Book Review: Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign


by David Powell

New York: Savas Beatie, 2010. Pp. xxxvi, 348. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1932714871

Failure in the Saddle assesses the performance of two of the most famous cavalrymen of the Civil War and finds it wanting, revealing “stunning lapses in the saddle by experienced cavalrymen that led directly to [Braxton] Bragg’s loss of Chattanooga” in the late summer of 1863.

Powell, author of the very well-received The Maps of Chickamauga (2009), looks at how two of the South’s most seasoned troopers, Nathan Bedford Forrest and Joseph Wheeler wallowed in “miscues, mistakes, and outright refusals to follow orders.”  The book opens with a series of thumbnail sketches of notable participants in the campaign, followed by a quick look at the Tullahoma operation.  Powell then discusses Confederate cavalry in the Western Theater, and Union plans for what would become the Chickamauga Campaign.  He then examines operations literally on a daily basis, shifting among the various fronts and subjecting many seemingly minor actions to close examination.  This culminates in a short, but well-written analysis of the fighting around and the operations that follwed.  Powell ends the book with several chapters that assess the performance of Confederate cavalry during the campaign and on the “verdict of history,” which, he concludes has been greatly affected by postwar myth. 

This is a very important book for anyone interested in the Civil War.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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