15 February 2016
This is a revised and expanded 150th Anniversary Edition of a book first published in 1991, telling the story of the longest and most costly siege ever to take place in North America.
The Last Citadel: Petersburg, June 1864 – April 1865
Noah Andre Trudeau, Savas Beatie, California, 2014; 520 pp hardback, $32.95; £22.50 in UK from Casemate UK Ltd
This is a revised and expanded 150th Anniversary Edition of a book first published in 1991, telling the story of the longest and most costly siege ever to take place in North America, which effectively broke the will to resist of the Confederacy. The author’s Preface to this new edition claims that The Last Citadel “…has stood the test of time and remains the only significant one volume history of the overall Petersburg campaign.”
The story is told largely through the words of the officers and men of the opposing armies and of the inhabitants of Petersburg in the form of a chronological narrative, full of period detail and illuminating anecdotes.
One learns, for example, that the US Military Railroad was “an up and downhill affair, scarcely any grading except steep rises and across chasms” because “They just placed ties [‘sleepers’ in UK] on top of the ground and laid the rails across them” so that “The soldiers declared that it made them sick to ride on its cars.”
An unusual perspective is offered by a description of Confederate secret agent John Maxwell’s attempt to blow up munitions collected at City Point on August 9th, 1864, by means of a “horological torpedo” – which sounds as if it belongs in a Victorian Science Fiction or Steampunk roleplaying game, but was, presumably, merely a bomb detonated by a clockwork mechanism.
Most of the book, of course, deals with the bloody, attritional fighting over the entrenchments and forts that formed the defences of Petersburg and foreshadowed the trench warfare of the Great War in Europe. A chapter describing siege life contains a helpful map of the ‘Petersburg Forts and Lines’ which I would recommend copying to keep at one’s side whilst reading to help place the events in the narrative of the siege. There is also ‘a word picture of the typical trench system’ with explanations of the technical terms, but it is a shame that no explanatory diagram illustrating the appearance of such trenches, or a cross-section thereof, has been provided.
Rather than reproduce familiar photographs of the Petersburg campaign, the author has chosen to “…emphasize the work of the Special Artists. These illustrator-correspondents went into the field with the troops and, working from soldiers’ accounts and firsthand observations, sketched all aspects of the siege, from the deadly tedium of trench warfare to the violent moments of combat… I have selected some of their original field sketches for inclusion, since these images seem to me to capture the vividness of the moment in a way unequalled by any other medium of the time.”
Seventeen such sketches, by Edwin Forbes, Alfred and William Waud, are reproduced in the centre of the book; others – together with some contemporary photographs – are used at the start of the six sections into which the book is divided. Twenty three maps, redrawn for this edition, show the theatre of operations, manoeuvres and engagements of the campaign in a clear, easy to follow style.
Detailed orbats down to brigade level, with the names of commanders and of their successors or replacements during the period covered by the book, are provided, but no strengths of formations or units are given.
A Notes section of twenty one pages discusses the sources used chapter by chapter, and there is an extensive bibliography.
This book will certainly appeal to ACW enthusiasts. Wargamers may find adapting rules designed for the Great War of 1914-18 will enable them to recreate the campaign or individual assaults more easily than using more conventional ACW rules that tend to focus upon engagements from Bull Run to Gettysburg that were fought on open battlefields.
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