Book Review: Lee’s Lost Dispatch


Provided below is a book review from Civil War News of my latest book: Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies.

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies. By Phillip Leigh. Illustrated, photos, maps, notes, bibliography, index, 224 pp., 2015, Westholme,, $18.95 softcover.


Phillip Leigh has produced a thoughtful, thought-provoking and enjoyable book addressing some of the Civil War’s puzzles, scandals, mysteries and “what-if” subjects. It is a delightful “must-read” book.

Leigh makes the following assertions and discusses them in brief and interesting detail:

• The Confederates’ biggest mistake was misplaying its King Cotton advantage.

• The Union’s greatest error was its failure to promptly and massively manufacture breech-loading single-shot and repeating rifles – a failure attributable to Abraham Lincoln, Simon Cameron, Edwin Stanton, Ulysses S. Grant and the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War.

• Opportunities were missed to possibly prevent the war – one of them being Union failure to more effectively reinforce Fort Sumter in January 1860.

• Union Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase creatively financed the war by explosively increasing revenues and deficit spending – and perhaps personally benefitted from his financial maneuverings.

• Chase’s daughter Kate and millionaire Rhode Island senator William Sprague became the Camelot couple of their day, but their marriage crashed as a result of Salmon Chase’s presidential ambitions, William Sprague’s trading with the enemy, and Kate’s infidelities.

• William T. Sherman, in November 1864, was responsible for the unnecessary destruction of most private dwellings in Atlanta, Cassville, Rome, Big Shanty, Marietta and other Georgia towns.

• George “Rock of Chickamauga” Thomas would have been a better choice than Sherman to lead the Union armies in the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, but Grant selected Sherman for several erroneous reasons.

• Union spies may have been responsible for the Spring Hill, Tenn., fiasco, in which John Bell Hood’s army allowed John Schofield’s trapped 23,000-man command to march unmolested past them on the night preceding the Battle of Franklin.

• The loss of a copy of Robert E. Lee’s famous Special Order 191 during the Maryland (Antietam) campaign remains a mystery, but there are several possible explanations.

• After Vicksburg’s fall, Florida became important to the Confederacy because of its cattle industry, but states’ rights, a railroad owner’s financial interests, and the cattlemen’s desire to resume profitable sales to Cuba combined to impede the movement of beef to hungry Confederate soldiers and civilians.

Many will question some of these contentions, but Leigh’s success is in making readers think about, or rethink, these issues. I highly recommend this book for Civil War buffs with inquiring minds.

Edward Bonekemper

If you enjoyed the book review above, consider buying one of my books:

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated


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