Darkest Days of WarWhat do you say about a book that you find pretty much perfect? This seems to be dilemma I am finding myself in right now, as I try to formulate some sort of coherent opinion about Peter Cozzens’ ‘The Darkest Days of the War’. The only thing that keeps popping up in my head is simply ‘This bloody thing is perfect!’.

Of course I realize that this is not a very helpful review and if I’d be hard-pressed to be more precise about the reason why this book made such an impression on me, I’d say ‘balance’. The author strikes absolutely perfect balance between overall picture and detail, between dry facts and personal experience, between commander’s perspective and the horror of combat experienced by individual soldier standing in the line of battle. Military history buffs interested in American Civil War are blessed by the fact that there is a multitude of historians that are also very talented writers, but Peter Cozzens is exceptional all in his own right.

There may be another reason why I cannot help but regard this book as absolutely superb. Just as most historical wargamers, I read a lot of military history literature. Most of the time I regard books in this genre simply as source of information and a learning tool. Very seldom do they manage to touch me on personal level. On this occasion however… there is something in the writing style of Cozzens that on several occasions filled me with immense sense of sorrow and sadness for the men who had to live through the horror of the events author describes. Military history writers often try to present the ‘human aspect’ of armed conflict, but in my case at least it is very seldom that their efforts manage to provoke a reaction. This book is for some unexplainable reason different and it definitely managed to leave a lasting emotional imprint on me.

What about the wargamer’s perspective then? Well, here I can be a bit more precise in my opinion and say… what a shocker… that it’s pretty much perfect and not for one, but for two specific reasons. First of all, the book deals with Iuka and Corinth battles of 1862, which also happen to be the subjects of many scenarios in Caliver Books’ ‘Heartland’ scenario books I’ve used for my games over last couple of years. ‘The Darkest Days of the War’ puts at least two of the scenarios I’ve played into historical content in best imaginable way! Furthermore, this book is a scenario trove all in its own right due to the fact that all three of the main engagements of the campaign are described in exceptional detail. Unit deployment is described all the way down to regimental (and sometimes skirmish screen) level, while the maps could be fetched from a wargaming magazine. The only thing missing is detailed information about manpower of individual regiments, although it can often be extrapolated from the narrative. Last but not least, the Iuka/Corinth campaign as a whole strikes me as extraordinarily suitable for a campaign game and this book provides all the necessary information and data needed for such exercise.

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in topic of American Civil War and doubly so to historical wargamers invested in this conflict.

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