The Battle of Brandy Station:
North America’s Largest Cavalry Battle
By Eric S. Wittenberg
(November 2010 Civil War News)
Illustrated, photographs, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, 271 pp., 2010, The History Press, www.historypress.net, $24.99, softcover.
The History Press continues its Civil War Sesquicentennial Series with another concise history of a major battle in the war — this time the June 9, 1863, fight at Brandy Station between the cavalry forces of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.
Veteran Civil War cavalry author Eric Wittenberg brings his considerable skills to the task of describing this important opening of the Gettysburg Campaign.
The author states that this book is not intended to be the definitive work on the battle. He notes that an upcoming work by Clark B. “Bud” Hall promises to be more comprehensive. That said, Wittenberg’s book is, in this reviewer’s opinion, superior to the 1959 Fairfax Downey account, Clash of Cavalry, which has long been the standard work.
The Battle of Brandy Station presents a compelling narrative of the events leading up to the momentous clash of June 9, along with concise mini-biographies of the leading participants.
Each side’s plans and movements are described and analyzed. The fluid and chaotic account of the fighting is handled with great ease by an author well-versed in the details of cavalry fighting.
Superb action maps by Steve Stanley add greatly to the combat narrative. Photographs and illustrations of participants, period views and modern locales are generously interspersed throughout the text.
Two appendices accompany the account — orders of battle for both Federal and Confederate forces plus a walking and driving tour of the battlefield that includes GPS coordinates. An extensive bibliography is included along with copious endnotes. Unfortunately there is no index.
Wittenberg is even-handed, covering both sides in detail and meting out praise and criticism often to the same individuals. His use of first-person accounts and a well-honed ability to describe cavalry fighting bring the thunder of thousands of hooves, the clang of steel upon steel and the crack of carbines to life for the reader.
As a work on a very important episode in the development of cavalry fighting in the Civil War, this book is highly recommended.
Reviewer: Kenneth Williams
Kenneth D. Williams is writing a book on the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers and is doing doctoral level work in American history. He has worked as a park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site.