I recently finished reading Eric J. Wittenberg’s newest book, “The Battle of Brandy Station.” Thoroughly researched and well written, the book is up to the high standards that Wittenberg has established with his previous titles on Civil War cavalry. Jim Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, penned the foreword for the book.
“The Battle of Brandy Station” starts quickly with background information on events following the debacle of US Major General Joe Hooker’s Battle of Chancellorsville. The author next discusses the changes in command of the Federal Cavalry Corps that took place when US Major General George Stoneman takes sick leave and is replaced by Major General Alfred Pleasanton who will command the cavalry until he is replaced by Major General Philip Sheridan prior to the Overland Campaign. A brief amount of space is next given to Pleasanton’s actions in the Northern Neck of Virginia that the author explains provides a boost in morale for the Federal mounted arm.
Next, Wittenberg provides expert appraisals of the cavalry commanders. In this discussion, he provides his reviews on Pleasanton, J.E.B. Stuart, John Buford, David Gregg, Alfred Duffié, Charles Whiting, W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee, Wade Hampton, William E. “Grumble” Jones and Beverly Robertson. I found this analysis fascinating. It provided me the background knowledge I needed to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each commander and how they impacted their actions at Brandy Station.
No narrative of Brandy Station would be complete without a discussion on J.E.B. Stuart’s grand reviews. The last grand review took place on June 8, the day before the battle, with Robert E. Lee in attendance. Wittenberg describes in detail Stuart’s reviews and the controversy surrounding them. I found “Grumble” Jones’ reaction to the final grand review particularly interesting.
Wittenberg next moves to the tactical actions of the battle. Brandy Station is fascinating because of the complexity of the action. The author is able to make you feel as if you are taking part in the charges, all the while keeping the actions framed in the larger scope of battle. While complex, Wittenberg breaks the battle down into easily understood segments, each being given their own chapter:
Chapter 6 – Buford’s Assault and the Death of Grimes Davis
Chapter 7 – The Fight for the Guns at St. James Church
Chapter 8 – The Action Shifts (a description of the fight on Rooney Lee’s front)
Chapter 9 – Gregg’s Command Arrives
Chapter 10 – The Fight for Fleetwood Hill
Chapter 11 – The Duel on Yew Ridge
Chapter 12 – Duffié at Stevensburg
Chapter 13 – The Great Battle Ends
The final chapter provides the author’s expert analysis of the battle. As you would expect from one of the foremost authorities on Civil War cavalry, Wittenberg is able to wrap up all the loose ends and put them in one nice tidy package of eleven pages that places North America’s largest cavalry engagement in context with previous actions and the upcoming Gettysburg Campaign. The epilogue, “A Tale of Two Soldiers,” is very enjoyable and makes the book even more valuable to any Civil War student.
While often overlooked by readers, the appendix’s of the “Battle of Brandy Station,” provide additional useful information on the battle.
Appendix A – Order of Battle
Appendix B – A Walking and Driving Tour of the Battle of Brandy Station (the author includes GPS coordinates for points of interest making this quite valuable for anyone planning a trip to the battlefield)
I highly recommend “The Battle of Brandy Station” for any serious student of the Civil War. It provides more than enough detail for the avid reader while at the same time providing the necessary background information for the casual reader. For more information on Eric Wittenberg, or to purchase his books, check out his website by clicking HERE.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Eric about “The Battle of Brandy Station.” In this 75 minute interview Wittenberg speaks candidly about his newest book. It is quite revealing and highlights his expert knowledge on Civil War cavalry. I have edited the interview into smaller segments that allow you to listen at your leisure and return to the next part without losing your place. This is my second interview with Eric. Last September I spoke with him about his book, “Like a Meteor Blazing Brightly: The Short but Controversial Life of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren.” You can listen to this interview by clicking HERE.
Eric J. Wittenberg Interview – 11 Parts
“The Battle of Brandy Station”
Interview Date: May 10, 2010
Total Time: 1 hour 14 minutes 07 seconds
Part 1: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 1
Contents: Welcome and introductions | How Eric got involved with The History Press | Why write about Brandy Station? | The Battle of Chancellorsville and the lead up to Brandy Station | The raids on the Northern Neck of Virginia in May 1863 | About Alfred Pleasanton
Part 2: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 2
Contents: Federal cavalry scouting in Culpeper County, Virginia | US Major General Joe Hooker’s concerns about a Confederate cavalry raid in Northern Virginia | The Federal failure to detect Robert E. Lee’s movement to the north | Hooker is again plagued by indecisiveness | The tactical deployment of the opposing cavalry forces | Pleasanton’s intelligence is flawed with regards to the position of Stuart’s cavalry | Pleasanton’s tactical plan
Part 3: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 3
Contents: Wittenberg’s assessment of J.E.B. Stuart and a comparison to Alfred Pleasanton | Stuart’s actions during the Battle of Brandy Station | An assessment and background of US Brigadier General John Buford
Part 4: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 4
Contents: Wittenberg’s assessment of Pleasanton’s subordinate commanders | J.E.B. Stuart passed over for infantry corps command
Part 5: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 5
Contents: Eric’s assessment of J.E.B. Stuart’s brigade commanders | J.E.B. Stuart’s final cavalry review – did it provide essential intelligence for Pleasanton? Was this intelligence properly used?
Part 6: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 6
Contents: Pleasanton’s use of infantry units | How did Pleasanton not know the disposition of Stuart’s forces? | The Battle of Brandy Station opens on Buford’s front | The death of Benjamin “Grimes” Davis | The gallant charge of the 6th Pennsylvania and 6th U.S. Regular cavalry against Beckham’s cannons
Part 7: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 7
Contents: Eric’s use of firsthand accounts and how he approaches his research | The arrival of David Gregg’s Federal cavalry division | John Buford’s frustration at being held back | J.E.B. Stuart reacts to Gregg’s attack | Beverly Robertson’s Confederate brigade’s performance at Kelly’s Ford
Part 8: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 8
Contents: The battle for Fleetwood Hill | The charges of the 1st New Jersey and 1st Pennsylvania cavalry regiments | Captain Joseph Martin’s Federal artillery endures an attack by the 6th Virginia Cavalry and the 35th Virginia Cavalry Battalion | The actions of Pierce Young’s CSA Cobb’s Legion at St. James Church and Fleetwood Hill | The actions of Calvin Douty’s 1st Maine Cavalry at Fleetwood Hill
Part 9: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 9
Contents: A description of the fight for Fleetwood Hill | Lunsford Lomax’s 11th Virginia attacks Martin’s Federal battery – Martin’s gunners valiant effort to save their guns | Buford’s division is turned loose against Rooney Lee’s Confederate cavalry brigade | The 3d Wisconsin and 2d Massachusetts infantry attempts to flank Rooney Lee | The 6th Pennsylvania and 6th U.S. cavalry and the duel for Yew’s Ridge | 2d U.S. Cavalry goes into the fight | Rooney Lee commits his reserve and is wounded by Captain Wesley Merritt | Thomas Munford’s troopers (Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade) arrive on the field in time to rescue Rooney Lee | Buford’s retreat across the Rappahannock River
Part 10: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 10
Contents: Alfred Duffié finally arrives | The death of Will Farley and Frank Hampton | An analysis of Alfred Duffié | The implications of battle on the home front | The maturation of the Federal mounted arm | An analysis of the Battle of Brandy Station and its implications during the Gettysburg Campaign
Part 11: Eric Wittenberg Interview Part 11
Contents: Future projects Wittenberg is working on | Wrap up and closing