The Battle of Glendale - The Day the South Nearly Won the Civil War, Jim Stempel

The Battle of Glendale - The Day the South Nearly Won the Civil War, Jim Stempel

The battle of Glendale is one of the more obscure of the Seven Day’s Battles, mainly because Lee’s plan for a coordinated assault on the retreating Union Army of the Potomac didn’t come off. As a result what might have turned into a major Confederate victory was instead a fairly minor clash between relatively small parts of the two armies. Most mentions of the battle focus on Stonewall Jackson’s poor performance at the northern end of the battlefield, 

I must admit I find the author’s tendency to repeat his view that the battle could have seen the Confederacy win the war, or that individual Confederate attacks (or planned attacks) could have split the Union army in two or destroyed it on a very regular basis rather annoying. I would have preferred that part of his account to be limited to the introduction and the conclusion, leaving the main account of the battle unencumbered other than at one or two key moments.

The maps are problematic. They all show five Union units, facing seven or eight Confederate units, giving the impression of an outnumbered Union force. However the five Union units shown don’t actually show the entire army. In addition one represents a full Corps and the others Divisions, without making that clear. In addition the details stop at the Union front line, so the road network further east isn’t show (including an alternative north-south route used by some of the Union supply trains. While there is a justifiable case for not showing every unit on every map, there should be one overview map that shows the entire force.

I’m not convinced by the author’s argument about the Confederacy’s chances of winning the sort of crushing victory that might have broken the willingness of the United States to continue the fight. He actually rather undermines his own argument at one point, when discussing Lee’s command style and how it failed at Glendale. Here he comments that Lee’s plan relied on his army operating smoothly, with each of his subordinates understanding Lee’s intentions and carrying out his orders promptly and with skill, but at the same time says that nothing Lee had seen during the fighting outside Richmond allowed him to make that assumption. The impression one gets throughout the book is that the Confederate army at this stage could fight with great determination, but that Lee needed to keep a much firmer grip on his subordinates than he was willing to do.

This may sound like a major problem with the book, but in reality it’s a minor quibble. Stempel’s account of the battle itself is excellent - clear and easy to follow, equally willing to give credit to both sides and to criticise both sides. McClellan comes in for more criticism than Lee, but that’s hardly surprising given his truly woeful performance during the entire Peninsula Campaign. He wasn’t even present at Glendale, having essentially deserted his army by riding ahead to join the fleet. There are also some fascinating sections on why people who didn’t have to fight were willing to risk everything, especially useful for some of the Union commanders. Although I’m not convinced that this was such a good chance to win the war as the author, I still consider this to be a valuable addition to the literature on the Seven Days and the Peninsula Campaign as a whole.

1 - The Great Skedaddle
2 - A View from the Gazelle
3 - Kearny le Magnifique
4 - Morning
5 - Orders at Daybreak
6 - Delay on the Charles City Road
7 - The Rear Guard of All God's Creation
8 - Dithering at White Oak Swamp
9 - The Long Wait
10 - A Perfect Model of a Christian Hero
11 - A Battle of Axes
12 - For the Nonce Below Their Wanted Tension
13 - Riot on the River Road
14 - Misfortune's Plaything
15 - A Thing Understood as It Really Is
16 - The Gallant Jenkins
17 - Go Build a Bridge
18 - A Reckless Impetuosity I Never Saw Equaled
19 - Nightfall
20 - I Had Gained Command of the Quaker Road
21 - One Blood-Chilling Cry of Pain
22 - I'll See You All in Hell
23 - Cowardice or Treason
24 - The Lost Day of the Lost Cause

Author: Jim Stempel
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 222
Publisher: McFarland
Year: 2011

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