22 August 2011

Book Review - The Battle of Piedmont by Scott Patchan

I received the updated edition of Scott Patchan's book about the Battle of Piedmont earlier this summer but have taken my time to read through it carefully due to my keen interest in this battle. Though I'd read the previous edition some time ago, it was no longer in print and I'd been looking forward to seeing the new edition since I first learned that Scott had updated the original. It was well worth the wait. I will admit that I have a special interest in this particular engagement. First of all, Piedmont is located near my home in Augusta County, Virginia - about a 20 minute drive through beautiful countryside from where I live. Secondly, my mother was born in New Hope, which is a small community adjacent to Piedmont. (Actually, Piedmont was nothing more than a crossroads and small general store in its hey day - there's really nothing left to mark it anymore, other than the boarded up store.) Finally, my great-great grandfather, John Meredith Crutchfield, was wounded at Piedmont while serving in Virginia's 60th Infantry. He was involved in some of the heaviest fighting of the battle. Grandpa Crutchfield's personal experience adds an interesting back story to what happened on that June day in 1864. 

The Battle of Piedmont is probably one of the most overlooked Civil War battles to have taken place on Virginia soil. This despite the fact casualties from the battle were more than any of Jackson's legendary Valley campaign of 1862. The casualties also outnumbered those of New Market; and the bitter memories of New Market served as a rallying cry for the vengeance seeking yankees at Piedmont. Though overlooked, Piedmont was an important battle. As Patchan points out:

Most importantly, the true significance of Piedmont has dissipated over the years. Although its obscurity can be explained, it cannot be justified. At the time, Piedmont changed the course of the war in Virginia.

Published by The History Press as part of their Civil War Sesquicentennial Series, Patchan's book is an easy, but interesting read. The style is crisp and the narrative moves along at a good clip, keeping the reader's interest while not getting too bogged down in minutia; as do many WBTS books which focus on battles. Yet Patchan does a great job of describing the terrain and movements of the opposing armies that fought at Piedmont that fateful day of June 5th, 1864. Ample maps, along with present day photographs, allow the reader to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each army's initial field positions and how Union General David Hunter took advantage of a weakness in Confederate General William E. "Grumble" Jones' line at a crucial moment in the fighting.

My ancestor was most likely wounded during some of the heaviest fighting as his unit was in the thick of it. He was taken prisoner and transferred to the infamous Camp Morton in Indiana where he suffered, along with other Confederate POW's, in miserable and cruel conditions. He was later transferred to Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond where he died in March of 1865. His widow and family never knew what became of him until the 1950's when my great aunt did the research and found his records. 

Several of the homes and farm structures that stood during the battle are still standing, though driving through the quiet, peaceful community today one sees no evidence of the bloody battle that took place there almost 150 years ago. Even so, some locals still harbor not-too-pleasant memories of those who invaded their community those many years ago. Some years ago, I spoke to a woman who lived on a farm in Piedmont that had been in the family for generations. In discussing the battle with her one day, I mentioned George Armstrong Custer. Her back stiffened as she clenched her jaw and said, "We don't mention that name in my home. That devil burned our barn for no reason other than his own entertainment." I quickly changed the subject.

For a concise and interesting read of one of the Civil War's "forgotten" battles, one could not do better than Scott Patchan's The Battle of Piedmont and Hunter's Raid on Staunton.


13thBama said...

Great review! I will have to look for this the next trip I make to the book store.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

13B - thanks. I tend to keep the book reviews here (the few that I do) short and sweet - like most of my posts - w/out a lot of detail. But I hope I provided enough info to create some interest with readers. It really is a good read.

Vern Goetz said...

My interest in the battle and thus this book stems from a great-great grandfather of mine, Frederick Brandt, being killed in the battle. He was a private in the 28th OH and was only a few days from his three years enlistment being up. Shot through the head according to family records. He had immigrated from Germany in the 1840's to get away from the warring going on there. Strange & ironic. No idea exactly when in the battle he was killed, but it was quite emotional for me reading the book's passages detailing the actions of the 28th OH. Thanks, Scott. Had the opportunity to visit the battlefield a few years back. Quite peaceful farmland. Just a modest roadside marker to note the battle. Assume his body was dug up & moved to Staunton National Cemetery in the late 1860's with many others and he's in one of the Unknown Soldiers graves.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Vern - thanks for the comment.

"immigrated from Germany in the 1840's to get away from the warring going on there. Strange & ironic."

Yes, and sad too.