Press, 2007, ISBN- 978-1-885033-35-2
“If the government would expend the large sums now used to induce men to enlist, in arming the men now in the field with this kind of weapon, the rebellion would be…speedily crushed.” Richard Baumgartner begins his study of Wilder’s brigade at Chickamauga by discussing how and why the unit was equipped. Colonel John Wilder was one of the few officers willing to take a chance on advances in weapons technology by equipping his men with the Spencer repeating rifle in 1863. He also saw that his brigade was mounted, making it a unique part of the Union army in Tennessee. Baumgartner’s book focuses on the pivotal campaign for Chattanooga and the important role Wilder’s brigade had in it.
Baumgartner’s study is richly detailed, well researched, and painstakingly documented. The pages are filled with informative tables and rare photographs, giving the reader valuable insight into the more complex facets of Civil War era logistics. Baumgartner, a former journalist, weaves together an efficient narrative, especially describing Wilder’s troops in complex combat scenarios. The result is an effective book, but a book clearly intended for Civil War buffs. Casual readers may find the subject matter too specialized and the scope too limited to invest the requisite time.
The author chooses not to put Wilder’s troops into the larger context of changing military weapons and tactics. Focusing on the specifics of the Chattanooga campaign (Chickamauga was its decisive battle) Baumgartner relies heavily on his primary sources to expand the narrative. At times quoting entire sections of diaries and letters, the book never leaves the Southeastern Tennessee countryside. Serious students of the Civil War will applaud the painstaking research, but the scope may not attract the less avid reader. Baumgartner could have broadened the appeal by using Wilder’s brigade as an example of how the Civil War was rapidly changing military doctrine.
Richard Baumgartner’s book will be a delight to Civil War and military history buffs. The depth of the research and exciting battle narratives make it one of the better campaign studies in recent years. Casual history readers may not be ready to invest the required time is such a narrow study.
James Madison Preparatory School