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No Better Place To Die the Battle of Sto (original 1990; edition 1990)

by Peter Cozzens

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177467,048 (3.77)10
Member:Robbo45
Title:No Better Place To Die the Battle of Sto
Authors:Peter Cozzens
Info:University of Illinois Press, Hardcover
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No Better Place to Die: THE BATTLE OF STONES RIVER (Civil War Trilogy) by Peter Cozzens (1990)

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This is a well written account of Stones River, and one which I enjoyed. Cozzens is as good at writing about Civil War battlefield action as just about any modern author, but doesn't compare to the "prosetry" of Douglas Southall Freeman, or the humor and engaging style of Bruce Catton. But his straightforward style keeps things coherent and interesting. Cozzens treatment of the battle at the regimental level is mostly effective, although at times I did get confused as to whom he was talking about. A little too much reliance on pronouns. I would have enjoyed more maps, and more effective maps, which would have helped ease the confusion. And there is no real after action report reviewing the performance of the commanders and their armies. ( )
  SquireMike | Oct 19, 2010 |
Tennessee was a critical state for both sides during the Civil War. There was plenty of Unionist sentiment in East Tennessee, although those who were loyal suffered under a secessionist state government. Lincoln was anxious to aid them, and therefore was always eager to have a Union Army “liberate” the state, particularly that section.

For the Confederates, Tennessee was the doorway to the inner Confederacy; Chattanooga in particular was the jumping off point for the Confederate heartland in Georgia And Alabama.

Two armies contested the ownership of Tennessee: The Union Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Major General William S. Rosencrans and the Army of the Tennessee under the questionable leadership of Braxton Bragg. These two armies skirmished a number of times, but in late 1862 and during 1863, the two armies fought 3 major battles that were critical to the war; Stone’s River (Murfreesboro), Chickamauga), and Chattanooga.

The first at Stones’ River took place From December 31, 1962 to January 4, 1863. Nearly Union disaster, it ended technically and emotionally a Union victory, since Bragg retreated from the field. But despite Bragg’s weaknesses as a field commander, it was a close thing.

Cozzens book is well written. He clearly and in great detail describes the personalities of the generals commanding, the events that led up to the battle, command decisions, the enormous problems that Bragg had with his subordinates, especially Polk, and goes into great detail on troop movements.

Yet, this is a bad book. Why? The maps. Or, I should say, the lack of maps.

Cozzens goes into great detail about the fighting that occurred on December 31, when the Confederates nearly drove the Union Army into the Tennessee River. We read about movements of regiments and detachments of regiments; brigades; divisions. But there is almost no way to follow all this detail, since maps for the time frame between about 9 am and 3 pm are nowhere to be found. Here and there are maps of tiny segments of the battlefield that were bewildering, because it was impossible to relate that area of the battlefield to any other area. Mention is made of fighting occurring, for example, around the Widow Burris’ house, but trying to locate that house on any of the relevant maps was impossible. for the most part, I was flipping back and forth between a map of the overall area of the battlefield and the position of the two armies on the eve of the battle on pages 74-75 and some of the detail maps, trying to get some idea of where the action occurred.

In addition, the detail maps have no distance scale! I’ve never ever read a Civil War military history in which the maps gave you no idea of the distances involved. For all the reader knows, the units depicted could be 10 miles or 100 ft. apart--there is no way of knowing from the map.

Somewhat more minor but still extremely annoying is the way the Order of Battle is presented. For some baffling reason, Cozzens chooses to call them The Opposing Forces instead of the more tradition Order of Battle (OOB). Minor detail, but the presentation is not. The OOB is arranged in the traditional hierarchy: General commanding, then Corps, Corps commander, followed by each division, it’s head, and the brigades that compose the division and their heads and component regiments. Standard and a valuable part of any military history if the reader wants to have a prayer of keeping the units and their commanders straight; it’s the classic case of you can’t tell the players without a score card. Unless you have a phenomenal memory, there is no other way to determine whose brigade was doing what when.

But the format--the font and font size--are identical for all levels of hierarchy and there is no distance or other demarcation that makes it easy to distinguish division from brigade. I spent too much time trying to locate individual units from the names of their commanders in the truly confusing OOB.

I don’t feel as if I read this book in vain; I learned a good deal and came away with an appreciation of Rosencrans and even Sheridan, whom I have always viewed as little more than a thug in a uniform. The maps of the latter part of the battle were better and I now feel I have a really good idea of how the Union artillery under Mendenhall shredded the Confederate infantry and saved the Union left. However, I’m going to have to reread the book with a better set of maps from somewhere in order to truly understand what happened in the middle of the New Year’s Eve battle.

How this book was selected as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection is beyond me. The text is good enough to engage the average reader who wants to learn a little more detail about what is not the most promoted battle of the Civil War. But without adequate maps, it seems to me that it would only turn the casual reader off reading any more on the Civil War.

Avoid unless you have a set of good maps from another source. A general map of the battle won’t serve. ( )
1 vote Joycepa | Mar 29, 2009 |
Maps sorely lacking and too general to be of use. ( )
  bobbre | Feb 14, 2009 |
This is the first book in a trilogy about the Army of Tennessee. It is an enjoyable read. Cozzens has a great narrative style, that moves the story along by focusing on interesting people and great descriptions.

Stones River is not the best known battle of the Civil War, but it was a very important one. The Confederates launched a surprise attack on Union forces in Tennessee that nearly succeeded in breaking the army. It was a battle that made reputations for men like Pat Cleburne and Phil Sheridan for the tenacity of their fighting. ( )
  ksmyth | Oct 15, 2005 |
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