[The Petersburg Campaign - Volume I: The Eastern Front Battles, June - August 1864 by Edwin C. Bearss with Bryce Suderow (Savas Beatie, 2012). Hardcover, 23 maps, photos, notes, bibliography, index. 450 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-090-3 $34.95]
The content of this first of a two book set begins with the failed attack (Quincy Gillmore's) on the Petersburg defenses on June 9, 1864. Succeeding chapters cover the June 15 - 18 assaults, Jerusalem Plank Road (June 21 - 24), the July 30 Battle of the Crater*, the Weldon Railroad (August 18 - 21), and the August 25 Battle of 2nd Ream's Station. The writing itself is classic Bearss, clear and straightforward tactical narrative at the regimental and brigade levels. Terrain discussion is brief, but detailed enough to provide readers with a solid sense of how the natural and man-made landscapes affected decision making and conduct of the battle. First person accounts are woven into the text, but layered analysis and extensive background information are eschewed in favor of a more minimalist descriptive approach in keeping with the original assigned task.
In guiding this project along toward publication, Suderow has done more than the typical manuscript editor's job. In addition to transcribing and arranging the text, he applied his own introduction and conclusion to each section and standardized the footnotes. Suderow also bridges gaps in Bearss's coverage of events. For example, the text accompanying June 16 and 17 actions in the "Second Assault on Petersburg" chapter is authored by the editor and effectively serves as both gap filling content and effective transition between Bearss pieces. Complaints include a number of typographical errors and basic math mistakes in the loss tables located in the Afterword. Sequential orders of battle, something similar to what Bearss did throughout his Vicksburg Campaign trilogy, are unfortunately absent here, where they would have been similarly useful.
The 23 maps by noted cartographer George Skoch are one of the brightest features of the book. Together, they comprise a nice map study of the most important events. Relevant terrain features of the Petersburg battlefield(s) are satisfactorily presented in the drawings, as are troop positions and maneuvers (mostly at brigade level).
With much of Bearss's early career material remaining unsurpassed by present scholarship, it is gratifying to see a part of his unpublished work exposed to the public readership for the first time. It's also packaged in a manner worthy of the cause. The publication of this volume is a very noteworthy event for Petersburg students, and the release of the second book later in 2013 is much anticipated.
* - Bearss did not do a Crater history for the NPS, so Patrick Brennan was commissioned to fill this particular gap in the book's coverage.