TO THE GATES OF RICHMOND by Stephen W. Sears

TO THE GATES OF RICHMOND

The Peninsula Campaign

KIRKUS REVIEW

 In George B. McClellan (1988) and his work editing the papers of the Union general, Sears established himself as the critical but indispensable authority on flawed ``Little Mac.'' Now, in a stirring prequel to Landscape Turned Red (1983), his superb account of the Battle of Antietam, the author reaffirms his mastery of historical narrative. In March 1862, the egotistical but timorous McClellan was prodded by Lincoln into finally launching the first major offensive by the Army of the Potomac. Instead of marching directly overland from Washington, McClellan used Federal sea power to advance on Richmond by way of the peninsula between the York and James Rivers. The ``Grand Campaign,'' however, soon belied its creator's Napoleonic pretensions by becoming a three-and-a-half-month nightmare of feints and pitched battles, ultimately engaging up to a combined quarter-million men on both sides and leaving one of every four men dead, wounded, or missing. Using hundreds of eyewitness accounts, Sears demonstrates how the most creative use of military technology (ironclad warships, 200-pounder rifled cannon, battlefield telegraph, and aerial reconnaissance) existed side by side with the most appalling mismanagement (Stonewall Jackson's uncharacteristic lethargy; McClellan's mistaken belief that the numerically inferior rebels possessed a two-to-one manpower advantage; out-of-sync attacks by both Confederate and Union generals). Above all, though, Sears casts the campaign as a clash of wits and wills between McClellan--whom he accuses of losing ``the courage to command''--and Robert E. Lee--who, upon succeeding the wounded Joseph E. Johnson as head of the Army of Northern Virginia, seized the initiative, repulsed the assault in the series of ``Seven Days'' battles, and began his long journey into legend. An authoritative, ironic, and stirring addition to Civil War annals. (Two 16-page b&w photo inserts.)

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1992
ISBN: 0-89919-790-6
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1992




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