Author John Horn notes, as have others, that the Petersburg battles of 1864 have not received the attention they deserve. In particular are the battles of August 1864, which fell between the Battle of the Crater and the fall of Atlanta. This combat focused on the Weldon Railroad, a key supply line, which Horn labels as Ulysses Grant’s “Fourth Offensive” around Petersburg.
Horn has been given the chance to revisit his 1991 work, The Destruction of the Weldon Railroad: Deep Bottom, Globe Tavern, and Ream’s Station August 14-25, 1864, published by H.E. Howard. This edition is billed as a revised and expanded 150th Anniversary Edition. Horn notes the welcome opportunity to “take advantage of what I have learned since writing it.”
Horn focuses on the overall Federal strategy to affect a lodgment on one of the key railroads providing supplies to Confederate forces in Petersburg. The battles for Deep Bottom, fought in the area between Petersburg and Richmond, are included due to the fact that they were part of Grant’s efforts to stretch Confederate lines and manpower, as well as keep his opponent guessing as to his intentions.
Horn’s combat accounts are highly detailed, but the strength of the volume is how it puts Grant’s tactics into a strategic context, on both a local and national level. He reminds us that the fall of Petersburg was not the foregone conclusion we know in hindsight, and that the Army of Northern Virginia was still “qualitatively” the more effective force. Furthermore, Robert E. Lee still had considerable strategic options, including the detachment of troops to threaten Washington, or sending reinforcements to Atlanta to help in that city’s defense. The Federal gains from the fighting, while not of the level anticipated and at a cost higher than desired, limited these Confederate options.
Title: The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864
Author: John Horn
Publisher: Savas Beatie
-Courier book review by Brian Bennett
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