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The Battle of Brandy Station: North America's Largest Cavalry Battle

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  • Posted August 2, 2011

    Readers are well served by Eric Wittenberg and History Press

    New and Noteworthy---The Battle of Brandy Station, Virginia The Battle of Brandy Station: North America's Largest Cavalry Battle, Eric J. Wittenberg, Steven Stanley [maps], History Press, 272 pp., 57 illustrations and photographs, 12 maps, notes, bibliography, guided tour, order of battle, paperback, $24.95. Fought on June 9, 1863, the Battle of Brandy Station, Virginia was the largest predominantly cavalry engagement of the American Civil War. Many Civil War enthusiasts regard the battle as solely a cavalry fight but there were eleven Union regiments engaged. Also, though many view it as the beginning of the Pennsylvania Campaign, it may also be seen as the conclusion of the Chancellorsville campaign. Wittenberg's effort would have been strengthened by noting the Union cavalry's raid that began April 27, before the Battle of Chancellorsville. He does develop a picture of the Federal cavalry's growing aggressiveness by covering the purge of Rebel guerrillas from the Northern Neck region between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers in mid-May. One of the several delights of Wittenberg's The Battle of Brandy Station is his handling of primary sources of the combatants. There are about 100 indented and italicized comments from the soldiers. The voices of the soldiers are heard throughout the narrative. Wittenberg takes a non-partisan stance towards the sides; both criticism and compliments fall on Blue and Gray. Stuart's three grand reviews and sham battles [May 22, June 4 and June 5] are not overweighted against him. But for Wittenberg , more illustrative are Stuart's over wrought responses to the Richmond press' reports that hold him accountable after the battle. The author does not advance speculations about the press editorials and Stuart's decision to ride around the Union army in late June and early July. Also, Wittenberg organizes his work into chapters that are not focused on the clock but focused on the brigades' and divisions' engagements. The divisions with their brigades and regiments are well developed and the are not diminished by overcrowding pages and chapters with everything that was going on at a particular hour of the battle. Of the 14 chapters, eight are devoted to specific segments of the battle though other fighting was going on at the same time. This helps with the continuity within the day long engagement between nine Federal brigades[seven cavalry and two infantry] and five Confederate brigades. In a minor but helpful decision, The History Press' Civil War Sesquicentennial Series places the portraits in the text where the first mention of the soldier occurs. Often times, inserting all the portraits in the center and on glossy paper, is a nuisance and minimizes the effectiveness of the illustrations. The maps in The Battle of Brandy Station contain topographic features and elevation lines. Missing is a map that shows the entire battlefield. An additional and enjoyable feature is the Epilogue that tells the story of two Federals who were detained as prisoners captured at Brandy Station and were sent to Richmond's Libby Prison. Of the many prisoners from the battle these two were chosen to be executed in retaliation for the execution of two Confederate spies quartered at Johnson's Island prison near Sandusky, Ohio. The story is a highlight that reveals the state of prisons and paroles in 1863. The analysis of the Battle of Brandy Station and the Walking and Driving Tour of the attle are clear and con

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  • Posted May 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended!

    Eric Wittenberg writing on the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War, the only improvement would be to make the book very affordable. Being a Civil War Sesquicentennial book, it carries the wished for low price. The Battle of Brandy Station is the newest entry from The History Press in what is a very impressive series. A well-illustrated book with excellent maps by Steven Stanley, period and contemporary pictures, a full Order of Battle with a tour of the field adds real value. A full index, bibliography and complete endnote make this a serious history from a publisher that did not sacrifice quality to lower the price.
    The heart of the book is Wittenberg's history and analysis of the battle. The first fifty pages are background and a look at the commanders. He provides a series of word portraits coupled with an understanding of the politics in the mounted arm. The next 110 pages is a detailed account of the battle. A fifteen-page analysis, places the battle in the overall history of the war while identifying winners and losers. An Epilogue covers a human-interest story that is associated with the participants illustrating the direction the war took after the summer of 1863.
    This is a well-written account of the fighting using the words of the participants and the author's knowledge to good effect. The battle is a huge swirling mass of men and horses, obscured by gun smoke and dust. The author brings a logical order out of this chaos keeping both the swirling mass and the tactical situation together. The result is a readable, understandable account that keeps the reader involved and the narration moving. This produces both an understanding of mounted combat coupled with an appreciation of the reality of fighting from horseback.
    An excellent addition to my library, this book will be a reference on the battle for many years. Highly recommended, this is a much-needed study of an overlooked battle.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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