The Wilderness

Updated 8/18/03

Eastern ACW Books

Grant vs. Lee. The big showdown. Butcher vs. Master. Time out! I don't subscribe to that last theory at all, and neither does Gordon Rhea. His books on the Wilderness and the rest of the Virginia Overland Campaign of 1864 have shown that Grant was not some bloodthirsty monster ready to kill as many men as possible. They likewise show that Lee did make mistakes in the campaign, and was not the flawless master "The Lost Cause" mythologists would have you believe. The Wilderness was one bloody vicious fight that occurred in some of the most tangled undergrowth the soldiers of either side ever experienced. Lee's plan to catch Grant's men in the tangled second-growth forest to offset the Union's numerical superiority worked well. The problem was that unlike the numerous men before him, Grant did not retreat after the battle. He just kept pushing ahead. One other thing to note here: Grant was NOT the commander of the AotP at this time, and in fact never was. George G. Meade, the hero of Gettysburg, stayed at the post throughout the rest of the war. One of my pet peeves is hearing someone say Grant commanded the AotP. Give Meade his due already!


Bloody Roads South: The Wilderness to Cold Harbor May-June 1864

Noah Andre Trudeau
I didn't really like this book very much. The maps tell you next to nothing and there are very few of them. Also, Trudeau only scrapes the surface of each battle, and I didn't really learn much from this book. Steer clear and buy Rhea's books. 392 pp., 4 maps (one?! for each battle covered)

The Battle of the Wilderness: May 5-6, 1864

Gordon C. Rhea
The definitive book on the Wilderness. Gordon Rhea has completely changed my mind about the 1864 Overland Campaign. I always avoided reading about it and found it generally uninteresting. But then Rhea's book came out, and I bought it just to find out more about the Wilderness. I was greatly and pleasantly surprised by his work. I read the book quickly and immediately began to see that Rhea had dome some serious research, uncovering new facts and debunking old ones. George Skoch does the maps, and these look very good. I only wish a few more went down to the regimental level, but then again I always find myself wishing that. Simple review: Buy it! 512 pp., 20 maps

The Battle of the Wilderness: Grant & Lee Below the Rapidan River

Various Authors
This is another issue of Savas Publishing's fine "Civil War Regiments" series. The initial essay is by the battle's foremost scholar, Gordon Rhea himself. This volume makes a fine companion to Rhea's definitive book. The maps are as usual excellently done, with varying degrees of detail as appropriate. The subjects covered include Stevenson's Union IX Corps Division's role in the battle, an essay on the 33rd North Carolina, and the battles of Confederate General John M. Jones, among others. 188 pp., 7 maps

The Wilderness Campaign

Gary W. Gallagher

Various Authors

This is another of Gary Gallagher's essay series, and it is one of the best entries to date, IMHO. Many knowledgeable historians were recruited for this one. John Hennessy appears outside of his usual Bull Run role to tackle the Army of the Potomac's preparations for the spring campaign. Gary Gallagher, the editor, writes a similar essay on the Army of Northern Virginia that spring. Gordon Rhea appears in this book as well, giving us a nice article on James Wilson's Union Cavalry and their crucial mistakes in the opening days of the campaign. The father and son team of Bob K. and Bob E.L. Krick tackle the "Lee to the rear" episode and Longstreet's flank attack on June 6, respectively. The other essays were also all well-written. I enjoyed this book as much as any in Gallagher's whole series, and I own almost every one he has had published. Buy this. You won't be sorry you did. 283 pp., 12 maps
John Cannan
John Cannan's book on the Wilderness is another of Combined Publishing's "Great Campaigns" series, so I would again recommend it for the young or beginning Civil War buff. The book contains 11 maps, and not one shows the forests present. This was the battle of the Wilderness, right? Trees played a large role in this battle, so you'd think they would come up with maps that showed where trees were and weren't! Get this for your kids, otherwise steer clear and just get Rhea's book. 238 pp., 11 maps

Nowhere to Run: The Wilderness, May 4th & 5th, 1864


John Michael Priest

Updated 8/18/03 I finally got my hands on the first of these two volumes. A review will follow after I have read the book. 316 pp., 45 maps

Victory Without Triumph: The Wilderness, May 6th & 7th, 1864

John Michael Priest
Ah, another book by John Priest, a man who really should write more books! He has his usual style which is EXTREMELY detailed, and maps abound in this book as well. As you might have noticed or already known, this book is actually the second of two volumes covering the Wilderness. I bought this a long time ago and have always looked for the first volume every time I go to the local book stores. I finally found it at This book is excellent for scenario designers to pick up. It's OOB gives a lot, but not all, of the regimental strengths for the units engaged in the fight. Due to lost records, it is impossible to tell exactly how many troops some Confederate regiments carried into the fighting. 331 pp., 31 maps