Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Outstanding book about the battle of Pea Ridge

Shea, William L. and Earl J. Hess. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

If you haven’t read this yet, then you are in for a reading treat! Over the years I have read many, many campaign histories and this is a top-tier book. In many ways, this is the best campaign history that I have ever read. Every time I visit the Pea Ridge National Military Park, I take this book with me with all the maps marked with post-it notes. Did I mention maps? So often you read a campaign history and wish for more maps. This is one of the few campaign histories that I have read that helpfully includes all of the maps that you will need.

Dr. Shea and Dr. Hess walked the battlefield many times; this familiarity with the battlefield’s terrain adds much to their analysis. They focus on Earl Van Dorn, a flamboyant soldier with few organizational skills; he led his Confederate army to disaster. By sharp contrast, his opponent was Samuel Ryan Curtis, a reserved, older gentleman who had all the organizational skills that Van Dorn lacked. Although the book’s treatment of the events leading up to the battle and the battle itself are extremely well done, my attention was most caught by the section that details what happened after the battle. Curtis’s army battled the elements and the terrain to march 500 miles to Helena, Arkansas, in a little more than three months. Much of Van Dorn’s army crossed the Mississippi and went on to fight in campaigns in the western theater.

The Pea Ridge campaign is quite a story, and this book does full justice to its importance. Check it out.

NOTE: William L. Shea’s book Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign will be published by the University of North Carolina Press this fall. The release date, according to the University of North Carolina Press’ website, is November 2009. I am counting down the days to publication!


  1. Being particularly interested in the Indian Territory during the war, Dr. Shea provides a good characterization of the Cherokee at Pea Ridge and the distinct differences between Watie's and Drew's Regts. The role of the Cherokee, especially Watie's Regt, is often overlooked. Dr. Shea avoids the cliches and does a good job of characterizing their role at Leetown, on Big Mountain on March 8th, and guarding the Confederate train in the retreat.

  2. I am confident that Professor Shea's book on Prairie Grove will be much like the Pea Ridge campaign study: an instant classic. He knows his craft and is a fine writer.

  3. Thanks for the reviews! I've never really studied the Trans Mississipi Theater very much, I will definately have to get this book!

  4. The Shea-Hess book on Pea Ridge is perhaps the best battle book I've read in the past few years.