - Chrysler Museum of Art/Norfolk Historical Society, Norfolk, VA
May 24, 2012 - 7 pm - Hagerstown CWRT, Hagerstown, MD
Sept 9, 2012 - 2 pm - Museum of the Albebmarle, Elizabeth City, NC

Nov 13, 2013 - 7 pm - Central Ohio CWRT, Columbus, OH

Details to follow...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: Wert, A Glorious Army

Been neglecting the old blog lately...time to catch up on some book reviews.

Jeffry Wert always has ben one of my favorite Civil War historians. Being in my "formative years" when Civil War Journal had a prime-time spot on the History Channel, the first historians I could put a face with the name were Wert, Jack Davis, Brian Pohanka, Gary Gallagher, James Robertson and Robert Krick. In fact, Wert's Winchester to Cedar Creek was one of the first CW books I ever read. Thus it was a real treat to meet Jeff in person a couple years ago at a conference at Liberty University.

Wert's latest book, A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph, 1862-1863 (Simon & Schuster), examines the Army of Northern Virginia during its "glory days" - the first year under Lee's command. During this time period, "the Confederate commander and his army crafted a record of achievement unmatched by any army in the annals of American military history" (xi). The author's stated "intent is not to offer detailed tactical studies of each battle...but to offer a narrative and analysis of the fighting, with a focus on leadership and on the experience of men on the firing lines" (xi). Having already tackled biographies of two of the army's three top lieutenants during this time (James Longstreet and JEB Stuart), Wert is well-prepared to address top leadership levels. But the author goes deeper, down to brigade level.

Lee's appointment to command after the wounding of Joe Johnston radically altered the course of the war in Virginia. Whereas the passive Johnston wanted his enemy to come to him and awaited a perfect opportunity to strike - which never seemed to materialize in his mind - Lee recognized that that strategy could never work. "Lee's audacity and adoption of the strategic offensive formed the core of the army's operations. From his initial days in command he commited the army to aggressive and daring movements...His aggressiveness fulfilled the expectations of Jefferson Davis' administration and the Southern populace" (290).

And although some have criticized Lee for bleeding the ANV beyond the point of offensive effectiveness, Wert points out that from June 1862 to July 1863 Confederate casualties were 7,000 fewer than Federal losses during the same period (90,000 v 97,000), but of course percentage-wise this was a far greater loss for Lee than for his opponents (292). Yet continuing as Johnston and others in the West had done would be disastrous. "The Confederate government witnessed the consequences of a passive defensive strateg during the fall of 1861 and the winter of 1862, when Union armies scored victories and penetrated into Southern territory" (293).

The best chance for victory, not just in Virginia but overall, lay with Lee's strategy. His "decision to give battle at Sharpsburg...embodied, perhaps more than atany other time and place, the combativeness of the man and the audacity of the general" (128).

And Lee knew how to handle President Davis. Whereas Davis wanted a hands-on role with military operations and had been quite involved, or at least attempted such, during Johnston's tenure (and initially tried to continue this with Lee), the President found Lee much more communicative than Johnston and a much better working relationship between Commander in Chief and army commander was the result. From the beginning of his command tenure, Lee made "early and continuous efforts to keep the President apprised of his thinking and of army matters. Unlike Johnston, Lee advised and sought he counsel of the acutely sensitive chief executive...He was frank and respectful with Davis, a manner the President appreciated" (23).

Wert's newest volume is a welcome addition to the literature on the Army of Northern Virginia, written such that a new-comer can follow all the while still providing material for scholars to chew on. An excellent book.

Monday, March 21, 2011

CWPT Park Day

Save Saturday 2 April on your calendars! Why you ask? It's the date for the Civil War Trust's annual "Park Day" event, of course.

Preserving a battlefield or historic site often requires more time and manpower than the staff of that particular venue can provide. So the call for volunteers to tackle some of the larger projects goes out via the Civil War Trust.

I coordinated this event for a couple of years at New Market Battlefield State Historical Park (I know, shock and surprise at the venue, right?). During the years I was involved with the program at NMBSHP, we fielded several dozen volunteers each year (including a collasal showing from my alma mater Bridgewater College one year) and constructed several hundred feet of split-rail fence, painted the fence around the Bushong farm, hauled away a post-war barn that had collapsed, and cut back foilage to restore some areas of the battlefield to their 1864 appearance. Most of these projects would have taken the park staff days, or even weeks, to complete. With the support of the community and volunteers, these tasks were done in a matter of hours.

This year I'll be going across the River James to Newport News Park - site of the only real engagement during George McClellan's month-long siege of Yorktown during the opening of the Peninsula Campaign. Winfield Scott Hancock found what was probably the only weak spot in Prince John Magruder's defensive line from Yorktown to Mulberry Island, and on 16 April a brigade of Vermonters was thrown across the Warwick River at this weakspot. Unfortunately for them, McClellan had no real goal or objective in doing so, and leadership at the tactical level was equally flawed. In the end, about 300 men combined from both sides became casualties in a rather pointless engagement.

Even though the Warwick River has been dammed up further to become the Newport News Reservoir, putting the original Dam #1 and part of the battlefield underwater, much of the Confederate earthworks remain in excellent condition.

I'll post an after-action report of Park Day 2011.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Updated author appearances

Tuesday March 8 - William Latane SCV Camp, Mechanicsillve, VA
Monday March 28 - Princess Anne SCV Camp, Virginia Beach, VA
Sat & Sun April 9 & 10 - Elkton Historical Society - Miller-Kite House, Elkton, VA (signing)
Wednesday April 13 - Urquhart-Gillette SCV Camp, Courtland, VA
Wednesday May 11 - Norfolk Historical Society - Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA
Sat & Sun May 14 & 15 - Battle of New Market reenactment, New Market, VA (signing)
Saturday May 21 - James Brady SUV Camp, Isle of Wight, VA
Tuesday May 24 - Richmond VMI Alumni Association, Richmond, VA (signing only)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Upcoming Appearances

Filling out the calendar for 2011 with speaking engagements and book signings. This is what I've got confirmed so far, with a couple others in the works but not yet finalized - will post here as additional dates are added.

And if anyone is interested in a presentation to their organization or hosting a book signing, email me.

Tuesday March 8 - William Latane SCV Camp, Mechanicsillve, VA
Wednesday April 13 - Urquhart-Gillette SCV Camp, Courtland, VA
Wednesday May 11 - Norfolk Historical Society - Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA
Tuesday May 24 - Richmond VMI Alumni Association, Richmond, VA (signing only)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Speaking engagements & book signings

Got several speaking engagements lined up for the next few months, with a few more in the works. I'll put a schedule of appearances up here in the next few days...