Book Review: The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865

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by Steven E. Sodergren

Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2017. Pp. xvi, 316. Illus., maps, tables, notes, biblio., index. $47.95. ISBN: 0807165565

Union Morale from the Rapidan to Appomattox

Drawing on hundreds of letters, diaries, and memoirs, as well as records of courts martial, other official documents, plus various published materials, Prof. Sodergren (Norwich) gives us a look at how the heavy fighting and significant losses incurred during of the Overland Campaign and the subsequent long months of trench warfare before Petersburg and Richmond affected the discipline, morale, stamina, and will of the men of the Army of the Potomac.

Two notable conclusions emerge. Firstly, Sodergren notes that the evidence demonstrated that hard fighting and heavy casualties of the Overland Campaign in May and June of 1864 unquestionably weakened the morale, discipline, and confidence of the troops. But secondly, Sodergren concludes that, although less obvious, despite its evident horrors and tedium, the months of trench warfare that followed from the arrival of the army in the Richmond-Petersburg lines to the break out, pursuit, and surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia actually led to a restoration of the army’s discipline, morale, and confidence. Drawing on the troops’ own testimony, Sodergren notes a variety of factors that seem to have contributed to this, such as the greater safety provided by the fortifications, improvements in food supply and amenities due to the stabilization of the front, the increasing sense that the war would soon be over, and more.

The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns is a solid, major contribution to our understanding of why men fought and how they were affected by and adapted to changing wartime conditions.

 

Note: The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns is also available as a pdf, 978-1-8071-6557-7, epub, 978-1-8071-6558-4, and in several e-book reader editions.

 

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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