The battle of Monroe’s Crossroads was the last major cavalry battle of the American Civil War, and took place late in Sherman’s victorious march through the heart of the Confederacy. It saw the Confederate cavalry of Wade Hampton ambush the over-confident Union forces of Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (one of many Union cavalry commanders was wasn’t really up to the job). At first the Confederates had everything their own way, and forced Kilpatrick to flee from his quarters as they overran his camp, but the Confederates were unable to take full advantage of their early success, Kilpatrick rallied his men, and the battle ended as a clear Union victory.
Kilpatrick didn’t have a terribly impressive reputation as a cavalry commander, and had been caught out on more than one occasion before Monroe’s crossroads, but clearly didn’t learn from his mistakes. He failed to post proper pickets around his campsite at Monroe’s Crossroads, and as a result Wade Hampton was given a rare chance to carry out an ambush of an entire enemy command. Wittenberg traces the two men’s road to the crossroads, looks at Hampton’s plan of attack, and then takes us into the battle itself. Part of the Confederate force managed to catch the Union troops entirely unawares, with many men still in their tents, but at this stage Hampton’s own planning becomes suspect. He failed to order a proper examination of the area some of his troops were meant to advance across, and as a result a large part of his command got stuck in a swamp and was unable to play its proper part in the attack. We then move onto Kilpatrick’s impressive response - after escaping from his quarters, he managed to rally his command and lead a counterattack that eventually forced the Confederates to retreat.
Wittenberg then moves on to follow the last few days of the war, looking at the impact the battle had on the final few battles of Sherman’s campaign. There is perhaps a tendency here to over-emphasis the impact Hampton’s early success at Monroe’s Crossroads had on the campaign, which did end without another Confederate victory. I’d say the author is also someone over-impressed with the initial Confederate success in the battle, which owned far more to Kilpatrick’s carelessness than it did to Hampton’s plans, but otherwise this is a wall balanced account of a relatively obscure but interesting Civil War battle.
1 - Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and his Federal Dragoons
2 - Wade Hampton and his Confederate Cavaliers
3 - A Sure Sign of Things to Come
4 - Groping in the Dark
5 - 'We Fell upon the Camp like a Small Avalanche'
6 - 'One of the Most Terrific Hand-to-Hand Encounters I Ever Witnessed'
7 - The Aftermath
8 - A Critical Assessment
Author: Eric Wittenberg
Publisher: Savas Beatie