[As I prepare to rewrite The Petersburg Campaign, I will review the books I must read or re-read to do the job right.]
One of Grant’s great strengths lay in that whenever he found himself flat on his face, he picked himself up and got back in the race. He made about ten thrusts at Vicksburg before he captured that city. It took him nine offensives at Petersburg to pry the Cockade City out of Lee’s hands. Grant launched his second offensive at Petersburg a few days after the failure of his first, the initial assaults on the Cockade City. The Federal general-in-chief planned to invest Petersburg from the Appomattox River below the Cockade City to the Appomattox River above, using two corps of infantry. He also sent two divisions of cavalry to destroy Burkeville, where the only railroad that would still link Richmond with the Deep South crossed a railroad that ran from eastern Tennessee to Petersburg. The exploits of Grant’s cavalry during his second offensive became known as the Wilson-Kautz Raid after the leader of the raid, Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson, and his second-in-command, Brig. Gen. August Kautz.
Captain Greg Eanes, USAFR, has written a history of the Wilson-Kautz Raid: ‘Destroy The Junction’—The Wilson-Kautz Raid & The Battle for the Staunton River Bridge, June 21, 1864 to July 1, 1864. He has used an eyewitness format with relatively little exposition linking and explaining matters. His four maps help the reader visualize the raid and three of its four principal fights—Nottoway Court House, Staunton River Bridge, and First Reams Station. The book contains an impressive amount of original research, and makes a significant contribution to scholarship on the raid. Captain Eanes delves into the corporate reports of the railroads involved to demonstrate that it took the Confederates only about three weeks to put the railroads back in action, not the nine weeks Wilson claimed was reported to him after the war. Captain Eanes puts his analysis of the raid in an appendix. He brings an intelligence officer’s perspective to the raid.The eyewitness method employed has its drawbacks though. The witnesses repeat themselves considerably as they view the same actions from their different perspectives. In any new edition of the book, Captain Eanes may want to eliminate less vivid accounts. He will also certainly take a page or two to put the raid in context at the beginning of the book, because his failure to do so leaves all but Petersburg aficionados in the dark about the raid’s place in the second offensive. He may also want to include the map of the vicinity of Sappony Church from Official Reports, Part 1, page 632.
I disagree with Eanes about the purpose of the raid. He thinks Grant launched it to damage the railroads to the point of forcing Lee to abandon Petersburg and Richmond. I think the raid reflects Grant’s preoccupation with Chickamauga. Just the previous autumn the Confederates had shifted troops from Virginia to Georgia to inflict a major defeat on Union forces there. Grant must have considered that the Secessionists might shift men from Georgia to Virginia if he extended his investment of the Cockade City from the lower to the upper Appomattox, cutting the Weldon and South Side Railroads in the process. Such Southern reinforcements would have threatened the flank and rear of Grant’s forces investing Petersburg Destroying the junction at Burkeville would slow the arrival of any reinforcements from Georgia.
Chickamauga also provides the key to understanding something that puzzles Captain Eanes—why the Federal cavalry raiders focused on destroying the track between Burkeville and Staunton River rather than heading straight for High Bridge on the South Side Railroad and Staunton River bridge on the Richmond & Danville. High Bridge did not matter—Secessionist reinforcements from Georgia would not take that route to Virginia. Destruction of Staunton River bridge, which would have taken longer than track to repair, would not have slowed the arrival of reinforcements as much as the destruction of track—ferries could transport reinforcements quickly past the broken bridge to resume their journey by rail on the other side of the river if the raiders had destroyed the bridge and not the track, but reinforcements would have had to march rather than ride over the miles where the raiders had wrecked the track.Despite its minor, easily remedied flaws, though, ‘Destroy The Junction’ makes important contributions to the understanding of the Petersburg Campaign and helps fill a gap in its history. This book belongs on the shelf of anyone who aspires to a fuller comprehension of the Siege of Petersburg.