On to On to Petersburg!

Chris and Rhea Petersburg BookI don’t know about you, but for years, I have been anxiously awaiting the completion in Gordon Rhea’s epic study of the Overland Campaign. Knowing that the release of the final chapter was pending, I have been ridiculously excited for this book all year.

Over the weekend, my copy of the book finally arrived in the mail courtesy of Amazon: On to Petersburg: Lee and Grant, June 4-15, 1864

I have written in the past about the important influence Gordon’s book To the North Anna River had on my early development as a historian. The book remains my single favorite microtactical battle study, although all four of the books in his Overland Campaign series have been phenomenal (and if you haven’t read his shorter Spotsylvania book, Carrying the Flag: The Story of Private Charles Whilden, the Confederacy’s Most Unlikely Hero, you should go grab that one, too—it reads like a well-paced novel).

The fourth book in Gordon’s series left off after the shattering repulses at Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864. But just as there is more to Spotsylvania than the May 12 fight at the Bloody Angle—another week, in fact, which tends to get overlooked—there was more at Cold Harbor following that infamous June 3 attack than the oft-quoted regret Grant expressed in his memoirs.

Gordon’s new book promises to fill in that gap in the larger public memory by closing out the last, largely untold phase of the Overland Campaign. It will jump the James River and take Union forces, and readers, all the way to the gates of Petersburg and the dramatic fight there on June 15 where, as the chapter title reveals, “Grant Loses a Sterling Opportunity”—setting the stage for the nine-month siege of Petersburg.

I am swamped with work right now, so I’m not even sure how I’m going to manage to read On to Petersburg at the moment—except I’m gonna figure something out. This has been a book more than twenty-three years in the making (remember, his first book in the series, The Battle of the Wilderness, came out in 1994). I have anxiously awaited this volume for a long time. If Gordon’s still on his A-game—and his books have only gotten better and better—then On to Petersburg will have been well worth the wait.

If any of you have picked up your copy already, I’ll be anxious to hear what you think!

6 Responses to On to On to Petersburg!

  1. I, too, just received my copy of “On to Petersburg” by Gordon Rhea. This completes my collection of the five Gordon Rhea books on the Overland Campaign. I must thank Chris Mackowski for his recommendation for these fine books. One of my favorite features of Emerging Civil War Series is the Suggested Reading section at the end of each book. I tend to look over those suggestions before I even start reading the book, kind of backwards, I guess. I just read the preface to Mr. Rhea’s latest book. I am always struck by the gratitude displayed by not only Mr. Rhea, but other Civil War authors. There seems to be a real comraderie and cooperation between Civil War Authors, battlefield guides, historians, etc. I would think that there would be more rivalry between authors. I see the name, Eric Wittenberg, for example, mentioned a lot in other author’s books. It is heartening for me to see these acknowledgements. The willingness to share information, sources, etc. is inspiring. I would think that there would be a tendency to hold on to this information for yourself, hoping that someone does not use your idea(s) for a book. During the Civil War, there was a lot of rivalry among officers on both sides, even to the detriment of their own cause. Maybe, we have learned a few things in the last 150 years, at least among Civil War authors. Thank you to the Civil War authors for their cooperation with each other. We are the beneficiary of better books, because of this cooperation. I notice that many books have coauthors, this is another fine example of cooperation.

    1. Hi, Larry —

      Thanks for all the kind words. Your sense of the professional camaraderie is spot-on. One of the most gratifying aspects of Emerging Civil War, in particular, is the great sense of community we have with each other and with other Civil War historians. We have all benefitted from the generosity, kindness, and expertise of other historians, and so we make an effort to pay that back–and pay that forward–by doing for others what was done for us.

      I can speak specifically to Gordon’s graciousness. As busy as he was with his own writing and with his law practice, he still took time to write a wonderful forward to my own North Anna book. In a field full of great people, Gordon is gentleman of the highest caliber.

      Of course, we’re also grateful for the support of so many loyal readers and history fans. Thanks for all YOU do to keep us going, too!

      — Chris

      1. Chris, you have reminded me that there is a bond and connection between Civil War authors and Civil War readers, also. Over the years, I have enjoyed meeting Civil War authors in person and having a chance to talk to them. I can’t think of another historical field where the authors are so accessible through talks, seminars-such as the annual Emerging Civil War seminar, blogs, battlefield tours, etc. I find that Civil War authors enjoy the feedback at these meetings. Civil War authors are readers, also, and thus have given me many great suggestions over the years. This post highlighting the new “On to Petersburg” book by Gordon Rhea is a good example. Larry

  2. Larry, you are correct. The comraderie and sharing of sources and ideas within the community of civil war historians is one of the many pleasures of working in this field of American history. We are constantly sending each other material, exchanging insights, and reading each other’s manuscripts. When I first began researching the Overland Campaign in the mid-1980’s, Bob Krick at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park opened the park’s extensive manuscript and archival resources to me and encouraged me in my project. Gary Gallagher, Richard Sommers, Bill Matter, Don Pfanz, Noel Harrison, Bryce Suderow, and others too numerous to name guided me to sources and materials that I never would have found on my own. I am forever indebted to Will Greene, who not only read my chapters dealing with the operations across the James to Petersburg, but shared with me many of his archival sources and his draft chapters that covered the same topic. The culture of sharing within the community of civil war scholars contributes not only to the rewarding nature of the work, but to the quality of the final products.

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