Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat

by Earl J. Hess

From the publisher:
The Petersburg campaign began June 15, 1864, with Union attempts to break an improvised line of Confederate field fortifications. By the time the campaign ended on April 2, 1865, two opposing lines of sophisticated and complex earthworks stretched for thirty-five miles, covering not only Petersburg but also the southeastern approaches to Richmond. This book, the third volume in Earl Hess's trilogy on the war in the eastern theater, recounts the strategic and tactical operations in Virginia during the last ten months of the Civil War, when field fortifications dominated military planning and the landscape of battle.

Hess extracts evidence from maps and earthworks systems, historic photographs of the entrenchments, extensive research in published and archival accounts by men engaged in the campaign, official engineering reports, modern sound imaging to detect mine galleries, and firsthand examination of the remnants of fortifications on the Petersburg battlefield today. The book covers all aspects of the campaign, especially military engineering, including mining and countermining, the fashioning of wire entanglements, the laying of torpedo fields, and the construction of underground shelters to protect the men who manned the works. It also humanizes the experience of the soldiers working in the fortifications, revealing their attitudes toward attacking and defending earthworks and the human cost of trench warfare in the waning days of the war.

Earl J. Hess is associate professor and chair in the Department of History at Lincoln Memorial University. Previous books in his series on field fortifications are Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864and Trench Warfare under Grant and Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign.

Highly recommended. The fortifications information is unique and well worth the price of the book, however, the overall emphasis here is on the campaign rather than the siegecraft.