This book is a collection of essays on the Wilderness campaign of May 5-6, 1864, during the American Civil War . Historians who contributed articles include Brooks D. Simpson, Gary W. Gallagher, John J. Hennessy, Gordon C. Rhea, Peter S. Carmichael, Robert K. Krick, Carol Reardon, and Robert E. L. Krick; Gallagher edited the collection. The readability of the book and points of view vary from essay to essay, but all are readable even if written by these historians, several of whom while serving as history professors at universities.
The first essay, by Brooks D. Simpson, entitled “Great Expectations” covers General U.S. Grant assuming overall command of the Union Army, especially his decision of headquartering in the field with the Army of the Potomac. Northern newspapers expected a lot from Grant, and they wanted him to continue the success begun in the Western theatre of the war. Grant, though, was not overly concerned about the newspapers. Grant differed from previous commanders of the Union Army in that even though his army was driven back, he refused to turn tail and lick his wounds, instead deciding to continue to move forward, which is what he did in the Western theatre.
Gary W. Gallagher’s “Our Hearts Are Full of Hope” discusses the high hopes that the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had in the spring of 1864. Before the spring of 1864, that army had lost a major battle at Gettysburg and needed to regroup and re-build. The people of the Confederacy also needed their hopes raised because they were hearing of too many Confederate defeats.
John J. Hennessy’s “I Dread the Spring” dissects the preparations the Army of the Potomac made before facing the Confederates. They needed better food, clothing, and training, and General Mead was able to improve on these; the Army of the Potomac was in better condition to take on the Army of Northern Virginia.
Gordon C. Rhea’s “Union Calvary in the Wilderness” discusses how General Grant wanted the Union cavalry to be improved and used more efficiently. Grant appointed General Philip H. Sheridan to be the commander of the cavalry, which was used differently in the Wilderness Campaign compared to previous engagements where they were mainly used as guards and scouts instead of being involved in the thick of combat.
In Peter S. Carmichael’s “Escaping the Shadow of Gettysburg,” the author points out that too much was expected of Generals Richard S. Ewell and Ambrose Powell Hill. They were not on the same par as Stonewall Jackson or even James Longstreet; they were limited, and General Robert E. Lee should have realized that and adjusted his plans appropriately - but he did not.
Robert K. Krick’s “’Lee to the Rear,’ the Texans Cried” presents how the actual event was interpreted and expanded over time, taking on a legendary quality. The Texas Brigade was also comprised of Arkansans.
Carol Reardon’s “The Other Grant” which is about Lewis A. Grant and the Vermont Brigade. Robert E. L. Krick’s “Like a Duck on a June Bug” covers the “late” arrival of the Army of Northern Virginia’s first corps under General James Longstreet. Longstreet’s corps had marched and pushed as hard as they could to reach the rest of the army.
There are several black and white illustrations and maps throughout the book. Each essay has endnotes. There is a bibliographical essay prior to the index. This book is part of the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series published by the University of North Carolina Press and is recommended to Civil War enthusiasts looking for information on the Wilderness Campaign or the Overland Campaign.
Editor and contributor Gary W. Gallagher teaches history at Pennsylvania State University and is the editor of the Civil War America series at the University of North Carolina Press. He has edited other books in the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series and is the co-editor of Crucible of the Civil War (2006), author of Lee and his Army in Confederate History (2006), editor of The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 (2006), editor of Leaders of the Lost Cause (2004), author of Lee and his Generals in War and Memory (2004), and the editor, co-editor, author or co-author of many other books and articles.
Peter S. Carmichael earned his Ph.D. in history at Pennsylvania State University and is the author of Lee’s Young Artillerist (1998) and of other books and articles. John J. Hennessy is the co-author of Fighting with the 18th Massachusetts (2000) and author of Return to Bull Run (1999). Robert E. L. Krick is the author of The Smoothbore Volley that Doomed the Confederacy (2004), Staff Officers in Gray (2003), and The 40th Virginia Infantry (1985). Robert K. Krick is the author of Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain (1990) and Conquering the Valley (1996). Carol Reardon is the military historian at Pennsylvania State University and the author of Launch the Intruders (2005), Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory (2003), and Soldiers and Scholars (1990). Gordon C. Rhea is the author of Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern (2005), To the North Anna River (2005), Battle of the Wilderness (2004), Cold Harbor (2002), and other books and articles. Brooks D. Simpson teaches history at Arizona State University and is the author of Ulysses S. Grant (2000), co-author of Sherman’s Civil War (1999), author of Reconstruction Presidents (1998), Let Us Have Peace (1997), and other books and articles. – Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., St. Gregory's University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.