Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Yankee Warhorse: A Biography of Major General Peter Osterhaus

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Yankee Warhorse: A Biography of Major General Peter Osterhaus

Article excerpt

Yankee Warhorse: A Biography of Major General Peter Osterhaus. By Mary Bobbitt Townsend. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2010. Pp. xiii, 270. Foreword by Earl Hess, acknowledgments, introduction, epilogue, notes, bibliography, index. $35.00.)

Despite the voluminous body of academic work on the American Civil War, serious holes in the literature become apparent at almost regular intervals. One such surprise is that, previous to Mary Bobbitt Townsend's Yankee Warhorse, there has been no book-length treatment of Maj. Gen. Peter Joseph Osterhaus, perhaps the best (if not bestknown) German-born general, who saw fighting from Wilson's Creek to Savannah, as well as action during the revolutions of 1848 and Reconstruction.

Townsend is not a neutral observer. She is Osterhaus's great-greatgranddaughter, and furthermore is not an academic historian, but a retired nursing executive. These two facts might give an academic reader pause. Perhaps anticipating this, the publisher includes a brief foreword by Earl Hess-who wrote a chapter on Osterhaus for Grant's Lieutenants (2008). Hess confesses that he had doubts initially but was won over by Townsend's "skills as an historian and writer" (p. ix). Indeed, this is a far better work than many of its kind. Townsend is a conscientious researcher determined to produce a serious, scholarly work despite her lack of formal training.

Townsend's narrative begins in Koblenz, with Osterhaus's boyhood and unhappy stint in the Prussian army. He soon moved to Mannheim, in Baden, where he was a leading participant in the revolutions of 1848. Like many such liberals, he felt obliged to emigrate to the United States in order to avoid prosecution. He settled down, first in Belleville, Illinois, and after a few years in nearby St. Louis.

The Civil War started soon after. With it begins the heart of the book, largely a traditional trumpets-and-drums military history of the Civil War from Peter Osterhaus's perspective. In five chapters, we see Osterhaus's service in many of the most prominent western campaigns. Wilson's Creek and Pea Ridge, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and the March to the Sea, and Mobile Bay all receive their due attention. Along the way, we follow Osterhaus's slow, steady rise to a major generalship, which finally came through shortly after the Atlanta campaign.

Osterhaus's promotion offers another example of the familiar conflict between West Point-trained and "political" generals. William T. Sherman and the other West Pointers were indignant that Osterhaus would be made a major general while he was out of the field. …

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