Emerging Civil War (ECW) has selected On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864 by Gordon Rhea as the recipient of its book award for this year.
“On to Petersburg represents the worthy culmination of twenty years of outstandingly thorough research by the expert on the 1864 Overland Campaign,” said ECW Editor in Chief Chris Mackowski.
The Emerging Civil War Book Award recognizes a work of Civil War history with a public history focus. Recipients are chosen by ECW’s stable of published authors, making the award the only peer-to-peer award given by Civil War writers to Civil War writers. This year’s award was given to a book published in 2017.
Along with the winning selection, ECW also announced two finalists: Inglorious Passages: Noncombat Deaths in the Civil War by Brian Steel Wills, published by the University Press of Kansas, and The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: The Complete Annotated Edition, edited by John F. Marszalek, published by Harvard University Press.
According to the publisher, Louisiana State University Press, “On to Petersburg follows the Union army’s movement to the James River, the military response from the Confederates, and the initial assault on Petersburg, which Rhea suggests marked the true end of the Overland Campaign.”
Edward Alexander, an ECW historian who has worked at both Pamplin Historical Park in Petersburg and Richmond National Battlefield, said Gordon Rhea’s On To Petersburg shed light on an entirely overlooked phase of Ulysses S. Grant’s operations in 1864.
“The Cold Harbor period from June 4-12 was basically untouched by modern historians,” Alexander explained. “Gordon connects that new story with the Union army’s movement on to Petersburg, which marked the turning point of Union strategy in Virginia and the Civil War at large. His writing masterfully meshes big-picture strategy with detailed troop movements while fleshing out the common soldier’s experience. His commentary and analysis is refreshing and backed up by his command of the source material.”
Bert Dunkerly, an ECW historian who works in Richmond, said Rhea’s analysis of officers on both sides is of particular importance. “Rather than simply judge the decisions of commanders, Rhea conveys the great challenges faced by Lee and Grant as the campaign unfolded,” Dunkerly explained. “Each leader had to formulate plans, assess his resources, speculate on his opponent’s moves, and weigh options. This analysis of decision making reveals the level of uncertainty that accompanies these crucial decisions. Such analysis gives us insights into the capabilities and limitations of these armies, as well as a level of sympathy for those who commanded them.”