I’ve been quiet for a while, I realize, but only on the blog front. Behind the scenes, I’ve had my editorial hat on, working on the final polishes of Lee White’s upcoming book Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale: The Battle of Chickamauga—the latest title in our Emerging Civil War Series from Savas Beatie.
The anniversary of the battle is just a couple weeks away, so we’ve been working to get the book to print. It’ll be hitting shelves at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Battlefield Park by Friday, September 14—just in time for Sesquicentennial events. It’ll be available for wider distribution shortly thereafter. (You can order your copy here if you’re itching to get your hands on one.)
I spent a couple days on the battlefield with Lee back in May, and I’ve been working closely with him in the months since, getting his manuscript ready and the book designed. This is a guy who knows his stuff, let me tell you—which should be no surprise since he’s been a ranger at the park for nearly a decade.
But Lee’s connection to Chickamauga goes well beyond that. He was literally born on the battlefield. “The hospital in which I was born sports two cannon and one of the battlefield’s unit tablets at its front entrance,” he says, explaining that the hospital sits on part of the battlefield not preserved within in the confines of the park.
As the oldest and largest military park in the world, it might seem surprising to hear that there are portions of the battlefield that fall outside the park boundary. Lee took me to several key spots—Lee’s and Gordon’s Mills and Crawfish Springs, for instance—that played important roles in the battle but remain outside the park (but still accessible to the public, fortunately).
Just last month, the Civil War Trust announced plans to preserve 109 acres around Reed’s Bridge, where the battle began on September 18. The Trust, quoting Ed Bearss, calls it “one of the most significant tracts of ground that the Civil War Trust has saved in a long time.”
“[T]he fighting at Reed’s Bridge cost the Confederates valuable time, allowing the Federal army to concentrate and thwarting Confederate hopes for a swift, decisive action,” the Trust explains.
Most interpretation of the battle of Chickamauga focuses on September 19 and 20. On the 19th, troops from both sides, arriving on the battlefield, got fed into the battle in a series of checkerboard assaults that brought unit after unit in on each other’s flanks. On the 20th, the Federal line collapsed and only a stubborn stand on Snodgrass Hill by Maj. Gen. George Thomas—“the Rock of Chickamauga”—prevented a total rout.
In his book, Lee interprets the fighting on September 18 as part of the larger story—something usually overlooked.
What I really love about Lee’s book, though, is that it is going to challenge some things that people think they know about the battle.
For instance, I’ve always been one of the many people who chalked up the battle as a major defeat for the Federals—yet the Federals themselves didn’t necessarily see it that way. “It is laughable to read, in various reports of the rebel commanders, their exultations over having driven us from the field,” wrote Brig. Gen. John Turchin in his memoir of the battle. “The rebels harped and are still harping on the Chickamauga battle as a great victory,” he added, but pointed out “[w]e had Chattanooga in our hands, and the enemy dared not approach our lines…. [W]hat important object had been attained by the enemy by that ‘complete victory’ of his? None; on the contrary, the battle of Chickamauga was the ruin of the rebel Army of Tennessee.”
A look around the battlefield, heavily monumented by both sides, lends weight to that argument. The veterans of the Union army, particularly, would not have been so eager to memorialize the battle if they thought they’d met crushing defeat there.
I also have to give fair warning to fans of the Confederate cavalry genius Nathan Bedford Forrest. They should be prepared to have some their hero-worship sharply—and justifiably—challenged by Lee’s book. (See David Powell’s eye-opener, Failure in the Saddle, for an extensive, case-closed look Forrest’s shortcomings during the battle.)
We’ll have more on Chickamauga coming up in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, get ready for some Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale. Like other titles in the Emerging Civil War Series, Bushwhacking is written in an approachable style that will appeal to general readers as well as buff of the battle. Lee worked with cartographer Hal Jespersen to create eight original maps, which highlight the overall campaign, key events on each of the battle’s three days, and important spots on the modern battlefield. The book is also chock-full-o pictures (many of them taken by yours truly).
I promise you won’t be disappointed!