This book, by Robert M. Dunkerly, Donald C. Pfanz, and David R. Ruth, is another in the Emerging Civil War series from Savas Beatie. It is an overview and tour guide for the Overland Campaign of the spring of 1864. It’s organized along a driving tour from Germanna Ford across the Rapidan River to Wilcox’s Landing where the Army of the Potomac crossed the James River after the Battle of Cold Harbor.
The book is filled with excellent maps by Hal Jespersen, as well as numerous period drawings and several photographs. At each stop the authors gives a short précis of the action that took place where you are standing. They also provide us some contact with the participants through quotations from letters, diaries, and reminiscences. For example, in discussing the Hanovertown stop on the Pamunkey River, they tell us, “Captain Edward K. Russell of [Maj. Gen. Horatio G.] Wright’s [commander of the Union VI Corps] staff informed his mother that ‘wherever we went the darkies in droves with their goods & little ones followed after us. … As our trains reached near Hanovertown on the Pamunkey,’ he wrote, ‘those who saw it say a most affecting scene took place. ‘Twas on the afternoon of Sunday 29th, May & there were a hundred or more ‘[abbreviated n-word]s’ of all ages & sexs [sic] collected together on the river’s bank, They celebrated by singing & prayer their deliverance from slavery. One woman as she looked down upon her baby in her arms said ‘Bress de Lor’ dey can’t sell you.’ ‘ Like many soldiers in the Union army, Russell had had misgivings about emancipation, but his views on the subject had changed. ‘The freeing of the negro is the natural result of the war & the more I see of it the better it is,’ he confessed. ‘It takes away from the South one of their main props in continuing the war. When they are obliged to send some of their fighting strength home to raise crops for those in the Army the sooner will they have to give in.’ ” [pp. 109-110]
The book covers the major battles during the Overland Campaign, as one would expect, but it also covers lesser-known actions such as the Battles of Totopotomoy Creek and Polegreen Church. “This action,” the authors tell us, “marked the transition between the battles of Totopotomoy Creek and Cold Harbor. While the fighting took place here at Polegreen Church on May 31, a sharp cavalry engagement broke out at the Cold Harbor crossroads. Union cavalry succeeded in holding that strategic intersection, but reports to Union headquarters indicated that Confederate infantry were there as well. If the Confederates broke through at Cold Harbor, Grant’s southern flank would be in jeopardy. The Union commander acted decisively, sending the VI Corps on a night march to Cold Harbor, where they would be joined by the XVIII Corps, which had been sent to Grant as reinforcements from Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James.” [pp. 130-131]
While one can’t get the encyclopedic detail of the Overland Campaign from this book that one would get from Gordon Rhea’s series of books on the Overland Campaign, this book is an excellent book to take along to visit the battlefields of the campaign and to give one an understanding of what went on during the campaign.