Friday, April 27, 2012

The Battle of Pea Ridge: The Civil War Fight for the Ozarks / James R. Knight -- Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2012

There is probably no conflict that has been written about more than the U.S. Civil War. This is both due to the large audience for such works and the large number of amateur historians who are able to find publishers for their research. Such research usually focuses narrowly on a subject that is glossed over or even completely ignored by more general, popular works. The best of this work is based on local historical archives and other primary sources and casts the war or events in the war in a new and valuable light. The worst of it is highly derivative and contributes little to what is already known about the war. Often, these works detail events that provide no help in gaining a deeper understanding of the significance of the war. Sadly, James Knight's short book The Battle of Pea Ridge falls more in the latter category than the former.

The Battle of Pea Ridge is precisely what the title suggests: a blow by blow (or movement by movement) account of the battle between Earl Van Dorn's Confederate army and Samuel R. Curtis's Union army. It is mostly workman-like recounting of the events of the battle, though the presentation is sometimes disjointed and the writing is at best journalistic. It will be of interest to amateur military historians, but more expert historians might be disappointed. Its end notes indicate that it owes a great deal to William Shea and Earl Hess's book Pea Ridge (Chapel Hill, N.C.: UNC Press, 1992) and The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume 8 (Washington D.C.: GPO, 1880-1901).

Knight rightly recognizes that the battle is of much greater significance than it is commonly accorded, but it is a shame that he did not do more to place the battle in its broader social and political context.

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