Monday, August 22, 2011

Failure in the Saddle -- a good "sniper book"

I have a litle bit of a thing for what I call "sniper books."  These are books on military history that are very tightly focused, dealing with one battle, or one aspect of one campaign.  The books target the issue and maintain a laser-like focus on it and "rip it apart," which is to say they examine it very, very thoroughly.

The best example, as well as the best overall, "sniper book" I've seen so far is Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg, by Timothy B. Smith.  There are a number of books on the Civil War Vicksburg Campaign.  I've read most of them.  Some are better than others, but Champion Hill is the only one to deal exclusively and intimately with the single, day-long major battle of the campaign, at Champion Hill in Mississippi, that ultimately decided the fate of Vicksburg.

Champion Hill is literally an hour-by-hour account of this battle, going through the ebbs and flows and tactical considerations.  It is an excellent piece of work, and one of my favorite military history books overall.

Now another one has come along.  I'm in the process of reading another "sniper book," this one called Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forest, Joseph Wheeler and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign, by David A. Powell.  This one discusses how the poor performance of the vaunted Confederate cavalry, and in particular the famous, otherwise brilliant Rebel cavalry commander Forrest, doomed the Rebel cause during the Chattanooga campaign.  Powell, an expert on the Battle of Chickamauga, seems to be trying, at least in part, to excuse the horrible performance by Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

Failure in the Saddle isn't perfect -- early on the book shows a need for a few more maps as well as an editor -- but so far it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.  I'm always interested in seeing my opinions challenged, so let's see if Powell's case holds up.

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