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The War on the West
Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah
Major General Franz Sigel and the War in the Valley of Virginia, May 1864av David Powell221
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The Battle of New Market in the Shenandoah Valley suffers from no lack of drama, interest, or importance. The ramifications of the May 1864 engagement, which involved only 10,000 troops, were substantial. Previous studies, however, focused on the Confederate side of the story. David Powell's, Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah: Major General Franz Sigel and the War in the Valley of Virginia, May 1864, provides the balance that has so long been needed. Union General Ulysses S. Grant regarded a spring campaign in the Valley of Virginia as integral to his overall strategy designed to turn Robert E. Lee's strategic western flank, deny his Army of Northern Virginia much needed supplies, and prevent other Confederates from reinforcing Lee. It fell to Union general and German transplant Franz Sigel to execute Grant's strategy in the northern reaches of the Shenandoah while Maj. Gen. George Crook struck elsewhere in southwestern Virginia. Sigel's record in the field was checkered at best, and he was not Grant's first choice to lead the effort, but a combination of politics and other factors left the German in command. Sigel met Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge and his small army on May 15 just outside the crossroads town of New Market. The hard-fought affair hung in the balance until finally the Union lines broke, and Sigel's Yankees fled the field. Breckinridge's command included some 300 young men from the Virginia Military Institute's Corps of Cadets. VMI's presence and dramatic role in the fighting ensured that New Market would never be forgotten, but pushed other aspects of this interesting and important campaign into the back seat of history. Award-winning author David Powell's years of archival and other research provides an outstanding foundation for this outstanding study. Previous works have focused on the Confederate side of the battle, using Sigel's incompetence as sufficient excuse to explain why the Federals were defeated. This methodology, however, neglects the other important factors that contributed to the ruin of Grant's scheme in the Valley. Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah delves into all the issues, analyzing the campaign from an operational standpoint. Complete with original maps, photos, and the skillful writing readers have come to expect from the pen of David Powell, Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah will satisfy the most demanding students of Civil War history.
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"A masterful job. The author's writing style is excellent. . . . Lots of information and analysis in a relatively short work . . . well worth the read."--Journal of the Shenandoah Valley During the Civil War Era "...provides a fresh perspective on the May 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign. By shifting attention away from the VMI cadets to the Union military's strategic goals and command structure, Powell adds nuance and depth to a well-studied campaign."--The Civil War Monitor "The author's writing style is excellent, making it easy, even for the casual student of the Civil War, to follow the strategic and tactical movements and how they influenced each other."--The NYMAS Review
David A. Powell is a 1983 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute with a B.A. in history. After graduating from VMI, he went to work for CBS Messenger-a family business in the Chicago area-but never lost his intense interest in military history, especially in the American Civil War. David has written numerous articles for a variety of magazines, more than fifteen historical simulations of various battles, and regularly leads tours of the Chickamauga battlefield. His previous books include The Maps of Chickamauga: An Atlas of the Chickamauga Campaign, Including the Tullahoma Operations, June 22 - September 23, 1863 (2009), and Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign (2010), the recipient of the Atlanta Civil War Round Table's Richard B. Harwell Award.