A competent, well-executed addition to the ever-growing horde of Civil War literature, by Duncan (History/Georgetown Univ.).
The author reconsiders Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s attempts to destroy the Confederates, led by General Robert E. Lee, at their traditional stronghold in western Virginia and his efforts to threaten Lynchburg during the spring and summer of 1864. The writing here is crisp; refreshingly, our chronicler pays sharp attention to the effects of the campaign on civilians as the Union army penetrated beyond its supply lines and came to live off the countryside in one of the Confederacy’s richest agricultural regions, bringing home the harsh realities of war to civilians. The campaign swung back and forth, with Northern victories at Cloyd’s Mountain and New River Bridge and Confederate routs at New Market, followed by a Union failure to seize Lynchburg. Though the campaign proved costly to the South, overall the Union’s hope to capture the Shenandoah Valley foundered—and the Confederates then went on to threaten Washington, D.C. Duncan sensitively employs a wide variety of sources, military and civilian, to add to the coherence of his account. Still, the book’s scope remains narrow, focusing on a not terribly glamorous period in the war’s history; then, too, we—d do well to have the volume trimmed by a third. Duncan’s contention that the Union’s severity in dealing with civilian populations was directly reciprocated when the Confederates took Chambersburg, Penn., creatong a chain of vengeance that culminated when Sherman marched through the South, is insightfully argued, offering a fresh analysis to the historical debate.
Casual readers of the Civil War genre (and many die-hard buffs, as well) may want to leave this superbly researched yet ultimately too specialized study for the historians to ponder.