Thursday, September 22, 2005

Author in Brief: Kenneth Hafendorfer

Kenneth A. Hafendorfer is another avocational historian who writes microtactical battle histories. In this case, the author's education and training is as a physician (hey, the attorneys can't have all the fun with Civil War history). I love Hafendorfer's books because they have everything I like to see in traditional CW tactical histories. This isn't New Military History. Political and social concerns are largely left to other works and what you get is an exhaustive blow-by-blow account of a battle at the micro level (company and regimental level). Traditional military history is heavily criticized but I see no reason why the entire horizon need be covered by one author in one book. A perfect example of this are the two recent Fredericksburg books by Rable and O'Reilly. Read both books and you'll have a far richer understanding than reading either in isolation.

Unlike far too many battle histories written today, Hafendorfer's books include a vast number of detailed maps, often at regimental level or below. Generally, maps included in tactical studies should be numerous and original to the work; and depict visual snapshots of the battlefield at as frequent time intervals as possible. When all relevant natural and man-made terrain features are included the reader gets a visual story no less important than the one provided in the text. Hafendorfer's maps also helpfully include elevation lines, an all too uncommonly seen reader aid.

Hafendorfer has written five military studies and edited a diary of Louisiana soldier William Trask. Perryville: Battle for Kentucky was the first modern book-length history of that battle. This was followed with They Died by Twos and Tens: The Confederate Cavalry in the Kentucky Campaign of 1862 (OP) and The Distant Storm: Nathan Bedford Forrest's Raid on Murfreesboro, Tennessee, July 13, 1862 (OP). Twos and Tens is a massive study that runs almost 1000 pages and has proven impossible for me to find on the secondary market. Distant Storm has also evaded me as I could not obtain it used at a reasonable price.

Mill Springs: Campaign and battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky and The Battle of Wildcat Mountain, Kentucky, October 21, 1861 are two of my very favorite "battle books". Unlike his first effort with Perryville, Hafendorfer's later books much more thoroughly integrate the battle into the larger campaign. I can say without qualification that the Mill Springs book is among the very best of all campaign and battle histories. No book has a better feel for the difficulties of early war maneuvering and fighting with raw regiments. The "you are there" feeling is more palpable here than just about any other CW non-fiction work I can think of and Mill Springs is undoubtedly Hafendorfer's finest effort.

My next posting will be a brief and selective comparison of Hafendorfer's Perryville book with that of historian Kenneth Noe. (By the way, readers interested in exhaustive book comparisons should check back frequently with Brett Schulte's new "Back-to-Back Book" project on his blog)

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