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Shock Troops of the Confederacy: The Sharpshooter Battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia Paperback – March 15, 2006

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Given the enthusiasm with which academic presses in the United States publish serious writings on the American Civil War, and the mountains of second-rate works on the subject produced for sale to tourists, school children, and other innocents, it is hard to condemn a reader for being wary of a self-published book on the subject. In the case of Shock Troops of the Confederacy, however, such skepticism will soon give way to considerable admiration, for in creating this skillfully researched, highly literate, and extraordinarily accessible volume, a self-taught historian has displayed a number of virtues that many professionals would do well to imitate. While reviews on academic journals rarely touch upon such issues, Shock Troops of the Confederacy is such a beautiful volume that some discussion of the book designer s art is unavoidable. The illustrations are both attractive and appropriate, the layout of the chapters is pleasing, and the type-face is kind to the eyes. Best of all, Shock Troops of the Confederacy is well supplied with handsome sketch maps. These, which were especially drawn for the book, provide the reader with all of the information needed to follow the course of the campaign, battle, or engagement in question, but nothing that is superfluous or distracting. The same sort of thoughtfulness that is so much in evidence in the presentation of Shock Troops of the Confederacy can also be seen in the structure of the text. The book as a whole tells several stories, each of which relates to the others in a manner reminiscent of Russian stacking dolls. The tale at the heart of the book, the analog of the smallest matryoshka, is the saga of a particular group of sharpshooters who served the cause of Southern independence. This regimental history is insinuated into a concise (and extraordinarily fresh) account of the operations of the Army of Northern Virginia, beginning with the Peninsula Campaign of the spring of 1862 and ending three years later with the Confederate withdrawal from the doomed fortress of Petersburg. This unique exercise in operational history, in turn, is nested in an overview of the organization and achievements all of the sharpshooters, whether Union and Confederate, who fought in the American Civil War. Finally, the material that is specific to the War Between the States is embedded in an authoritative discussion of the broader revolution in shoulder arms and infantry tactics that took place in the middle years of the nineteenth century. The story at the core of Shock Troops of the Confederacy makes extensive use of the unpublished (and hitherto unexploited) memoirs of Major Eugene Blackford. A witness of a sort that historians rarely encounter, Blackford combined a thorough understanding of military affairs with a novelist s eye for detail and a knack for being at the right place at the right time. His memoir thus permits the painting of a highly nuanced picture of the sharpshooter battalions he commanded, the tactics they employed, and the effect that such employment had upon the course of battles and campaigns. In addition to this, material from the memoirs makes possible encounters with Blackford himself, a study-in-contrasts who challenges many of our long-standing stereotypes about Confederate officers. Neither lowland planter nor upcountry yeoman, Blackford was a third-generation abolitionist who, at the start of the war, decided that the defense of his home state of Virginia was of greater importance than the freeing of slaves. --Bruce I. Gudmundsson, Marine Corps University

This is a skillfully researched and written story of men, their weapons, and their contributions to the war effort of the Confederacy. It is not a common story, however, and it is one that has never been told before. Any student of the Civil War has heard of Berdan's Sharpshooters in the Union army, but few have heard of an Alabama colonel named Bristor Gayle. Few know about the battalions of sharpshooters formed in 1863 or of Robert E. Lee's embracing the concept of incorporating a sharpshooter battalion in each infantry brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia. These were elite troops, specially trained in marksmanship, and their use in the war affected tactics and the results of battles. Understand, as Fred Ray teaches us: these sharpshooters functioned as snipers, but in fact they were light infantry especially trained as pickets, scouts, advance guards. and skirmishers. The story begins with the 18th century story of riflemen and an analysis of military tactics. It progresses through the description of technological advances in the development of rifled weapons. And, it takes us through the trials and tribulations of gaining acceptance of the use of trained units of sharpshooters in the Confederate army. They were at Seven Pines, Gaines' Mill, South Mountain. and they trained through the winter at Fredericksburg. They fought at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. For these and the campaigns and battles that followed, Fred Ray takes you through each with detail and effective analysis. In many battles, even as the Confederate resources declined, these sharpshooters dominated skirmish lines. Their story is truly a remarkable one and they have finally been given their due. --James H. Nottage, Blue & Gray magazine Holiday 2007

Fred Ray's Shock Troops of the Confederacy covers a little-known but important aspect of the Civil War: the "sharpshooter battalions" of the Army of Northern Virginia. Overall, though, this book is really about adaptation and innovation on the battlefield. Although Ray uses a multitude of credible sources, including many firsthand accounts from sharpshooters on both sides, his best source is a diary kept by Major Eugene Blackford, a Confederate sharpshooter battalion commander in General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Blackford trained his unit in skirmish drills and marksmanship out to 600 yards. *** Shock Troops of the Confederacy contains 43 informative maps and 59 illustrations, including pictures with information of the sharpshooter's weapons and uniforms. More than just an account of the sharpshooters' exploits, the book makes a strong case that the late Civil War battles they fought in were predecessors to the nonlinear tactics of the 20th century. Ray follows the development of light infantry organization, tactics, and weapons forward to the Boer War, through World War I, and beyond. In fact, Ray's study is still relevant for our forces in the field today, as we learn again that small-unit battlefield adaptation, innovation, and precision marksmanship are just as important now as they ever were. --Scott A. Porter, Lieutenant Colonel, Ret. September-October Military Review

From the Inside Flap

Shock Troops of the Confederacy tells the story of the elite troops of the South -- on the picket line and in the thick of the battlefields of Virginia.
Whether screening Stonewall Jackson's flank march at Chancellorsville or leading the last desperate assault at Fort Stedman, the sharpshooters led the Army of Northern Virginia in the attack, protected it at rest, and covered its retreat.
At the beginning of the Civil War the Army of the Potomac had, thanks to Hiram Berdan, an advantage in sharpshooting and light infantry, which came as a rude shock to the Confederates during the 1862 Peninsular campaign. In response the Confederates organized their own corps of elite light infantry, the Sharpshooters. Building on the ideas of an obscure Alabama colonel, Bristor Gayle, General Robert Rodes organized the first battalion of sharpshooters in his brigade in early 1863, and later in each brigade of his division. In early 1864 General Lee adopted the concept for the entire Army of Northern Virginia, directing each infantry brigade to field a sharp-shooter battalion. These units found ready employment in the Overland campaign, and later in the trenches of Petersburg and in the fast-moving Shenandoah campaign of 1864. Although little has been written about them (the last book, written by a former sharpshooter, appeared in 1899), they played an important and sometimes pivotal role in many battles and campaigns in 1864 and 1865. By the end of the war the sharpshooters were experimenting with tactics that would become standard practice fifty years later. Although most people think of Berdan's Sharpshooters when the subject comes up, the Confederate sharpshooter battalions had a far greater effect on the outcome of the conflict. Later in the war, in response to the Confederate dominance of the skirmish line, the Federals began to organize their own sharpshooter units at division level, though they never adopted an army-wide system.
The book tells the story of the development of the sharpshooter battalions, their tactical use on the battlefield, and the human story of the sharpshooters themselves. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 442 pages
  • Publisher: CFS Press (March 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0964958597
  • ISBN-13: 978-0964958593
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Miles Krisman on April 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I recently had the pleasure of reading Fred L. Ray's new book, "Shock Troops of the Confederacy - The Sharpshooter Battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia". It offered a great deal of new information whereby the author outlines the changes that took place within the Confederate army that led to a new style of warfare, a warfare in which the intelligence, skill, and courage of the individual soldier became paramount. In a book that takes the reader on a journey of discovery, out between the battle lines, Fred successfully illustrates the factors that brought about these developments.

Largely forgotten in the annals of time, the story of the Sharpshooters of the Confederacy begins with two Virginians, Robert Rodes and Eugene Blackford. Both men were from Lynchburg, Virginia, but through a quirk of fate, both entered Confederate service as members of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment. During the winter of 1862, Rodes and Blackford formulated a new military unit to serve the Confederacy that would change the course of the war and in doing so, change warfare itself. Invaluable lessons were learned by both men at the Battle of Boonsboro, also known as the Battle of South Mountain, where Rodes' Brigade successfully fought a delaying action against an entire Division of the Union army, thereby allowing General Lee to consolidate his army and fight the Battle Of Sharpsburg, or Antietam, three days later. These Confederate troops on South Mountain, primarily dispersed as a line of skirmishers, held off the advance of the Army of the Potomac by fighting from behind the rocky outcrops and the heavily wooded slopes as they slowly fell back.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Martin Pegler on July 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
For years, the work of the sharpshooters of the Army of the Confederacy has been largely ignored in favour of the more glamorous Berdan's Sharpshooters of the Federal army. They have been the subject of several books and countless articles but finally Fred Ray's book has redressed the balance. Because of their infantry organisation and lack of post-war records, the southern regiments of sharpshooters have been difficult and in some cases near impossible to document. Shock Troops has managed to provide a balanced and very well researched account of their use, organisation and training from 1861-1865. Much of the text uses first-hand accounts from hitherto little known accounts and it is a credit to Fred Ray that he has managed to gather so much material from such a paucity of sources. For anyone who wants to know more about the Confederate use of sharpshooters and the tools of their trade, this book could not come more highly reccommended.

Martin Pegler

Author of Out Of Nowhere, A History of Military Sniping.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Gary Yee on February 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Not since a century ago when in 1899 Maj. W. S. Dunlop penned Lee's Sharp Shooters or the Forefront of Battle has another book been written on the Confederate sharpshooter battalions. Until now. Author Fred L. Ray, himself a descendent of a sharpshooter, devoted years of research into the Confederate sharpshooter and the sharpshooter battalions in the Army of Northern Virginia. His book, Shock Troops of the South, begins with a brief discussion linear warfare beginning with the hoplite armies of ancient Greece and moves quickly onto early riflemen both in America and abroad and finally, the European influence on antebellum officers who rose to positions of prominence within the Confederacy.

Mr. Ray discusses how the need for a more professional skirmisher capable of screening the line of battle led to raising of the early sharpshooter battalions in the Confederacy. He identifies the early proponents of whom Major Eugene Blackford, Fifth Alabama, figures prominently. In describing their battles, the author shows how they influenced battles and in so doing, influenced Lee to raise similar battalions throughout his army. What follows is a exhaustive but highly readable study of the actions of Lee's sharpshooter battalions in the Overland Campaign, Early's Raid on Washington and the Siege of Petersburg. Shock Troops of the South fills the gaps created Dunlop's work of a century earlier.

Shock Troops of the South does not neglect their Union counterpart nor the Confederate sharpshooters who fought in other theatres. While not as extensively researched, Mr. Ray does leave the reader with an sufficient understanding of what happened elsewhere.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. A. Grimm on April 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"Shock Troops of the Confederacy" is a somewhat misleading title as what is on offer is actually two books in one!

The treatment of the Sharpshooter record and legacy (both sides) is certainly well covered, it is in fact a broad ranging and compelling testimony of the efficacy of shock and open order tactics in the midst of a war in which often the blind led the blind; especially when they had the means to do otherwise. The battle narratives are tightly-written and coincides nicely with the maps provided.

However, the unaware reader who merely thinks of this book as a focused "Confederate Army" unit or battle study is in for so much more; one is unexpectedly offered an historical and international study of the rifle...Open order..evolution and impact on modern warfare. Therefore, I would have titled it something like - "The Rise of Modern Infantry - the Evolution of Rifle, Sharpshooter, and Shock Troops from the Civil War to the First World War."
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