Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Review: Columbus Georgia 1865

By Charles A. Misulia

Ask the average person on the street when the Civil War ended and the answer you will most likely get is when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. Most people would be surprised to learn that the war never really officially ended, but rather the fighting between the Confederate and United States armies continued for weeks after the surrender ceremony at Appomattox, and gradually ceased as one by one the remaining Confederate armies in the field laid down their arms and surrendered. Just as there was no official declaration of war when hostilities broke out between the North and South, so was there no peace treaty declaring the war at an end.

There were more than a few battles and skirmishes that took place after General Lee’s surrender, and among them was the battle between the Federal cavalry under the command of Major General James H. Wilson and confederate forces under the over all command of Major General Howell Cobb with Colonel Leon Von Zinken acting as field commander, at Columbus, Georgia, April 16, 1865. Because it happened a week after the surrender at Appomattox, and the day after the death of President Abraham Lincoln, and during the manhunts for Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and Confederate President on the run, Jefferson Davis, the Battle of Columbus has been largely forgotten.

Florida attorney and a self-proclaimed “Civil War enthusiast,” Charles A. Misulia, has long been fascinated by the events which took place between April 15th & April 18th, 1865 in the streets of Girard (present day Phoenix City), Alabama and her sister-city across the Chattahoochee River, Columbus, Georgia and has written the first full length account of the battle in his book, “Columbus Georgia 1865: The Last True Battle of the Civil War.”

Mr. Misulia has written a fascinating in-depth look at the battle and the men who fought it, both Union and Confederate; soldiers and civilians. Starting with a brief overview of Wilson’s Raid into Alabama, the author next methodically recounts the Confederates preparations for the coming of the Federal cavalry and the construction of the fortifications in Gerard and Columbus. The battle on April 16th took place largely during the waning hours of daylight, and a good part of it was fought in the dark. Mr. Misulia gives a blow by blow account of the battle and demonstrates the confusion and difficulties of fighting a Civil War era night-time battle. He follows the Federal cavalrymen as they gain the upper hand on the Confederate defenders as they cross the turpentine soaked bridge across the Chattahoochee River and burst into the streets of Columbus to capture the city. As the Federal cavalry, had not yet learned the news of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Mr. Misulia also details the destruction of the city and any possibility that any of its resources would be used to aid in the Confederate cause.

In the first appendix of his book Mr. Misulia defines the differences between a battle and a skirmish and narrows down the field of possible contenders for the “last true battle” of the Civil War to: Fort Blakely, Alabama on April 9th, 1865; West Point & Columbus, Georgia, both on April 16th; Munford’s Station, Alabama, April 23rd and Palmetto Ranch, Texas, May 12th–13th. He takes each in its turn and gives his explanation of why he has ruled out all but the Battle of Columbus as the last true battle of the Civil War. It is an interesting discussion, but lends itself more to the trivial than a matter for academic discussion.

With his book, “Columbus Georgia 1865; The Last True Battle of the Civil War,” Mr. Misulia has filled a void in Civil War literature too long overshadowed and overlooked. His book rightly deserves its place on the bookshelves of Civil War scholars and enthusiasts alike, alongside other histories of Civil War battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg and Chickamauga.

ISBN 978-0-8173-1676-1, University Alabama Press, © 2010, Hardcover, 360 pages, Maps, Photographs, Appendices, Endnotes, Bibliographic Essay & Index. $39.95

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