34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
The Petersburg Campaign is something of a non-event in Civil War history. You can fill a couple of shelves with books on The Wilderness, Spotsvayana and Cold Harbor. We need a goodly part of another shelf for books on the Approxamttox Campaign. The Battle of the Crater is a popular subject for books, as is the breakthrough battles. Petersburg is a "black box", there but not open to us.
The balance of this campaign seems to be summed up along these lines: "After the punishing Overland Campaign, the Army of the Potomac crossed the James and advanced on the city of Petersburg. Leading elements hesitated outside the city's defensive line, allowing the Army of Northern Virginia time to reach the city. This resulted in months of World War One type trench warfare. Breaking the "siege" hinged on the armies extending the trench line westward. The Army of Northern Virginia was stretched thin as vital communication links were captured. In time, the line broke, Petersburg was abandoned and Richmond captured."
This is the first of two books that illustrates how inadequate this view is. The men at Petersburg saw the campaign as a series of distinct battles some lasting several days. The names of these battles appear on regimental flags and in their histories. They would not understand our "hesitate" and "extend" as encompassing their battles.
In the 1960s, Edwin C. Bearss wrote a series of reports for Petersburg National Military Park. These reports were to be incorporated into tablets and markers in the park. Given Bearss' abilities these reports encompassed a history of the campaign. The reports were "used" and "filed". That is to say, very few people saw them. About 20 years ago, Bryce A. Suderow talked with Bearss about putting his reports into book form and trying to get them published. Bearss agreed, Suderow did the editing and wrote some linkage but they could not find a publisher. The "Black Box" effect was in full force. Now Savas Beatie LLC is pulling the lid off the Petersburg "black box" and we a richer for it.
Volume 1 covers June to August 1864. This covers the opening attacks on June 9 the second series of attacks a week later and the Battle of Jerusalem Plank road from June 21 to 24. After this, the armies settle into a "siege" until the Battle of the Crater on July 30. After the Crater, the armies settle for a period of quite until mid-August. The Battle of the Weldon Railroad, Globe Tavern and Ream's Station bring us to the end of this volume. Each battle has maps, 25 in all, in the right place. Bearss' prose is lively, informative and easy to read. Suderow links the reports firmly placing each action in the "Big Picture". The result is an informative book on a seldom seen subject.
As expected, this is a good-looking professional book. There is a full index, notes and Bibliography. I have mentioned the maps but not the series of photos of the participants.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
"The Petersburg Campaign" has its origins in a series of internal reports written by Ed Bearss in the 1960s for the Petersburg National Military Park, each report focusing on one limited period of combat at various sites at and near Petersburg. For decades these reports sat in Petersburg NMP files, seen only by the most diligent Civil War researchers. In the early 1990s Bryce Suderow suggested to Bearss that the reports be updated and prepared for general publication. Bearss approved of the project, with the provision that Suderow undertake the primary work himself. The project proved to be unexpectedly lengthy, requiring transcription of the original reports into computer files for editing purpose and supplemented by additional material to fill in some of the gaps left by the reports (the Crater action, for example was not covered in the original reports, and additonal material was needed to provide linkage between the various battles). Even once this work was completed, arranging for actual publication was a multi-year task. At last, we have Volume I of this long-awaited work, with the second and completing volume due for release early in 2013.
It must be emphasized that this book is first and foremost a compelling battle narrative, focusing on troop movements and combat results, most usually at the brigade and division level, supplemented by numerous detailed maps. It is not a comprehensive history of the campaign as a whole (fighting north of the James River is largely passed over, and the interaction with the political situation is beyond the scope of the book). But it far surpasses anything published to date about military operations during the Petersburg "siege" in general. It is an indispensible addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the course of the Civil War during its final year.
Volume I covers the first few months of fighting at Petersburg, from the first assault upon the city's defenses through operations at Ream's Station in August of 1864. Volume II will cover the fighting throughout the rest of the campaign, successfully concluding (from the perspective of the Union forces) in April of 1865.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2012
An Interview with author Edwin C. Bearss
Q. Thanks for talking with us today, Mr. Bearss. Let me begin by asking you what inspired you to write a book about the Petersburg Campaign?
ECB: Yes, well we will have to go back a few years to understand the background of how all this came about. The text was written almost 50 years ago in 1958 with the approach of the Civil War Centennial, and I was involved in the preparation for its 50th anniversary. The members of the National Park Service had enjoyed considerable development and expansion during the emergency period of 1933-1942. The emergency conservation program, in which the CCC was acquired, was terminated June 30, 1942 because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The National Park Service changed drastically with the crisis of World War II. The Park Service had 160 areas under its control, but little attention was given to the park infrastructure. In 1955, the Park Service succeeded in getting the executive department and President Eisenhower interested in Mission 66, a ten-year program to develop the parks, road networks, visitor centers, and trail systems. The Park Service embarked on Mission 66 and a decision was made by the National Park Service and the Civil War Centennial Commission that the Park Service would be treated as a priority in order to preserve the areas established in connection with the Civil War.
Q. And Petersburg was part of that?
ECB: Yes. The Petersburg National Battlefield would elevate its standing by adding a visitor center, new interpretive road systems, and historical walkers. To achieve the Park Service goal, I was assumed a position of Research Historian.
Q. So part of your responsibility was to write about this Campaign?
ECB: Not initially. My mission was to provide the Park Service with the necessary information to meet their goals. After working on a number of projects associated with the Park System, especially Civil War, I was given the task of preparing two movement maps and supporting documentation for the major Petersburg operations. I prepared troop movement maps for the Petersburg Campaign, which totaled more than 60 large maps. The maps were finalized and accepted by 1964. The only copies of the troop movement maps are on file at the National Park Service--one set at Petersburg National Park and the other at the National Park Services in Denver, Colorado. To support these troop movement maps I researched and then wrote a number of documented essays. This was the days before easy duplication. One original copy of the essays is on file at the Petersburg National Battlefield Headquarters and five transcripts, which are on very thin tissue paper.
Q. And these are what editor Bryce Suderow found that inspired him to contact you and discuss publication into book form?
ECB: Yes, he discovered the copies at Petersburg. Bryce is an expert researcher and he thought they were worthy of being published to a larger audience. There was zero funding for reproducing the maps and text and no one until Bryce has thought of reproducing them as a publication until he broached the idea with Ted Savas of Savas Beatie.
Q. And Bryce, who has helped countless authors with research, helped edit your work for publication . . .
ECB: Yes, Bryce standardized the notes to meet the publisher's style requirements, added introductions and conclusions to each essay so they flow together for publication purposes, and George Skoch drafted maps for each of the essays.
Q. Were any of the battles you write about in Volume 1 "turning points" in the campaign, and if so, why?
ECB: I did not write these essays in separate volumes. How they are being offered is the publisher's decision, but many are very lengthy, and so two volumes make sense. Now, to your question. The attack on Petersburg on June 9, 1864, which kicks off volume one and was commanded by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, and the assault on Petersburg on June 15 and June 18, were what I consider "turning points" in the campaign.
Q. And why is that?
ECB: Because winning those battles was essential. The Union Army missed a great opportunity to capture Petersburg. There would have been no siege of Petersburg if they had won those particular battles. On June 15, the Union army commanded by Maj. Gen. George Meade arrived in Petersburg with members of the First Army Corps, and it is a crucial day in the Petersburg Campaign. It was on that day, I believe, that the losses suffered by the Union make it a darker day for the North than the battle of Pearl Harbor was for America. The casualties exceeded even the casualties at Cold Harbor on June 3. On June 18, many Union army units simply refused to advance. After the failure of the attack on the 18th, there was not another major attack against the Petersburg defenses until July 30th, as a follow-up to the explosion of the mine under part of the Petersburg line held by the Confederates. That, of course, has come to be called the Battle of the Crater. There were many important and bloody operations to follow, of course, but none involved a frontal attack until the battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and the breakthrough that followed during the early morning hours the next day, April 2.
Q. Why should we remember the Petersburg Campaign?
ECB: In my opinion, all other battles or sieges in the Civil War pale in comparison to the operations at Petersburg. At Vicksburg in 1863, the armies were eyeball-to-eyeball from May 19 to the Fourth of July. At Port Hudson, the armies were eyeball-to-eyeball from May 21, 1863 until the 9th of July. Other major battles were a day or two long, and that was it. The Petersburg armies were in combat to one degree or another every day, and every day men were killed or wounded, from June 15, 1864 to April 2, 1865. That is more than eight months. That represents by far the longest period during the Civil War in which armies were eyeball-to-eyeball. They built miles and miles of trenches, and while the men manning them shot at one another, other major portions of the armies were maneuvering against rail lines and the important road network feeding Petersburg and Richmond. These maneuvers--which represented Union efforts to turn Lee's right flank and cut off his lines of supply and communication and his efforts to stop them--resulted in several major battles. The campaign was the precursor to what we would witness in World War I. Comparatively little has been written about the operation of Petersburg.
Q. Why do you think that is?
ECB: Rick Summers wrote a masterful book on one of the epics of the siege of Petersburg called Richmond Redeemed. I doubt anyone will ever write such a detailed account of Petersburg again, but Rick's book only covers the period from September 29 to October 2, 1864. Other books cover the breakthrough at Petersburg, which was from April 1 - April 3, 1865, and there are a few other general histories. None of them go into the level of detail you see with Gettysburg or with Rick's book, I think, because it is just too vast and too complex, and because many of the records from that period of the war are missing or incomplete.
Q. Could this campaign have turned out any differently than it did, or do you think once Lee was pinned into the trenches the game was essentially over?
ECB: Yes, I think the game was over. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and Meade's Army of Potomac were stalemated in front of Richmond and Petersburg, and it was a presidential election year of course. It is arguable, but I don't think it would not have made much of a difference even if Lincoln had lost the election. The Democratic Convention was convening in Chicago to adopt a peace plank, but even if they had won, the war could not have been successfully terminated until the Democrat--in this case Maj. Gen. George McClellan--took office on March 4, 1865. The Democrats would still have had to work with President Lincoln to win the war before taking office. And by the third month of 1865, no one was going to simply walk away from Petersburg. The war could only end one way. It was important to win the war politically, and Lincoln managed to do that with victories in the Shenandoah Valley under Phil Sheridan and the capture of Atlanta by William T. Sherman. Lee prolonged the war by waging a brilliant defensive effort, but once he was pinned in the trenches he had no hope of coming back.
Q. How does The Petersburg Campaign differ from other works about these battles?
ECB: Remember, it was written as an internal document and focuses much more on the troop movements and fighting of the various battles. There has been a lot of research since then on Petersburg. It is written based on official records plus regimentals, diaries, etc, that were published before July 1964. There will be a large number of regimental sources. But I think it helps point out the major efforts during the campaign, and perhaps spark additional interest and further avenues of study for others.
Q. You briefly mentioned General Lee earlier. How would you rate his handling of the campaign?
ECB: General Lee fought a masterful defensive operation of what had become essentially a siege. Lee could not continue doing what he had done in 1862 and 1863, which was seizing the initiative and maneuvering to gain an advantage on his opponents. One he was fighting at Petersburg he was essentially locked in place. General Grant's job was to cut the railroad lines leading south to North Carolina, and southwest out of Richmond and Petersburg to Danville and other points. Every time Grant sent out a force to cut these lines and stretch the Confederates, General Lee engaged it, frustrating Grant in his efforts to cut the cords leading to Richmond and Petersburg, including the very important Southside Railroad. It is not until the operation culminating in the battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, that Grant succeeded in cutting that line. Lee's efforts prolonged the war and this was important because Lincoln was running for reelection. That was the only hope the South had by that time.
Q. So Lee was successful for many months . . .
ECB: I think it is fair to say that Lee had been generally successful until about the end of March 1865. By that time, Sherman's army had taken Atlanta, marched to the sea, and was moving north through the Carolinas toward Lee's position in Virginia. Lee's situation by that time became all but impossible, and he was finally forced out of Richmond and Petersburg when Sheridan crushed Pickett at Five Forks and Grant ordered an assault the next morning that cracked open the lines.
Q. Civilians on both sides must have been war weary by that time . . .
ECB: The public was very war weary, and Lincoln might have lost the election, and that was what the South was hoping for. But as I had stated, Generals Sherman and Sheridan scored victories just weeks before the election, public opinion shifted, and Lincoln won by a landslide. So we will never know what would have happened had he lost. Grant's operations kept most of General Lee's army pinned down while other commands won victories in the Shenandoah, Georgia, and in the Carolinas.
Q. What was your approach to writing The Petersburg Campaign?
ECB: At the time, it was part of my job, but I found it interesting to write documentation for the Park Service managers and interpreters to develop and interpret Petersburg. As I did the troop movement maps, I invariably did a lot of research into the campaign and the commanders involved. I used regimental histories, diaries, journals, and other sources as research, as I mentioned before, including the Official Records.
Q. What do you hope readers take away from The Petersburg Campaign?
ECB: I would like readers to understand that the Park Service is very lucky that Mission 66 was so successful in bringing parks up to standards. A great deal of effort and years of work were spent by Park Service personnel to preserve the areas we're talking about. There would be few or no visitor centers or interpretive roads without the Park Service.
Q. Thank you for your time, we appreciate it.
ECB: You're welcome.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2015
The nearly 10 month Siege of Petersburg took place after the Overland campaign and eventually lead to surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of the Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, the escape of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Government from Richmond and the end of the American Civil War. Grant lead eight offensive actions against Southern positions during this campaign. Three of the attacks were direct assaults on Rebel works, while five of the maneuvers were attempts to cut the rail lines that provided important supplies to Petersburg and Richmond. Very little scholarship has been published on the entire campaign except for a few books on the Crater and specific battles. One of the reasons for this is due to its length, the fall of Atlanta and the re-election of Abraham Lincoln.
The Petersburg Campaign: Volume 1: The Eastern Front Battles, June-August 1864 written by Edwin C. Bearss with the assistance of Bryce A. Suderow is an important first volume of this tome that examines the following important battles: The Attack on Petersburg (June 9, 1864); The Second Assault on Petersburg (June 15-18, 1864); The Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road (June 21-24, 1864); The Crater (July 30, 1864); The Battle of the Weldon Railroad ( August 18-21, 1964) and The Second Battle of Ream’s Station ( August 25, 1864). The text was written almost 50 years ago with the approach of the Civil War Centennial. The final reports and maps that included the troop movements were finalized and accepted in 1964. The series of researched essays were ultimately stored in the parks library and made available to interested students and researchers. Suderow edited the original research and provided introductions and conclusions for each chapter.
This American icon has indicated that his research was written as an internal document and its purpose concerned the troop movements and fighting of the various battles. It is written based on official records plus regimentals, diaries, etc. that were published before July 1964. Perhaps his efforts have sparked additional interest and further opportunities of study for others.
Savas Beatie published this marvelous 456 page title in 2012. Civil War cartographer George Skoch has provided twenty three maps that greatly enrich this study. Included are photographs, illustrations, below page notes, a bibliography and index as well as four helpful tables dealing with Union and Confederate losses and soldiers available for duty.
The author has provided a book with a great deal of research and has demonstrated a knowledge that is rarely provided in any publication. An interesting opinion offered by Mr. Bearss is the two crucial turning points of the siege. One is the attack on Petersburg on June 9, 1864, which kicks off this first volume and was commanded by General. Benjamin Butler and two the assault on Petersburg on June 15 and June 18 commanded by General George Meade. Both were lost opportunities for victory, resulting in a great deal of Union casualties. Additional analysis shows how Lee extended the war by conducting a brilliant defensive effort, but once he was immobilized in the trenches he had no hope of victory in this conflict..
This wonderful Civil War historian has provided an important study that has provided scholars and serious students will something to utilize and learn from. Armchair students and battlefield trampers will benefit from reading this readable, balanced, illuminating and important effort. This reviewer highly recommends this volume and suggests that Civil War buffs add this book to their library.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The annals of Civil War study tend to look towards the beginning of the war until the fateful days in July at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. There is no doubt that most written works surround themselves around those campaigns before the apex of the Union and the downfall of the Confederacy. The study of the war past those fateful campaigns are less looked at but no more. Ed Bearss and Bryce Suderow have brought to light something quite different in the study of the Petersburg Campaign, the longest running siege in the Civil War.
Edwin Bearss is one of the most respected Civil War historians of our age and got his start at the Vicksburg National Military Park. From there, he has stretched himself all around the Civil War world as an authority on the campaigns and the people. A Marine who has served in World War II, he was severely wounded in the Pacific. From 1981 to 1994, he served as Chief Historian to the National Park Service and has authored many works and was pivotal to raising the USS Cairo. Bryce Suderow is a Civil War writer and researcher and has published many articles and is considered one of the finest archivists in the country. If it were not for Suderow, this work might never have come to light.
Ed Bearss was approached to write essays about the battles during the Petersburg Campaign for use of the park service in Virginia. This work is the collection of essays he wrote concerning the battles of the eastern front during the campaign. Keeping in mind that these essays were written for the guides at Petersburg National Military Park, Bearss does not waste any time giving the introductions for the people involved in the battle. He jumps right into the story assuming that the reader knows something about them already. Suderow, however, gives some introduction as to what was going on and what had happened. One of the helpful things in the narrative is the breakaway which sometimes happens. During the narrative of Bearss and his essays, Suderow sometimes interrupts and fills the reader in as to what is going on. This is helpful for the readers who are not as well versed in the war after the summer of 1863. This lack of introduction makes it seem as though the book is not an easy read and that is wrong. Though Bearss spends no time telling you the background of the people and regiments who are fighting the battle, there is no need to have that information because of the narrative. Bearss writing style is such that he allows the narrative to bring you into the time of battle not focusing on the past of the people in play.
The Petersburg Campaign, Volume I: Eastern Front Battles, is something which should be on the shelves of every Civil War Historian or enthusiast. Both the narratives of Bearss and the editorials of Suderow bring to light many engagements about the Petersburg Campaign which are generally ignored. The annals of Civil War history will be grateful for what has been done here in this book, and the coming volume. The combination of Bearss and Suderow should be praised for the work they have done. What was first as set of essays for use at the Petersburg National Military Park for park use is now printed for the public so that they may know the detail of the events not usually written about in the standard history book on the Civil War.
Matthew Bartlett - Author, Gettysburg Chronicle