Dr. Steven Sodergren, a Colby Award-winning author, discusses book in Virginia presentation
Dr. Steven Sodergren, Norwich University’s Political History and Political Science Department chairman, discussed Civil War trench warfare Thursday night at the Petersburg Civil War Roundtable, presented by Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier.
Pamplin Historical Park is a 424-acre historical campus in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, featuring a National Historic Landmark Civil War battlefield, museums, antebellum homes, a slave life exhibit, educational programs and special events. Sodergren’s talk had been planned since early 2020 but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Sodergren joined Norwich University’s faculty in 2007 and was the first Norwich professor to receive the Colby Award, which recognizes a first book-length work of fiction, nonfiction or poetry that has made a major contribution to the understanding of military history, intelligence operations or international affairs.
“The individuals are the ones that make history happen.” Dr. Steven Sodergren, Norwich University History and Political Science Department chairman
In his Civil War Roundtable talk, Sodergren delivered “The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns,” chronicling the Army of the Potomac’s monthslong brutal trench warfare against the Confederates. The name and topic of Sodergren’s Thursday talk were also covered in his book “The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865,” published in 2017 by the Louisiana State University Press.
Sodergren’s book cites soldier letters and diaries and unit action reports to cover the 1864 Overland campaign in which the Army of the Potomac suffered almost 55,000 casualties in about six weeks, and the following siege of Petersburg, Virginia. On Monday, Sodergren said trench techniques the soldiers used helped usher in modern warfare. Although fighters had traditionally fought linearly, facing one another as a matter of honor, as artillery improved and casualties mounted, they began more extensively using sophisticated trenches, which had long been part of warfare, to keep troops alive and battling.
Reviewers received the book well. A Winter 2018 review on LSU’s Digital Commons, Charles R. Bowery called the book “comprehensively researched, persuasively argued and engagingly written.” In the Journal of Southern History, reviewer Kurt Hackemer also praised Sodergren’s book, for delivering a nuanced account that focuses on the regimental officers and enlisted men as desertion surged and morale sank.
“(Sodergren) argue(s) that the Army of the Potomac's morale and combat effectiveness improved as a result of its time in the trenches, even as Confederate morale and combat effectiveness declined, paving the way for the successful campaign in the spring of 1865 that ended the war in the eastern theater,” Hackemer wrote.
Sodergren said his research illustrates that although war sometimes gets remembered as big, high-ranking people doing big important things, his research shows recollections show common soldiers made a difference.
“The individuals are the ones that make history happen,” Sodergren said. “The Army is not made up of (William Tecumseh Shermans) and (Ulysses) Grants, it’s made up of privates and corporals and sergeants who have to do the hard fighting.”
Sodergren said he will reprise his presentation April 11 in Charleston, South Carolina at The Citadel’s History Department’s invitation.
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