Monday, April 25, 2011

Patchan: "THE BATTLE OF PIEDMONT AND HUNTER'S RAID ON STAUNTON: The 1864 Shenandoah Campaign"

[The Battle of Piedmont and Hunter's Raid on Staunton: The 1864 Shenandoah Campaign by Scott C. Patchan (The History Press, 2011). Softcover, photos, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 192 Pages. ISBN:9781609491970  $21.99]

Scott Patchan's presumably limited release and long out-of-print battle history The Forgotten Fury: The Battle of Piedmont, Va. (Sgt. Kirkland's, 1996) has remained a much sought after book for Shenandoah Valley Civil War enthusiasts. Thankfully, this year it has been reprinted by The History Press in a newly revised edition under the title The Battle of Piedmont and Hunter's Raid on Staunton: The 1864 Shenandoah Campaign.

The June 5, 1864 Battle of Piedmont was a hard fought Union victory won by two divisions of Major General David Hunter's Army of the Shenandoah over the smaller Confederate Army of the Valley District. Casualties were heavy on both sides and the Confederate commander, cavalryman Brigadier General William E. "Grumble" Jones, was killed attempting to rally his broken army.

Valley campaigns seems to attract more than their share of gifted masters of Civil War battle narrative, and Patchan excels in presenting enough small unit tactical detail to satisfy the most demanding reader while and the same time offering prose pleasing enough to attract a broader audience. This makes the book a perfect fit for the publisher's Civil War Sesquicentennial Series.

The author's deep knowledge of the battlefield terrain is also readily apparent in both text and maps. One can see why the usually astute Jones deployed his command in such a disjointed manner, risking a giant gap in his center [occupied only by artillery] for the sake of conforming to available cover. Speaking of maps, the new edition's cartography is a significant improvement over the old, primarily in the addition of topographical features. His work deeply rooted in primary source materials, Patchan conducted his manuscript research in repositories located all over the country. The only downgrade from the first edition is the conversion of footnotes to endnotes.

As the book's strengths and losses appendix makes clear, the opposing armies were close enough in size for Jones to have reasonably expected to score a defensive victory and Patchan clearly demonstrates why it did not turn out that way.  In an odd twist of fate, a generally good commander (Jones) had a bad day while a pair of typically unremarkable Union generals (Julius Stahel, who would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his role, and Jeremiah Sullivan) put in unusually competent performances. Patchan also joins Charles Larry Gordon, the author of a recent history of John C. Vaughn's brigade*, in making a persuasive case for rejecting the scapegoating of Vaughn for the defeat.

What was the importance of Piedmont? Hunter's victory led to the capture of the vital railhead at Staunton, Va, and the Union army's subsequent advance toward Lynchburg forced Robert E. Lee to return John C. Breckinridge's division to the valley, to be late joined by Jubal Early's 2nd Corps. Less appreciated was the loss of Jones and large numbers of Valley cavalry. Both would be missed by Early, who would have little good to say about his mounted arm during his own series of disasters.

The Battle of Piedmont and Hunter's Raid on Staunton is a model study of a small but consequential Civil War raid and battle. Owners of the 1996 edition should find the improvements significant enough to warrant another purchase. Patchan's Piedmont reissue is very highly recommended reading for all students of the 1864 Shenandoah campaigns.

* - The Last Confederate General: John C. Vaughn and His East Tennessee Cavalry by Charles Larry Gordon (Zenith Press, 2009).

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