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Review In Brief: History and Tour Guide of Five Forks, Hatcher’s Run and Namozine Church

In this review in brief, I’ll be taking a look at Blue & Gray magazine’s History and Tour Guide of Five Forks, Hatcher’s Run and Namozine Church by Chris Calkins. In late March 1865, the war was nearly over, and Phil Sheridan had come from the Shenandoah Valley with a series of Union victories to his credit. Now Grant sent Sheridan and his reunited Cavalry Corps west, along with the II and V Corps of the Army of the Potomac, in an effort to get at Lee’s last supply line, the South Side Railroad running west from Petersburg. The two corps of infantry held Lee’s attention in his main earthworks near Hatcher’s Run and White Oak Road, and Sheridan moved his cavalry west to Dinwiddie Court House. Lee’s line was near breaking as it was, so rather than stretch his entrenchments even further west, he instead created a combined infantry-cavalry strike force under George Pickett and sent him to deal with any threats to the last remaining supply line. Pickett made several mistakes in this effort. First, he moved south to deal with Sheridan at Dinwiddie Court House. This caused his left flank to be highly vulnerable to the V Corps infantry located to his northeast. He realized his awkward position and retreated northward to Five Forks, which was a choke point for the local area’s road network. Unfortunately, Pickett was away from his front lines at the now infamous “shad bake” hosted by Tom Rosser, and Sheridan picked that moment to assault Five Forks with his Cavalry Corps and Warren’s V Corps. The resulting resounding success made the evacuation of Petersburg inevitable. A cavalry clash a few days later at Namozine Church between George Custer and Rufus Barringer is also covered.

Although I’m a big fan of Blue & Gray magazine, I had not had the chance to read any of their book-length tour guides until now. I generally enjoyed this book, though a map showing the road network from Lewis’ Farm near Hatcher’s Run extending westward to Five Forks and Dinwiddie Court House as it appeared in 1864 (a modern map does appear later in the book in the tour guide section) would have been helpful. With that said, the narrative was clear and concise. I am familiar with the battles discussed because I have read the Virginia Battles & Leaders volume on Five Forks penned by Chris Calkins (the author of this book) and Ed Bearss. Readers new to these battles may wish to refer to a map of the road network in the surrounding area before reading the book. The maps were okay, going down to brigade level in all places, and occasionally to regimental level. There were no indicators for elevation change, and in most cases no depiction of forested versus cleared land. The tours at the back of the book were of the usual excellent Blue & Gray quality. All in all, this book is a good one to own for fans of the war in the east, and fans of the Petersburg Campaign specifically will definitely want to get this one. I’m not positive it is still in print, but I was able to pick the book up pretty cheaply on the secondary market.

P.S. I was particularly interested in one of Chris Calkins’ sources. As some of you may know, I am trying to compile a regimental level OOB for the Petersburg Campaign. Apparently Bryce Suderow wrote a book (more likely an unpublished manuscript) entitled Confederate Strengths and Losses from March 25-April 9, 1865. If anyone knows where I can obtain a copy of this work, I would appreciate it if you either emailed me or commented here.

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