Book Review: Voices of the Army of the Potomac: Personal Reminiscences of Union Veterans


by Vincent L. Burns.

Oxford and Philadelphia: Casemate, 2021. Pp. xx, 359. Illus., map, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1636240720

Union Veterans’ Recalling the War

Even before the guns fell silent, soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, viewed themselves as the guardians of the history of the struggle. Often combatants would provide people back home with written accounts of battles and the specific accomplishments of individuals. Postwar, the veterans presented their memories and analyses and wrote about the great fight, often explaining how each of the various states, units, and even nationalities contributed. The veterans of the Civil War became the first historians, penning letters, diaries, journals, and reports during it, and in the postwar period memoirs, regimental histories, accounts of campaigns and battles, even pension claims, speeches, and more, creating an impressive mass of material, which is at times most useful to the student of the war.

The accounts by the veterans of the Army of the Potomac were perhaps most important in influencing the story of the war, having fought in the Eastern Theater against Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. This work, by Vincent Burns, is rather like a forum in which their works – some of them – are displayed to inform and even entertain students of the war.

Burns includes anecdotal stories from officers and common soldiers alike that help amplify our understanding of soldiering, camp life, and battle. We get soldiers’ tales of the role of the Army of the Potomac in the struggle to attain victory in the fight to preserve the Union and end slavery. These help the readers walk in the shoes of those men who fought from 1861 through 1865 on many battlefields; 1st Bull Run the Peninsula, the Seven Days, 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Overland Campaign and on to Appomattox. And we see their opinions of their generals; McDowell, McClellan, Pope, Meade and Grant. In addition, we get some insights into the post war meetings between veterans from both sides, leading to a measure of reconciliation.

Some readers may not agree with all of Burns’ conclusions. For example, he asserts that the defeat at 1st Bull Run was due principally to poor command and control of the formations by General McDowell and his unit leaders. Burns also argues that many in the army believed that McClellan acknowledged defeat in the Seven Days Battles when he changed base to Harrison’s Landing, while continuing to clam he had not been given sufficient numbers of troops.

Burns’ writing is clear, detailed, and very balanced, and coverers countless people. Voices of the Army of the Potomac is a riveting read that brings a human element to the Army of the Potomac that will excite novices and veteran students alike. One of best accounts of the army that I have ever read, and is surely worthy of a place in any scholar’s Civil War library as well as that of the buff.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include Gettysburg Rebels, The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River, From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865, Unsung Hero of Gettysburg: The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg, The Man Who Punched Jefferson Davis: The Political Life of Henry S. Foote, Custer: From the Civil War’s Boy General to the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg, Passing Through the Fire: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in the Civil War, The Summer of ’63: Vicksburg and Tullahoma, Crosshairs on the Capital: Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, and Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee's Army after Appomattox.



Note: Voices of the Army of the Potomac is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium and https://www.nymas2.
Reviewer: David Marshall   

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