Guest Review of Six Days of Awful Fighting by Arnold Blumberg

Guest Review of Six Days of Awful Fighting by Arnold Blumberg

We are pleased to print this independent guest review of Eric Wittenberg’s Six Days of Awful Fighting: Cavalry Operations on the Road to Cold Harbor by historian Arnold Blumberg, author of When Washington Burned: A Pictorial History of the War of 1812 (Casemate Publications, 2012).

SIX DAYS OF AWFUL FIGHTING: CAVALRY OPERATIONS ON THE ROAD TO COLD HARBOR By Eric J. Wittenberg (Fox Run Publishing, 2020). Reviewed by Arnold Blumberg.

As noted by Civil War writer and historian David A. Powell in his Forward to “Six Days of Awful Fighting”, “The literature of our Civil War remains heavily focused on tactical narratives describing the big battles…It is a quirk of the genre that campaign narratives are much rarer. Thanks to that quirk, the cavalry’s role in those operations has suffered from a degree of relative neglect…”

Most of the volumes written dealing with the Blue and the Gray cavalry forces during the American Civil War highlight those mounted branches’ daring raids, scouts, long exhausting marches, and sharp melees carried-out on horseback or dismounted. Fortunately, for the sake of having the full story of what the cavalry achieved and accomplished during the third year of the Civil War in Northern Virginia, Eric Wittenberg’s latest book brings to light the not insignificant role opposing horse soldiers contributed to the “big picture” of army size military operations.

The author of 24 books to date on the American Civil War, Wittenberg, an attorney residing in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the most prolific writers on the subject today. The core of his contribution to the better understanding of America’s self-inflicted internal conflict are his 18 works on cavalry actions-big and small-which detail the leaders and organization of the Federal and Confederate mounted arms, for the most part in the Eastern Theater. Chapters One, and Three do this in “Six Days of Awful Fighting”, while Chapters Four, Five, Six, Eight, Nine, and Eleven do a masterful job of detailing battle tactics and combat. “Six Days of Awful Fighting” continues Wittenberg’s quest to relate the full story of the cavalry’s vital, if overlooked, role in the American Civil War in Northern Virginia.

Divided into twelve chapters, a conclusion, and epilogue, and seven orders of battle (one for each cavalry fight engaged in during the time frame covered by the book) the study also is graced with 25 very well-done maps covering general movements as well as individual battles participated in by the contending parties. Seventy-two images, the vast majority being of Union and Confederate cavalry commanders, are also included in the book. Another rather delightful aspect of the book is that endnotes are placed at the bottom of the page which makes for easy and quick reference from the text.   

As with his other works, Wittenberg has used many standard sources to relate his story. More importantly, he has uncovered and presented scores of primary materials to enhance the descriptions of sabre, pistol and carbine combat, and how the cavalry’s activities impacted the movements and decisions of the larger land campaign in The Old Dominion during the summer of 1864. As a result, I believe the reader will discover more about cavalry tactics than he ever expected.

What also impresses this reviewer is the smooth and clear prose the author employs to seamlessly weave the tale of the cavalry movements and engagements, whether they be large ones such as Hawes Shop or the myriad skirmishes which flared-up between the contending Union and Rebel cavaliers during the last week prior to the bloodbath known as the Battle of Cold Harbor.

Kudos to Mr. Wittenberg for his latest effort and how it convincingly advances the narrative of the valuable accomplishments and fighting spirit and grit of the Northern and Southern cavalry forces in the opening stages of Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864. I enthusiastically recommend this book.


Arnold Blumberg, an attorney living in Baltimore, Maryland is the author of “When Washington Burned: A Pictorial History of the War of 1812 (Casemate Publications, 2012). He contributed seven cavalry related articles to Heidler’s and Heidler’s Encyclopedia of the American Civil War (ABC-CLIO, Inc, 2000). The author of numerous articles printed in both domestic and foreign military history magazines, he has written on a wide range of military topics including American Civil War cavalry.

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