REVIEW: Sherman’s Horsemen
Updated: Aug 11, 2022
This review was submitted by Patrick McCormick.
Given the sheer number of Civil War books available, even if just those relating to the Western Theater are taken into account, it is not surprising when a first reading of a given volume is over 20 years past its publication date. Such is the case with one I recently finished: Sherman’s Horsemen by David Evans, originally published in 1996.
The subtitle, Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign, is a bit misleading. Rather than covering the entire campaign, after a brief campaign summary the narrative picks up in July 1864, as Sherman prepares to cross the Chattahoochee River. From there, Evans does cover Union cavalry operations thoroughly, particularly the significant raids by Lovell Rousseau, Edward McCook-George Stoneman, and Judson Kilpatrick.
Evans is both minutely detailed and lively in his writing; rather than just relating specifics, he paints a picture. An example, from the beginning of Rousseau’s July 1864 raid from Decatur, Alabama to Marietta, Georgia:
“While quartermaster and commissary officers doled out the last of the corn and hardtack from the supply wagons, Rousseau and his staff scrutinized the breakfasting multitude of men and horses… “
Such descriptive prose appears throughout the volume, yet somehow never gets repetitive, and does not detract from the story line. More important is the rich detail included for every operation, bolstered by participant accounts Union, Confederate, and civilian.
Each major raid gets three or more chapters (including four chapters for each half of the McCook-Stoneman fiasco), while less significant cavalry operations – even the brief period of being dismounted in the trenches – still get their due. Non-cavalry actions are summarized in limited but appropriate detail (for example, the Battle of Atlanta is covered in about two pages.) Thumbnail sketches of significant leaders, mostly division and brigade commanders, are appropriately placed throughout the book, without getting in the way of the narrative. And, in addition to evaluation within the accounts, Evans’ epilogue includes solid analysis of the principal Federal commanders.
The maps, while no-frills, are useful and support the narrative well. The end notes are copious, revealing the great depth of research Evans included in his work, much of it from primary sources. They are my favorite type of notes, often with a few sentences (or even a paragraph) of additional information: extra details that didn’t merit inclusion in the main text, discussions of disagreement between sources, etc.
On balance, this is an excellent work – well-researched and well-written. The only major flaw is that it ignores the first two months of the campaign. Although the period south of the Chattahoochee was by far the most active period for Sherman’s cavalry, one would like to see this same level of detail for the earlier operations.