With his new book The Chickamauga Campaign: A Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of the Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22-September 19, 1863, historian David Powell has gone from creating board games to writing about games of war.
“I’ve always been interested in history,” Powell said. “I started to write some articles in the 90s. I basically had a couple ideas concerning Gettysburg, but I hadn’t thought about doing a larger project or book until I got interested in Chickamauga, right about in 1999.”
The Virginia Military Institute graduate began his historical career by creating Civil War-based board games for Multi-Man Publishing (MMP).
“Through the 90s, I was also doing game design, board games,” Powell explained. “And I had done six to eight of those and a friend of mine had formed a small game company in downstate Illinois. I was doing some projects for him and I went to Chickamauga to do a project for a game. At that point I realized that there really was not much written on the battle.”
Powell recognized that many battles of the Civil War already had extensive research and writing done on them. But once he found an interesting battle with not much coverage, his idea to write a book himself emerged.
“One of the reasons why I had never given much thought to writing was that I was deeply interested in Gettysburg, but there’s shelves full of Gettysburg books,” Powell said. “I realized at that point that there’s not shelves full of Chickamauga books.”
The Chickamauga Campaign was a series of battles fought from Aug. 21 to Sept. 20, 1863 in northwest Georgia, fought between the Union Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The North eventually won the war, but the battle of Chickamauga was a crucial victory for the South.
“(The victory) predates the battle,” Powell said. “The Confederate commander, General Braxton Bragg, was trying to figure out how to defend the city of Chattanooga and he only had about 40,000 men. So, 10 days before the battle, he actually retreated from Chattanooga—he abandoned Chattanooga to the Union Army. As part of the response to the retreat, the Confederate government sent him reinforcements.”
The Confederacy would send Bragg troops from Virginia, Mississippi and the Deep South.
“By the time that Bragg fought the battle of Chickamauga, his army was closer to 70,000. It almost doubled in size,” Powell said. “That was a major advantage.”
Despite the inevitable Union victory of the war, the Southern win at Chickamauga turned the status quo of the war in favor of the Rebels.
“Now it’s the Lincoln’s government’s turn to panic and to worry,” Powell said. “They start to rush troops from Virginia and Mississippi to reinforce General (William) Rosecrans.”
With troops marching throughout the United States and the Confederacy, Powell said researching such an extensive campaign was one of the most pleasing parts of writing the book.
“I found that there was a ton of material on it,” Powell said. “There was just a ton of stuff. But I had to travel all over to gather the material.”
Powell made rounds throughout the eastern coast of the United States in his effort to get the full story of Chickamauga, visiting historical societies, university libraries and other state agencies.
The Chickamauga Campaign covers the first two days of the battle, September 18 and 19. Powell purposely focused on a short period of time so the book would contain as many first-hand accounts of the campaign as possible.
“The focus of the book was to drop down to the regimental level,” Powell said. “To tell as many of the soldiers’ stories in as coherent of a manner as I could. I’ve got far more accounts and personal things than I could ever really use. The trick was to find the right material to plug into the story to make it readable without becoming too overwhelming.”
Powell will have plenty of space to analyze the remaining days of the Chickamauga Campaign. The Chickamauga Campaign: A Mad Irregular Battle is just the first volume of Powell’s historical trilogy. The Chickamauga Campaign: Glory or the Grave—The Breakthrough, Union Collapse, and the Retreat to Chattanooga, September 20-23, 1863 is in the final editing stage and will hit shelves in the summer of 2015.
“The first two books cover the narrative of the battle,” Powell said. “The third volume will be a lot of research material and a bunch of appendices on various things like what happened to the battlefield after the war.”
While Powell’s work on the Chickamauga Campaign is nearly complete, the writer has another large-scale project in the works.
“I’m beginning to accumulate research material for a larger study on the Atlanta Campaign in 1864,” Powell said. “That Atlanta Campaign project—I envision it as probably a multi-volume project like this one.”