To understand what Mike Bunn is presenting in The Assault on Fort Blakeley, one really does need to read the preface. Here, it’s explained that the book is not a straightforward account of the last large-scale battle of the Civil War; for that, there is no shortage of earlier published books, which is surprising for a campaign well and truly “forgotten.” Rather, this is a detailed tour book for those visiting Historic Blakeley State Park. As someone who has, I recommend visiting the site. The accommodations are good, the honey they sell is excellent, and most of all the battlefield is a true hidden gem.
Bunn provides an overview of events leading up to the battle. Each chapter is then a short discussion of the brief but fierce fighting at each Confederate redoubt as well as the final fighting at the edge of the Blakeley River. Each part includes a discussion of forces involved, terrain, and tactics. Following that are primary source accounts of the fighting, many of them quite evocative. Among the most interesting and provocative is that provided by Private Ben H. Bounds of the 4th Mississippi Infantry, who fought the U.S.C.T. Bunn treats that subject well, neither ignoring nor overplaying the murder of surrendering Confederates.
The writing is good, in fact better than one usually gets with this kind of work. There are plenty of images. If there is a major gripe, it is the lack of a single comprehensive map of the battle. Instead, one gets small maps parceled out showing the fighting in each sector. For a guide book, this is really unpardonable, and limits the book’s utility. If not for this, I would call it the best book of this kind.
The book is light on analysis, understandable given the scope, but perhaps too light even in that regard. I wondered why Spanish Fort was evacuated but not Blakeley. There was little analysis of the commanders and their decisions, save that E.R.S. Canby was slow to move on Mobile. That said, Canby moved quickly on Blakeley, at least once Spanish Fort fell, and his assault was well coordinated. Indeed, for the Union army, mostly made up of veterans of the Army of the Tennessee, it was among their finest hours in terms of coordination and tactics. Bunn need not have gone full Earl J. Hess in this regard, but a little more would have gone a long way.
For those visiting the battlefield, The Assault on Fort Blakeley is a must. It is among the best of its breed. What is lacks in maps, it makes up for in images, first-hand accounts, and an easy-to-digest explanation of each step in the American Civil War’s last large field battle.