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Book Review "We Are In For It!" - The First Battle of Kernstown by Gary Ecelbarger

Discussion in 'Book & Movie Review Tent' started by James N., Sep 13, 2016.

  1. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Thanks to @NedBaldwin and his recommendation, when I spied this title in the stall of a book vendor in a local antique mall I snapped it up and have just finished it. It is one of a very few titles to examine fully a single battle of Stonewall Jackson's legendary 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, although since Kernstown was the first of them author Gary Ecelbarger also devotes a great deal of attention to setting up the situation that campaign had its genesis in. One of the very positive strengths of this book is the fair balance given to both sides in his excellent account which is too often told entirely or mostly from the perspective of Jackson and his men.

    One shadowy figure who is given a great deal of attention is Union Brig. Gen. Frederick Lander who was the original commander of the Federal division that fought at Kernstown and later at Port Republic. Ecelbarger explains how Lander molded the command into one of the few Union forces that enjoyed success in the otherwise dismal winter of 1861-62, toughening it and giving it some small victories to enhance morale. Unfortunately the often abrasive Lander fell victim to illness, dying before the Valley Campaign got underway. Replaced by the at first well-regarded and Irish-born Brig. Gen. James Shields, the division was at first assigned to the V Corps of Nathaniel Banks before being ordered to leave the Valley to join that of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell at Manassas.

    Shields' move brought about the battle that is really the focus of the story. The author uses many divergent and often contradictory sources to explain and illustrate what can at times be a confused and confusing series of events that have often obscured the actual ebb and flow of the battle. One very positive and welcome aspect has been his careful analysis of troop strengths and casualty figures to show that although Jackson was seriously outnumbered, it was not by the huge margin often stated: Shields' regiments had been weakened in much the same way the Confederates had, and by the same wearing effects of weather and problems of supply.

    Subordinate commanders on both sides also dealt with problems created by their superiors. Shields was wounded in the opening moments, and although he made some ineffectual effort to direct events from his bed in Winchester, the colonels commanding his brigades and regiments acted in many cases on their own with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, post-battle Shields attempted to grab most of the credit, leaving his able subordinate Nathan Kimball largely unrecognized. Jackson's notorious secrecy and lack of communication played havoc with the efforts of his brigade commanders, particularly Richard Garnett, Samuel Fulkerson, and to a lesser extent Turner Ashby. Garnett's subsequent efforts to exonerate himself from the charges brought against him by Stonewall are fully examined and described in the postscript.

    For anyone wishing an in-depth study of the first battle at Kernstown or the first phase of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign I highly recommend Ecelbarger's excellent addition to the Stonewall Jackson Bookshelf!
     

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  3. E_just_E

    E_just_E Captain Forum Host

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    Thanks! Does he get into the Garnett situation after the battle more that Gwynne does in Rebel Yell? If so, I'd have to find a copy...
     
  4. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Sorry, E_just_E; I haven't read Rebel Yell yet, so can't compare the two. There is full coverage of the battle, however, plus a final chapter detailing as much of the subsequent trial as ocurred before it was cancelled pending Banks' move towards Cedar Mountain. It's quite obvious that Garnett was basically being scapegoated by Stonewall.
     
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  5. E_just_E

    E_just_E Captain Forum Host

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    Thanks! I ordered a copy. Jackson had issues with Garnett on a couple different layers: a. Garnett (like Pickett, btw) had a child with an Indian woman outside formal wedlock when stationed west in the 1850s. That did not stand well with Jackson's religious and personal convictions on both the out of wedlock and the racial mixing thing. b. Garnett treated his soldiers like human beings, eg. letting them take breaks from marching to rest and eat, despite taking longer to go from place A to B. And he was commanding the Stonewall Bridage, mind you. At some point (before Kernstown) the Brigade was so fed up with Jackson that they would not acknowledge him publicly. Pretty sure there was a lot of jealousy and disdain there as well...

    Long story. Was just wondering if there was more info than I know about Garnett's activities in VA between Kerstown and Gettysburg. Guess I will find out sooner, but I really got to bite the bullet and go through the bureaucracy to go and look at the Garnett Papers at the MoC again more thoroughly...
     
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  6. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Ecelbarger appears to have relied heavily for his information about Garnett's personal life on the account by Robert Krick in his chapter in the slim anthology on the third day at Gettysburg that compares the parallel lives of Garnett and Lewis Armistead.
     
  7. E_just_E

    E_just_E Captain Forum Host

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    ahhh...

    Thanks for the heads up.
     
  8. James N.

    James N. Captain Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    I think you'll still find it worthwhile for his analysis of this often-confusing battle though; his time-line approach is most enlightening.
     
  9. E_just_E

    E_just_E Captain Forum Host

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    Definitely. That's why I ordered a copy. I have done minimal reading on that battle...
     
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  10. E_just_E

    E_just_E Captain Forum Host

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    And I received it over the weekend and been reading it on the train this week. Thanks for the recommendation. Great book!

    Just got me wonder whether there was a single person under him he ever got along :smile:
     
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  11. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    Thanks for posting this. Glad to see it feature today!
     
  12. CW Watch Collector

    CW Watch Collector First Sergeant

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    This battle is of particular interest to me because I own a watch that was presented to Brigadier General Joseph Tarr Copeland in 1864 by the officers of Camp Copeland, a large recruit collection and training base near my home town of Pittsburgh, PA. General Copeland was the original C.O. of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, the "Wolverines," who saw their first fight at First Kernstown under Copeland's command. They reportedly captured a couple hundred or so confederate prisoners that day. Of course, the Wolverines would achieve their greatest fame, and suffer their greatest losses, on the East Cavalry Field during Day 3 of Gettysburg, under the command of George Custer, who relieved Copeland, reportedly on account of his age (he was 50!), two days before that battle. But it was Copeland who had molded the Wolverines into an outstanding fighting force, first as the colonel of two of its regiments in sequence and then as their brigadier, and who had had the early foresight and initiative to equip his brigade with repeating carbines at a time when the upper brass still disapproved of the innovative weapons.

    I will order the book. Thank you!

    Shown are pictures of the watch, and a street sign in Rankin PA, only a few miles from my home, for one of two streets (Copeland Street, and Copeland Avenue) tracing a part of what was once the perimeter of Camp Copeland.
     

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  13. SharonS

    SharonS Private

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    I've read this author's Three Days in the Shenandoah about Front Royal and Winchester (two battles rather than one) and thought it was outstanding. I have it in a Kindle edition but it's available in paperback for $13 to $14. I may get one, because I don't read ebooks for fun--just research. Remarkably, used copies are a lot more expensive.
     
  14. eBrowne

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  15. eBrowne

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  16. Jimklag

    Jimklag Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    Thanks for the great review. I think I'll order a copy.
     
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  17. CW Watch Collector

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    Last edited: Jun 12, 2017
  18. CW Watch Collector

    CW Watch Collector First Sergeant

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    This I did not have! Thanks very much.

    Based on this report, I was caused to remember that at the time of First Kernstown, the Michigan Cavalry Brigade had not yet been consolidated from its constituent regiments, and Copeland, then still a Lt. Colonel, was in command of the First Michigan Cavalry Regiment.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2017
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