Steven Sodergren, The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865

Date(s) - 12/11/18
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Pritzker Military Museum & Library

Hosted by
Pritzker Military Museum & Library

Steven Sodergren, The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865

Pritzker Military Museum & Library

Tuesday, December 11, 2018 6:00pm

2018 Colby Award winner Steven Sodergren discusses his book about the transition to trench warfare during the Civil War and its impact on Union soldiers. Sponsored by Norwich University.

The final year of the Civil War witnessed a profound transformation in the practice of modern warfare, a shift that produced unprecedented consequences for the soldiers fighting on the front lines. In The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns, Steven E. Sodergren examines the transition to trench warfare, the lengthy campaigns of attrition that resulted, and how these seemingly grim new realities affected the mindset and morale of Union soldiers.

The 1864 Overland Campaign created tremendous physical and emotional suffering for the men of the Army of the Potomac as they faced a remarkable increase in the level and frequency of combat. By the end of this critical series of battles, surviving Union soldiers began to express considerable doubt in their cause and their leaders, as evidenced by widespread demoralization and the rising number of men deserting and disobeying orders. Yet, while the Petersburg campaign that followed further exposed the Army of the Potomac to the horrors of trench warfare, it proved both physically and psychologically regenerative. Comprehending that the extensive fortification network surrounding them benefitted their survival, soldiers quickly adjusted to life in the trenches despite the harsh conditions. The army’s static position allowed the Union logistical structure to supply the front lines with much-needed resources like food and mail―even a few luxuries. The elevated morale that resulted, combined with the reelection of Abraham Lincoln in November 1864 and the increasing number of deserters from the Confederate lines, only confirmed the growing belief among the soldiers in the trenches that Union victory was inevitable. Taken together, these aspects of the Petersburg experience mitigated the negative effects of trench warfare and allowed men to adapt more easily to their new world of combat.

Sodergren explores the many factors that enabled the Army of the Potomac to endure the brutal physical conditions of trench warfare and emerge with a renewed sense of purpose as fighting resumed on the open battlefield in 1865. Drawing from soldiers’ letters and diaries, official military correspondence, and court-martial records, he paints a vivid picture of the daily lives of Union soldiers as they witnessed the beginnings of a profound shift in the way the world imagined and waged large-scale warfare.

STEVEN SODERGREN earned a BA in history and philosophy from Cornell College followed by an MA and Ph.D. in American and military history from the University of Kansas.

While in graduate school, he received a General Matthew Ridgeway Research Grant from the Military History Institute in Carlisle, Penn., and a Dissertation Fellowship from the U.S. Army Center of Military History for his work on the adaptation of Union soldiers to tactical conditions during the American Civil War.

Since 2007, Sodergren has taught in the History and Political Science department at Norwich University and was promoted to Associate Professor of History in 2013. He currently holds the position of Coordinator of the Studies in War and Peace degree program. As the resident Civil War scholar at Norwich, he routinely teaches courses on that subject in addition to a variety of courses on American and military history. Each summer he leads a group of Norwich students on staff rides to a range of Civil War battlefields, including Gettysburg, Antietam, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, Fredericksburg. Sodergren recently completed his first book, The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-65, which was published by Louisiana State University Press in June 2017. For The Army of the Potomac, Sodergren won the 2018 Colby Award, the first author associated with Norwich University to win the prize in its 19-year history.