Saturday, June 4, 2011

An Account of the Battle of Wilson's Creek by R. I. Holcombe

This book is part of my 7-year Civil War Challenge, where I read books relating to the part of the Civil War that is 150 years old. 2011 is 1861.

Not entirely satisfied with the other book I read on Wilson's Creek, I reached out into the public domain of and found this text, which is smaller, punchier, and ultimately more effective at giving me the details of the battle that certainly made it seem as if Missouri would be lost to the Union in the Civil War.

This text, which was clearly a source for the newer book, was written in 1883 and spends more time trying to get first person accounts of the battle from those who survived, which is why it is a far more engaging read than the drier, more matter of fact Battle of Wilson's Creek book. Holcombe repeatedly discusses his efforts to find facts from those who were there, and as a result, there is far more editorial commentary and criticism, particularly of General McCullouch's bungling that prevented the South from gaining an even more impressive victory.

As in the other book, it's clear the odds were against Lyon and he died trying to do his best with the crappy situation General Fremont (and to an extent, Lincoln) had placed him. This book posited the idea that had Lyon left the Confederates a way to retreat, he might have even won the battle. I doubt this, given the difference in strength, but it was certainly an interesting idea.

The book itself sometimes slips into breathless prose, but ironically, it has a far more modern feel than history texts written around the middle of the 20th Century. I appreciate the commentary and occasional sarcasm, as it is used quite appropriately and keeps things moving when you are discussing troop formations and whatnot. It is especially fun to see Holcombe condemn those who would mar history with lies. I could have done without a few over the top references to bravery and lost lives, but all in all, this was a quite readable book.

Unfortunately, it's probably not recommendable to anyone. The Archive's version is a very, very bad scan that I had to mentally translate entirely too many times, and it's not on Gutenberg as of yet. If you find this in print form somewhere, definitely grab it. This is an excellent account of a small battle, and the best of the three small engagement books I've read so far for the challenge.

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