Thursday, February 8, 2007

Review - Plenty of Blame to Go Around, Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg

Although there is an amazing amount of published research and knowledge about the Civil War, surprisingly little of it focuses on the activities of the cavalry of each side. Very few book-length works focus on it. On the other hand, many are the books written about the Gettysburg campaign. Each year the battle seems to loom larger in the realm of Civil War lore.

In Plenty of Blame to Go Around, authors Eric Wittenberg and JD Petruzzi address one of the more controversial and surprisingly under-published aspects of the battle --- where was JEB Stuart during the first two days of the battle? Why was he missing when Lee needed him most? Whose fault was it that he wasn't there? These questions have never received the detailed attention that they deserve until now.Most authors spend a paragraph or two on Stuart's absence, simply dismissing it as grandstanding on Stuart's part. Petruzzi and Wittenberg walk the reader through the events as they unfold, and it becomes clear that his absence was the culmination of several events and decisions by Stuart and others. It's not difficult to determine the authors' opinion on where the blame lies from the title of the work, but they do an amazing job of laying out all of the available information for the reader to make his or her own decision. Indeed, they spend three chapters evenhandedly discussing the controversy from July 1863 until today before presenting their conclusions. This book would be worth the purchase price simply for this discussion.

This is a wonderful book. Historical research is supposed to add to the body of knowledge on a given subject, and this book certainly does so. It is incredibly well researched and documented. The bibliography is fifteen pages long, and eight of those list of primary sources. Many of these primary sources are published for the first time in this work. Footnotes are meticulously annotated and there are many of them. As with all of Wittenberg's works, maps are plentiful and clearly enhance the reader's understanding of the text. The text itself is nicely paced and very easy to follow. Both authors are well-respected authorities on Civil War cavalry, and this is clearly evident throughout the book.

For those interested in further studies on Civil war cavalry, I highly recommend Mr Wittenberg's other works. The detailed research and thought put into this book are typical of his writing. He and Mr Petruzzi obviously have a good rapport, as it's impossible for the reader to tell that two people wrote the book. Hopefully we'll be seeing more work from both them in the future.


Val Proto said...

Although many people seem to believe that Lee was without cavalry while Stuart roamed about amongst the federals, the fact is that Stuart left more than enough cavalry for Lee's needs. Admittedly, he chose his least favorite commanders to leave behind, Robertson and Jones, but Jones was a FINE commander (albeit Robertson was flawed) and was more than capable of fulfilling Lee's requirements regarding cavalry.

I think that John Mosby who wrote later quite extensively in defense of Stuart was quite right when he said that it wasn't CAVALRY that Lee missed, it was STUART and that the General refused to place the same confidence in any other commander that he was wont to place in Stuart.

Don said...

I would agree that Lee missed Stuart. I would also have to point out, however, that Staurt took his best commanders with him on his ride. As pointed out by Wittenberg and Petruzzi in the book and by others elsewhere, the cavalry commanders left to Lee had their issues. Robertson I don't know much about, but most of the commentary that I've seen about Jones focused on his irascibility rather than any deficiencies in his tactical ability.

Unknown said...

As I recall, Stuart also left little to no guidance regarding Robertson and Jones' missions, nor did he assign either of them as the senior guy and link that man up with Lee so Lee could make sure his cavalry was doing the right thing.

Like the man says...plenty of blame to go around on this one.