{short description of image}  


Peter G. Tsouras , ed.


Subtitle: The Reminiscences of Judson Knight, Chief of Scouts, Army of the Potomac, Skyhorse Publishing, NYC., 2014, 272 pgs., bibliography, notes, illustrations


Reviewer Comments - Peter Tsouras discusses the research sources available and that he used in the Library of Congress, including newspapers from the 1800's. There he found the National Tribune newspaper and in it a feature that collected the memoirs, eye-witness, personal accounts of participants. And among these were the essays submitted by Judson Knight, who was Chief Scout of the Army of the Potomac. In this book he has brought these accounts into a single chronological narrative of the scouting (that is reconnaissance - human intelligence) that provided the Union Army with direct knowledge of Confederate forces. Tsouras does not limit his account to Knight's essays. Rather, he incorporates the results of a wide research effort, including in the National Archives. This, he uses in this introduction in describing the larger picture of Union intelligence operations of which scouting was a (but only a) central part. the introduction itself, then, becomes a valuable picture of the Union intelligence effort, which he notes was much superior to that of the Confederacy. He also notes that the essays by scouts Judson Knight, William Landegon and Anton Carney that he has edited into the cohesive narrative were written 30 years and more after the events described. Therefore he has added much valuable background and context obtained from his extensive research in other primary sources. The references, bibliography, and notes show case this effort. So do the maps and illustrations.


Introduction -The accounts relate to February 1863 to June 1965. But Knight enlisted at the war's beginning and was at the major battles beginning at First Bull Run. He served at chief scout for General Phil Kearny in the campaigns through the Peninsula, Gettysburg and Second Bull Run. Only after Kearny's death at Chantilly did Knight (by then discharged in late 1862 and now a civilian) get himself hired directly to the top command of the Union army in Virginia. Among the missions given to the scouts was coordination with Union spies and agents. Tsouras mentions in particular Knight's contacts with Elizabeth Van Lew, the famous Union spy in Richmond. Tsouras summarizes here Knight's exploits and also describes Knight's post war activities up to his death. The author provides an exciting preview by describing in summary the difficult life of the army scout. The introduction certainly makes the reader eager to read more and find out the details.,


Chapter 1 - Major General Philip Kearny - Judson Knight was a scout for General Kearny in 1861 and 1862 during which service he developed his professional skill. In this chapter Tsouras gives the reader Knight's impression and quotations from other sources that stress Kearny's great qualities. His death at Chantilly was indeed a disaster for the Union cause. Knight's accounts of life on outposts and scouting around Annadale VA are fascinating, even more so since i lived for over 30 years right there. His personal recollections of General Kearny are marvelous.


Chapter 2 - Adventures in the Debatable Land - The narration indeed becomes that of adventures. The scene shifts from Kearny's headquarters in 1862 to the no man's land (debatable land) between the Union and Confederate armies around the Wilderness. Knight manages after all those years to instill his narrative with both the excitement of dering do and the misery of living outdoors in cold winter. of particular interest is the description of the activities of Union sympathizers in the civilian population. Tsouras supplements Knight's essay with extracts from other primary sources.


Chapter 3 - Brushes with Death: Escaping Gilmor and Mosby - The scene shifts to December 1863 and contacts with Unionist civilians south of the Rapidan. But in addition we read the accounts of several scouts of their being captured by rebels and almost hung or escaping in one way or another. Very graphic accounts these are.


Chapter 4 - Between Gettysburg and Wilderness - This chapter is unusual. First Tsouras includes a bit of a story that was published in a book titled "Heroic Deeds by Blue and Grey" in which a fanciful description of an incident involving Knight appeared. Knight, having read it and taking great exception to it, replied with his own article in The National Tribune in 1891. His account is much longer and full of wonderful detail in which he shows that the book is mistaken..


Chapter 5 - The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid - For this chapter Tsouras combines the personal accounts of several scouts with his own background information from other primary sources. The raid in 1864 was an audacious effort by Union cavalry to get behind Confederate lines and reach Richmond to free Union prisoners. It not only failed but was a disaster in which many of the attached scouts were killed or wounded. The instigator of the cavalry raid was the famous General Judson Kilpatrick, who Tsouras reports, was so hated for the fiasco that he was shipped off to join General Sherman in Georgia. The scouts' accounts were published as part of the public uproar over Kilpatrick's poor leadership


Chapter 6 - Wilderness to Cold Harbor - The action is becoming even more exciting as Knight describes in several newspaper articles and Tsouras provides more related information as the scouts move south ahead of Grant's army to the area east and southeast of Richmond. Knight is not only reporting his visual observations, but also collecting documents that reveal Confederate Order of Battle. The intelligence gathered by the scouts is analyzed by Colonel Sharpe's team including Mr. John C. Babcock and Capt. John McEntee, providing Grant with valuable information on Lee's forces. This is the 'sharp point' of the campaign. This is real life. There is much else to learn about such topics as civilian daily living in the midst of protracted warfare and the response of the black population as the scouts pass through their areas.


Chapter 7 - Sheridan's Dispatches - Tsouras here combines the articles prepared by Judson Knight (chief of Grant's scouts) and that of William Lee (chief of Sheridan's scouts) on the same events and patrol areas after the battle of Spotsylvania. Grant wanted to know if Lee was being reinforced. In the course of his reconnaissance Knight has more interactions with the local population, obtaining not only information but much appreciated food and fodder. He also describes enjoyable post-war meetings with some of the folks he met while scouting.


Chapter 8 - Adventures in the Swamps of the Pamunkey River - Now Knight is really into it. He is carrying dispatches from the army north-east of Richmond clear across Confederate territory to Yorktown far down the peninsula. Not only is he moving clandestinely with rebels all about him, but also contending with swamp and thicket. (Fine for providing cover, but miserable to sleep in), Fortunately, Knight had been all though that area during the Peninsula campaign two years prior.


Chapter 9 - Petersburg - In this chapter Knight recalls that he and Anson B. Carney had found Petersburg essentially undefended along with a little 'rank has its privileges' in the Union high command and other domestic incidents. Tsouras reprints Grant's excuse for not taking Petersburg. Later on, Knight continued his reconnaissance south and even west of Petersburg and discovered rebel preparations for counter attacks, which he reported to nearby Union units. Tsouras adds other accounts by Knight's associates.


Chapter 10 - Getting into Richmond - In this chapter Tsouras mentions Grant's reorganization of his intelligence operations and Knight's assignment to obtain information from Elizabeth Van Lew in Richmond. Knight described his adventures in a series of newspaper articles, as did Carney) which Tsouras effectively links seamlessly with connecting editorial comment and inserted material, including photographs, from the archives. Knight had a gift - several gifts actually, not only in writing exciting prose but also in remembering after so many years such detail as names of individuals and places and particulars of a night's work in the woods. All this is tangential to the specific military intelligence, but fascinating in its own way. It shows the unusual manner in which two opposing armies, which are composed of members of the same nation) operate in the midst of a civilian population that is also divided (frequently secretly) between supporters of each side.


Appendix - Members of the Bureau of Military Information (BMI) - Tsouras has taken the trouble to collect the names and information about as many of the members of the BMI as he could from a variety of primary sources.


Return to Xenophon.