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Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

New in Paperback – This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War

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The good folks at Oxford University Press recently sent me a copy of the new paperback edition of  James McPherson’s This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War. First published in 2007, it comprises 16 essays in which McPherson attempts to answer the following questions:

  • Why did the war come?
  • What were the war aims of each side?
  • What strategies did they employee to achieve these aims?
  • How do we evaluate the leadership of both sides?
  • Did the war’s outcome justify the immense sacrifice of lives?
  • What impact did the experience of war have on the people who lived through it?
  • How did later generations remember and commemorate that experience?

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  • Author: James M. McPherson
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • ISBN13: 9780195392425
  • ISBN10: 0195392426
  • Paperback, 272 pages
  • Sep 2009

I read the hardback version in 2007 and can highly RECOMMEND.

FYI – Amazon has the paperback version available for here for $12.21.

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New Acquisition – Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime

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I’ve made a number of new acquisitions over the past few weeks. I bought this book to assist with an assignment on the command skills of Abraham Lincoln. Author Eliot A. Cohen (left), also examines the records of Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill and David Ben-Gurion in an effort to synthesize why they stand above others as leaders in time of war. So far, after reading the first few chapters, I’m quite impressed. Full disclosure: I own the 2002 paperback version of this book published in the UK by The Free Press. I recently purchased the audio version from Audible.com published by Blackstone Audiobooks and narrated by Robert Whitfield (a.k.a. Simon Vance).

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  • Author: Eliot A. Cohen
  • Published: 2003-09-09
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN13: 9781400034048
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 320 pages

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National Geographic’s New Atlas of the Civil War

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NGCivilWarAtlas

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  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic (October 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426203470
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426203473
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 10.7 x 1.1 inches

The good folks at National Geographic sent me a review copy of their new Atlas of the Civil War: A Comprehensive Guide to the Tactics and the Terrain of Battle. I’m impressed. This is one of those books that as a kid I would spread out on the floor in front of the fire and lose myself in for hours. It’s FULL size means just that. Images that many of us have seen for years, and many we’ve never seen, are spread across pages over a foot high. So when looking at the bloated bodies of dead warriors near the Peach Orchard of Gettysburg’s Battlefield, it becomes immediately obvious that none have shoes, scavengers having carried them away.

civil-war-099

Union and Confederate dead, Gettysburg Battlefield, Pa., July 1863. Photographed by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. 165-SB-36. National Archives

Plainly visible among the troops and civilians crowded inside the walls of Washington’s Old Penitentiary on July 7, 1865 (below) to witness the hanging of Lincoln assassination conspirators, is a young boy, apparently unable to turn away from the gallows.

civil-war-201

Execution of the four persons condemned as co-conspirators in Lincoln's assassination, July 7,1865. Photographed by Alexander Gardner. 111-BA-203 National Archives

But even more impressive are the maps. There are 88 rare period maps, many published for the first time, and 34 new maps created by the staff of the National Geographic’s cartographers led by Carl Mehler. All are in a large format which makes them entirely readable. Almost a dozen orders of battle are also provided along with biographies and timelines.

Untitled 0 00 11-25

Editor Neil Kagan and historians Stephan G. Hyslop and Harris J. Andrews, who also collaborated on National Geographic’s Eyewitness to the Civil War, have provided excellent commentary and a rich story of the war from beginning to end. Carol Norton, as art director, led the creative vision for what is really a quite remarkable book of art.

I say BRAVO. Highly recommend.

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Book Review: Jefferson Davis and His Generals – The Failure of Confederate Command in the West

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STEVEN E. WOODWORTH. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. 1990. Pp. xv, 380. $16.95.

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JeffersonDavisandHisGenerals

Much has been written about the political and military genius of Abraham Lincoln and the successful leader he grew to be while Commander in Chief of a fractured union.  But as the country divided and civil war became a reality, a new leader was called upon to assume the role of Commander in Chief for the Confederacy, the seasoned Jefferson Davis.  At the precipice of war, betting men looking at the comparative qualifications of the two presidents could easily have predicted that Davis would outshine Lincoln. What kind of leader did Davis prove to be and how did he recruit and manage those men who would become members of his high command? What kind of generals were they and how did their personalities and actions impact the outcome of the war?

Steven E. Woodworth’s monograph answers those questions and others through examination of Jefferson Davis’ handling of the generals who defended the newly formed Confederacy in the Western theater of the American Civil War. Against a chronology of key events, each commander is introduced with information essential to understanding the skills they brought to war. Woodworth gives us their respective birthplaces, education, military and political experience, and reasons for consideration as senior leaders. Their performances in command roles are examined along with their interactions with Davis. There is brilliance to be sure from both Davis and some of his generals. But there is also incompetence, jealousy, loss of nerve, and even a propensity toward sabotage of brother commanders. Varying degrees of analysis are given to among others: Leonidas Polk, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Albert Sidney Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Early Van Dorn, John C. Breckenridge, Edmund K. Smith, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Patrick R. Cleburne, Sterling Price, William J. Hardee, John C. Pemberton, Joseph E. Johnston, Benjamin F. Cheatham, James A. Seddon, Daniel H. Hill, James Longstreet, Gideon J. Pillow, David Twiggs, and John Bell Hood. Woodworth pulls no punches.

Woodworth concludes that Davis was highly trained, skilled from a breadth of experience in the militarily and in politics, and eminently qualified to assume the role of Commander in Chief of the Confederacy. He was also flawed. His imperfections are revealed as the war in the West is traced from beginning to end. Davis is shown to be incapable of judging objectively the performances of personal friends. He both trusts and delegates too much to his leaders. This trait worked to the detriment of some of the most exceptional men like Albert Sidney Johnston, who accomplished miracles in the defense of western borders despite unanswered requests to fill and equip his ranks. It also left incompetents like Leonidas Polk in power, impairing more talented men like Braxton Bragg. Davis becomes consumed by the war emotionally and physically. In the end, failure in the West is seen to have contributed significantly to the failure of the Confederacy. Woodworth posits that the faults of Davis himself, stemming from a deep-seated insecurity, are contributory to this failure.
SWoodworth
Woodworth brings to the work the credentials of a seasoned historian. He holds history degrees from Southern Illinois University (B.A. 1982) and Rice University, where he received a Ph.D. in 1987. At the time of the book’s publication, he taught history at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. He now teaches U.S. history, Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Old South at Texas Christian University. He also teaches military history at the American Military University. He is a prolific and award winning author.
Woodworth provides an insightful contribution to our understanding of the Civil War by revealing the best and the worst of the Confederacy’s senior military leadership in the West.
Particularly helpful to an understanding of the challenges faced by Davis’ high command is Woodworth’s campaign analysis. Also exemplary is the concise summary he provides of key points at the end of each chapter. This important study in leadership fills a gap and stands equal to and complementary of the T. Harry William classic,  Lincoln and His Generals. It is both highly readable and academically rich.

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The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon by Jeremy Black

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TheWarof1812

The good folks at the University of Oklahoma Press forwarded a review copy of Jeremy Black’s new book, The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon. In my usual fashion, I am making an initial post about the book before a full reading.

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ISBN: 978-0-8061-4078-0
Hardcover
288 pages
6″ x 9″ x 0″
1 B&W Illus., 3 Maps
Published: 2009, Oklahoma University Press

Jeremy Black

Jeremy Black (Photo: athens.edu)

The quick perusal reveals several compelling reasons for recommending the book. First, it is written from “an Atlantic vantage point, which accounts for its contribution to the academic coverage of the war as the latter tend to reflect national perspectives, mostly American, but also Canadian.” (Black, xiv) It goes without saying that any serious scholar of military history would seek out the work of historians and indeed primary sources providing insights from a variety of vantage points. Second, Black speaks to the impact of the war not only on America but also on Canada. Black speculates on how the history of the United States would have been very different had it expanded into Canada, “not the least because the slave states of the South would have been in a decided minority.” (Black, xii) Third, Black covers the naval operations so crucial to the war’s outcome. Fourth, the books addresses the consequences of the war. Black discusses the war’s “impact on America’s politics, public culture, economy, and territorial expansion” as being even more important than the military results. (Black, xiii) Finally, the book promises to explore the implications of unwanted expeditionary war, a topic with relevancy today.

Professor Black’s new book is Volume 21 in the Campaigns and Commanders Series. Black, a prolific writer, has authored more than seventy (70) books. He is Professor of History at the University of Exeter and a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of America and the West at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. He has lectured extensively around the world.

The Campaigns and Commanders Series at the University of Oklahoma Press include the following:


Title Volume Author(s)
The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon 21 By Jeremy Black
A Dragon’s Head and a Serpent’s Tail 20 By Kenneth M. Swope
With Zeal and with Bayonets Only 19 Matthew H. Spring
Once Upon a Time in War 18 Robert E. Humphrey
Borrowed Soldiers 17 Mitchell A. Yockelson;
The Far Reaches of Empire 16 John Grenier
Napoleon’s Enfant Terrible 15 John G. Gallaher
Three Days in the Shenandoah 14 Gary Ecelbarger
George Thomas 13 Christopher J. Einolf
Volunteers on the Veld 12 Stephen M. Miller
The Black Hawk War of 1832 10 Patrick J. Jung
William Harding Carter and the American Army 9 Ronald G. Machoian
Blood in the Argonne 8 Alan D Gaff
Blue Water Creek and the First Sioux War, 1854-1856 6 R. Eli Paul
The Uncivil War 5 Robert R. Mackey
Bayonets in the Wilderness 4 Alan D Gaff
Washita 3 Jerome A. Greene
Morning Star Dawn 2 Jerome A. Greene
Napoleon and Berlin 1 Michael V. Leggiere

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Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane

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Jayhawkers

ISBN: 978-0-8061-3999-9
Cloth
352 pages
12 b&w illus., 1 map
Published: 2009-04-30

JHLane

Carte d' visite of James Henry Lane, 1814-1866 Photographer: Brady National Photographic Art Gallery (Washington, D.C.) Library of Congress, Reproduction Number: LC-MSS-44297-33-037 (b&w negative)

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The good folks at the University of Oklahoma Press sent me a review copy yesterday of Bryce Benedict’s Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane. In my usual fashion, I’m posting a few comments prior to a thorough reading.

I live on the borders of Missouri and Kansas so confess some considerable fascination with both Jim Lane and the evolution of war in the towns and farmlands of this part of the Western theater. Lane, a Kansas senator and strong advocate of Lincoln, was a player. Benedict identifies Lincoln himself as having given Lane authority “to raise and command two volunteer regiments.” Lane used them to harass Missourians with violence, theft, and destruction of property in a manner foreshadowing that of Sherman. Benedict posits that Lane thus embraced the notion of “total war” as a means of disabling the enemy’s war machine before it became more widely adopted as a strategy of the Union.

The photo of Lane on the cover (above) was a brilliant choice. After perusing the Library of Congress and finding  his carte d’visite (left), it becomes clear that the look of the man fit his personality. In the words of Milton W. Reynolds, Lane was “weird, mysterious, partially insane, partially inspired, and poetic.” He described him as having lived a “…wayward, fitful life of passion and strife, of storm and sunshine  a mysterious existence that now dwelt on the mountain-tops of expectation and the very summit of highest realization, and anon in the valley of despondency and deepest gloom.” [1] Lane committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a pistol in 1866.

Author Bryce Benedict has produced a well researched work with notes for each chapter and three appendices including considerable information about fate of the casualties of Lane’s brigade, most of whom died from disease.

—–

For further reading, check out these books digitized for online reading at the Library of Congress.

[1] Connelley, William Elsey, (1855-1930) James Henry Lane, the “Grim chieftain” of Kansas (Topeka: Crane, 1899). The Library of Congress Digitized Book.  LOC Call number: 9594581, Digitizing sponsor: Sloan Foundation

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New Acquisition – The Complete Gettysburg Guide

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I made a number of new acquisitions over the past month. The latest arrived in the mail today and has been added to my virtual bookshelves here. I’m actually pretty excited by this purchase.

The Complete Gettysburg Guide

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The Complete Gettysburg Guide: Walking and Driving Tours of the Battlefield, Town, Cemeteries, Field Hospital Sites, and other Topics of Historical Interest

Format: Hardcover
Price: $39.95
ISBN: 978-1-932714-63-0
Published: 2009-06-01 by Savas Beatie
Language: English
Binding: Hardcover
Pages: 320
Dimensions: 7 X 10

Petruzzi

Petruzzi

J. David Petruzzi (Author) who blogs at Hoofbeats and Cold Steel here.


Steven Stanley

Stanley

and Steven Stanley (Maps and Photography) 62 photos and 70 full color maps

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The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta

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Bonfire

The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta
Marc Wortman
ISBN 978-1-58648-482-8
Pub date: 08/11/09
Price: $28.95/36.50 Canada
6 1/8 x 9 1/4
464 pages

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The good folks at PublicAffairs Books sent me a review copy of Marc Wortman’s  The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta viewable on my virtual bookshelves here. I decided to create a shelf specific to “Civil War Sieges” because this book doesn’t quite fit in other categories. That uniqueness is part of its draw.

Full disclosure: This is my usual “pre-read” post where I’ll share some early impressions. Wortman had me before page one because he put six nicely done maps right up front. His poignant introduction left me with no recourse but to read on. A small excerpt:

War is cruelty. Its bloodshed and destruction – the “hard hand of war,” as Sherman really did call it – struck Atlanta with a greater ferocity than it has any American city in history. This is the story of how Atlanta and its people came to be in the direct line of the whirlwind, what one of the besieged city’s Confederate defenders called “a grand holocaust of death.” (Wortman, 2)

Having read the first chapter, I can say that Wortman has a talent for turning a phrase. His depiction of a devastated Atlanta on the morning of September 2, 1864 put me there.

A reeking sulfurous stew that stung the eyes had already settled over the town, filling the railroad cuts, hollows, and streets. Its tendrils wavered along the hillsides and ravines and sifted through the blackened skeletons of what once were houses and factories, railcars and machine shops. It was the silence, though, that shocked people most. Three predawn hours of gut-rattling, earsplitting, and window-shattering explosions and gunfire made the previous night feel like the announcement that the Apocalypse had finally come. But the infernal noise had ended shortly before morning’s light tipped into the eyes of those hunkered down within the earth. (Wortman, 5)

From reading just a few chapters of book, its TOC, and its index, I can add that Wortman’s work emphasizes the broader historical context of the war, covers the importance of railroads during the Civil War, provides insights into the conflict as seen from the perspectives of common soldiers and citizens, and draws upon a substantial amount of primary sources. All of these are pluses.

I look forward to a thorough reading.

Marc Wortman

Marc Wortman

Author Marc Wortman, see his website here,  is a freelance journalist of some acclaim. He received his doctorate in Comparative Literature from Princeton University.

An earlier book published by PublicAffairs Books in May of 2007, The Millionaires’ Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys Who Fought the Great War and Invented American Air Power, also looks like a great read and I recently ordered a copy. Per the publisher, it is in development as a major motion picture. Of note, both of Wortman’s histories are available in Kindle versions which means you can begin reading them in about 40 seconds.

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A Separate Country

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Robert HicksThe good folks at Hachette Book Group USA sent me a review copy of Robert Hicks’ A Separate Country. A follow up to the bestseller, The Widow of the South, which  hit the New York Times Best Seller List, this new title will be available in bookstores on September 23rd. Multiple versions will be available including electronic and audio (unabridged). You can preview the book here.
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A Separate Country

Category: FICTION
Format: HARDCOVER BOOK
Publish Date: 9/23/2009
Price: $25.99/$31.99
ISBN: 9780446581646
Pages: 432
Size: 6″ x 9

It’s subject is the ever fascinating Confederate General John Bell Hood and his life after the war with wife, Anna Marie Hennen (see her obit here). You can read excerpts of Hood’s memoir, Advance and Retreat here.

John_B_Hood

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The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History

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BotCrater

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I have happily received a review copy of John F. Schmutz’s The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History. I can be counted among those whose interest in this remarkable 9 hour battle was piqued after watching the mesmerizing opening sequence of the film based on Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.

Scenes of The Battle of the Crater in the trailer of Cold Mountain, a film by Anthony Minghella

Scenes of The Battle of the Crater in the trailer of Cold Mountain, a film by Anthony Minghella

It would be hard to find a similar military event in history that paralleled this one in terms of overwhelming potential for success run amok. Schmutz’s use of an opening quote about the July 30, 1864 battle by Ulysses S. Grant perhaps says it best…

The loss in the disaster of Saturday last foots up about 3,500, of whom 450 men were killed and 2,000 wounded. It was the saddest affair I have ever witnessed in the war. Such an opportunity for carrying fortifications I have never seen and do not expect again to have.

- Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to Major General
Henry W. Halleck, August 1, 1864.

According to Schmutz, his interest in the Battle of the Crater began with the discovery that he had “two direct ancestors in the battle, one with the 14th New York Heavy Artillery, which at the last minute, and without any preparation or forewarning, was chosen to lead the assault, with disastrous consequences.” (Preface) This seed germinated into one of the first studies to take a broad-brush approach to the battle, examining the events leading up to it, the country’s mood in its now third year of civil war, brutality committed against black troops, atrocities perpetrated by both sides, first-hand accounts, and the impact of the battle “on the body politic of both sides.”

Schmutz appropriately gives readers a sense for war in the trenches that were part of the Siege of Petersburg.

As both sides dug even deeper entrenchments and more infantry obstacles, the rolling farmland east and south of the city was soon churned into scenes resembling a moonscape. These tandem ramparts ran for twenty-six miles, crossed two major rivers, and traversed parts of four Virginia countries, from White Oak Swamp, east of Richmond, across Bermuda Hundred and south of the Jerusalem Plank Road below the city. No campaign of the war quite equaled the siege of Petersburg, which was the object of the longest military action ever waged against an American city. More battles were fought and more lives lost there than in the defense of any better-known Southern cities such as Richmond, Vicksburg or Atlanta. (p. 40)

Henry Pleasants

Henry Pleasants

The excellent chapter titled “The Earth Movers,” reveals how Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants and the men of the 48th Pennsylvania, many of them coal miners, accomplished what Meade’s engineers mockingly called impossible, the building of a lengthy tunnel without detection by the Confederates. Receiving literally no support from Meade or his men, Pleasants overcame every challenge with ingenuity and innovation. As an example, he used a combination of miner’s bellows and fire to create draft to circulate air through a shaft built into the tunnel wall. This bit of creative thinking, the details of which are a must read, became what Schmutz called Pleasants’ “greatest engineering feat.” (p. 61)

The Crater as it appeared in 1865. The Union soldier seated at the end of the tunnel gives an idea of the size of the Crater.  National Archives.

From the National Park Service site on the Petersburg National Battlefield, "The Crater as it appeared in 1865. The Union soldier seated at the end of the tunnel gives an idea of the size of the Crater." Click the image to go to the site.

Of note, Schmutz provides an impressive set of references in his appendices, something I always value in a book of serious history. These include:

  • Organization of Opposing Forces on July 30, 1864 including Union and Confederate Corps, Division, and Brigade, and in some cases Company commanders and officers
  • Casualty counts by Corps, Division, Brigade and Unit
  • Medal of Honor Recipients and Confederate Roll of Honor Recipients by Corps including a brief statement about why they received the award
    Union Officers Killed or Mortally Wounded by Corps, Division, and Brigade
  • Full and extensive Chapter Notes
  • An impressive Bibliography which demonstrates the extent of primary sources used in Schumtz’s research

I greatly look forward to fully reading this book and fully expect that a Highly Recommend will be forthcoming.

Kevin Levin has recently provided a review of The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History on H-Net here.

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The Rebel and the Rose

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TheRebelandtheRose

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I was pleased to recently receive a review copy of the book The Rebel and the Rose: James Semple, Julia Gardiner Tyler, and the Lost Confederate Gold. Its authors, Wesley Millett and Gerald White, are profiled on the book’s attractive website here. The book is currently published by Turner Publishing Company.

It promises insight into several interesting topics:

  • the flight of Jefferson Davis at war’s end
  • the disappearance of the Confederate war chest
  • a romantic liaison with presidential ties

More to come…

More Debate on The State of Jones and Interview with John Stauffer

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A quick break from the books to tip the hat to Elektra Tig for Tweet on John Stauffer interview here on the Omnivoracious blog about his book, The State of Jones.

The book continues to generate debate.

The Wall Street Journal posted a chapter in their books section here and Michael B. Ballard’s review of the book appears in the WSJ here. Authors Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer provide a response/rebuttal to that review on July 17th in an article titled “The State of Jones Was Real, and Ahead of Its Time” available here. The debate continues to be fascinating.

State of Jones on WSJ

OK back to Taken at the Flood.

Book Review: Lincoln and His Generals

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Lincoln and His Generals1T. HARRY WILLIAMS. Lincoln and His Generals.  New York: Random House, 1952. Pp. viii, 363, $2.40.

T. Harry Williams

T. Harry Williams

Over half a century ago, T. Harry Williams wrote an exceptional work with as major theme that the performance of President Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief during the American Civil War positioning him as the true director of the war efforts of Northern armies and the progenitor of the country’s first modern command system. He shows Lincoln to be an able student of military strategy who ramped up quickly, grasped the end game and generally how to reach it, but struggled to find the right executioner of those plans. That he was even more skilled as a politician meant that he functioned superbly as leader in both political and military spheres throughout the conflict.

This is a work about the challenges of leadership set against what Williams calls the first of the “modern total wars.” (3) Williams chronicles the war from Lincoln’s perspective presenting the strengths and, more notably, the many foibles of the men who served the North in senior military positions. Their relative caliber appears to have been directly correlated to the attention Lincoln had to give them. More attention from and scrutiny by Lincoln was thus not a mark of achievement. Williams’ work reflects that relative attention. For example, he begins his discussion of McClellan in Chapter 2 and does not finish with him until Chapter 8 at which point Lincoln finally dismisses McClellan in disgust. (179) Williams takes his readers through the agonizing months Lincoln spent attempting to manage McClellan and his paranoia regarding enemy troop strength and inability to execute when it would put his men in harm’s way or there was the potential to fail. Grant, by contrast to McClellan, received some but not extensive coverage by Williams reflecting Lincoln’s own confidence that Grant could carry forward Lincoln’s strategic aims effectively. Williams concludes that in the waning months of 1864, Lincoln had sufficient trust in Grant to intervene little in the war’s management. That is not to say that Lincoln shrugged off any responsibility in setting strategic direction or in monitoring closely “and sometimes anxiously” the conduct of the war. (336) He was quick to reset direction when required.
lincoln
Williams’ organization of the book is driven largely by the order of his encounters with senior military leaders. He begins with the infamous but corpulent and declining General Winfield Scott. We are given images of Lincoln chatting by the fire in Scott’s drawing room about daily reports and strategic options. Lincoln begins to reveal his own nascent military strategies and to measure those proposed by the militarist Scott against civilian and political realities. Lincoln also demonstrates an important resolve to make and stand by decisions even if they go against those of senior military advisors. Williams provides illustration of this by pointing to Lincoln’s grasping of the strategic golden nugget within Scott’s Anaconda Plan of control of the Mississippi but Lincoln’s rejection of its execution because it risked a drawn out and uncertain resolution.

Regular army man Irvin McDowell is then tagged by Lincoln to take command of the swelling number of troops in and around Washington, a number that by the summer of 1861 exceeded 30,000 men. Lincoln pushes McDowell, of course, into an offensive movement at Manassas to disastrous results. While the mark against McDowell’s mediocre reputation is severe, Williams allows us to see that Lincoln is willing to bear some of the blame.

The scene is thus set for the summoning of McClellan to Washington. This begins Lincoln’s relationship with “the problem child of the Civil War.” (25) Williams chronicles the early months of McClellan’s experiences in the East, his messianic complex, disrespect for Lincoln and others with whom he had to deal, and the efforts that Lincoln had to make to manage a man who held such promise but failed to deliver. It is clear that Lincoln, to this credit, attempted many different techniques in his efforts to supervise McClellan.

John C. Fremont, McClellan’s peer in the Western Department and a political appointment made by Lincoln himself, proves disastrous in his mismanagement of Missouri and a bitter disappointment. Williams captures well the odd quirks of both Fremont and the Blair family, his patrons, and the lengths to which Lincoln had to go to remove him.

Halleck is portrayed as only marginally effective and jealous enough of Grant’s successes in the field to take credit for them. (61) His self-directed shift to subordinate role as coordinator and communicator between Lincoln and his staff is fascinating.

Other commanders are mentioned primarily for their lack-luster performances including Rosecrans, Buell, Thomas, Banks, and Butler to name a few. Williams’ provides an excellent summary of each man including physical characteristics, approach to command, reputation, and personality traits. He often reveals the quirks or failings that made them less than acceptable as senior command candidates. For example, he describes Benjamin F. Butler as “ingenious, resourceful, and colorful, but …no field general.” (188) Williams’ description of Rosecrans reveals a well researched sum of the man from his “intensified Roman nose” to his “good strategic sense and aggressive instincts.” (186-187) But he is thorough enough to point to Rosecrans weaknesses including a lack of “balance and poise that a great commander should have” which revealed a man unable to “control himself and the situation.” (187)

Clearly apparent in this history is that Lincoln, while climbing a steep learning curve, became an astute war strategist. In fact, Williams contends that the notion of “total war” as a means of destroying the Confederate Army was identified earliest and most enthusiastically as a strategic plank by Lincoln who “saw the big picture” better than most of his commanders and staff. (7) He further asserts that no one in the military leadership of either side had the experience to wage war at the scale that would be America’s Civil War. Both sides shared an equal innocence of the knowledge war making. (4) That said, Lincoln’s performance when viewed against that of Davis is all the more impressive.

Williams points out that Lincoln exhibited many good qualities as a leader. By example, he was not quick to claim credit for the successes of Sherman, even though he would have been justified to do so given the strategic direction he provided. Rather, Lincoln showered praise on men whose efforts were successful. He seemed to simply want vigilance and self-reliance from his commanders, both qualities he saw in Grant. (315)

Williams’ use of primary sources is impressive and adds credibility to his conclusions. Many citations were from actual correspondence or official records of exchanges between Lincoln and his team or Halleck and the field commanders. This depth of research adds much to the work.

At the time of publication, this book was the only one to fully examine Lincoln’s performance as commander in chief and stood as such for many years. Interestingly, in 2009, historian James McPherson visited the same topic and drew much from Williams’ foundation in his work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. While good, I find it no better and in many ways a rehashing of  Williams’ work, one that continues to stand on strong scholarship and goes far toward explaining Lincoln’s brilliance as both politician and military strategist.

Gettysburg: The Film, The Books, The Battle

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Little Round Top Union Breastworks

Little Round Top Union Breastworks (Source: The National Archives) Brady

Each July we bring out the film Gettysburg and watch it in a couple of sittings. (My husband can’t wait for the four plus hour epic to come out in Blu-ray.)

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s more than a bit hokey here and there but the scene of the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment is always a highlight.

My current reading for class discusses the legacy of bayonet charges from the Mexican War and the debate over the frequency of their use during the American Civil War still goes on. Undebatable is the inspired use of a downhill bayonet charge by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and its standing on the list of well-known actions at Gettysburg.

Chamberlain

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

I’ve been enjoying the perspectives of several ACW bloggers on their top ten books on Gettysburg which Brett over a TOCWOC has nicely organized for us here.

Check them out. Very much worth perusing.

The State of Jones

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The good folks at Doubleday sent me a review copy of The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded from the Confederacy by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer. It is available for pre-order now from WigWags Books and will be published on June 23rd.

The State of Jones

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385525931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385525930
  • Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches

This is the story of Newton Knight who was a Unionist living in Mississippi and strongly anti-slavery. The authors suggest that he was “the South’s strangest soldier.”

Some quick facts:

  • In Jones County Mississippi, fifty-three men had not only fought as anti-Confederate guerrillas, but formally enlisted in the Union army in New Orleans
  • Knight’s group of guerrillas “remained unconquered though surrounded by Confederate Armies from start to finish.”
  • Jones was drafted into the Confederate army but refused to fight and eventually deserted.
  • Knight had two families, one white and one black. His black family was with a slave named Rachel who was owned by his family and who helped him during the war. He acknowledged her children as his own.

I profess to getting behind in my reading for school because of this book. I promise to write a proper review after I’m finished reading it. I can say that it is VERY well written.

Newton Knight’s story is being made into a film currently in production. Filmmaker Gary Ross is writer, director, and  one of several producers.

Sally Jenkins is an award-winning journalist currently with the Washington Post. She has authored eight books, three of New York Times bestsellers.

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John Stauffer is Professor of English and African American Studies and Chair of the Committee on Higher Degrees in the History of American Civilization at Harvard. Stauffercropped
His prior book, GIANTS: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, I mentioned in a previous post which you can read here. giants

Class Starting on Monday – Civil War Strategy and Tactics

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Jomini

After a delay of several weeks due to work obligations (reorganization), I’m starting up on Monday the course CIvil War Strategy and Tactics with great enthusiasm. Having seen the syllabus, I know that we begin with a discussion/debate of Jomini’s (pictured right) influence on the strategies employed by both sides during the Civil War. We read, (or in my case read again, as  this was assigned in the course Great Military Philosophers), John Shy’s masterful essay on Jomini that appears in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Do a search on my blog on the word Jomini (or click here as I’ve done it for you) and you may be as amazed as I was on the number of posts I’ve made about him.

makers

See previous posts about the class below outlining the texts we’ll be using.

Next Course: Civil War Strategy and Tactics

New Class Starts with Jomini

Next Term’s Books are In! Mostly…

Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution

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tamingdemocracyl

I was delighted to find a package from Oxford University Press waiting at my door this afternoon and in it was a review copy of the new paperback edition of Terry Bouton’s Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution. This looks to be a fascinating read, one that presents a more accurate picture of the founding fathers and the common man of the era.

This from the pre-publicity…

The Founding Fathers are generally considered the most highly regarded Americans in the history of our country; celebrated as the brave and noble group of visionaries who banded together to overthrow the British and bring democracy to the land. Yet what if, contrary to popular belief, these fondly remembered individuals weren’t the great purveyors of freedom for all that we accept them to be?

Taming Democracy devotes much of its pages to the ordinary citizens who protested against the Founding Fathers’ hypocrisy. Common citizens of all back grounds did everything from run for political office to organize political parties and uprisings against what they labeled “united avarice” controlled by “moneyed men.”

It’s worth noting that this book was recipient of the Philip S. Klein Book Prize of the Pennsylvania Historical Association and received Honorable Mention, Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award.

boutonTerry Bouton is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and holds a PhD from Duke University. His homepage at the university can be accessed here.

Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North

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copperheads1

The good folks at Oxford University Press have sent me a review copy of Jennifer L. Weber’s book, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North. I’m very much looking forward to reading Weber’s work as it addresses the political war that was in play during the American Civil War in the North.  This quick excerpt from the back jacket gives a taste of the ferocity of that conflict.

The Northern home-front during the Civil War was far from tranquil. Fierce political debates set communities on edge, spurred secret plots against the Union, and triggered widespread violence. At the heart of all the turmoil stood the anti-war Democrats, nicknamed “Copperheads.” Now, Jennifer L. Weber offers the first full-length portrait of this powerful faction to appear in almost half a century. Weber reveals how the Copperheads came perilously close to defeating Lincoln and ending the war in the South’s favor.

Note that James M. McPherson provides the foreword.

jennifer_weberDr. Weber is an Assistant Professor with the Department of History at Kansas University and you can see her profile on the campus site here. Oxford University Press provides an online Q & A with Dr. Weber on her book here.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 9, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195306686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195306682
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Note that this book is also available in a Kindle edition.

Book Review: Two Brothers, One North, One South

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Jones, David H. Two Brothers, One North, One South. Encino, CA: Staghorn Press, 2008. 320pp, ISBN 13: 978-0-9796898-5-7, $24.95.

two-brothersIn his historical novel, David H. Jones tells the story of the the Prentiss brothers, William and Clifton, who fight on opposite sides of the American Civil War. The primary narrator is era poet, Walt Whitman, who befriends a dying William in the military hospital at the close of the war. In the young Confederate’s final days, he recounts to Mr. Whitman his experiences which Whitman, in turn, finds opportunity to share with brother Clifton, a Union officer, who lies wounded in the same hospital. They are joined by family members who collect around Clifton following William’s death.

The story tells of young Southern men dashing off to join the fight and courageous Southern women who persuade politicos to contribute arms and supplies to Southern recruits and who even become blockade runners to ensure that those supplies reach the troops.  We are witness to a number of key battles of the war, introduced to the weapons used, and generally educated about what it would have been like to serve in, primarily, the Confederate ranks. There is significantly less information provided through the storyline about the war experiences of brother Clifton and the Northern perspective.

What is unique about the novel is that the brothers featured were real and many will find the facts surrounding their lives, so carefully researched, intriguing. The presentation of the novel is also stylistically unique in that it is written using the formal language of the era.

I had the sense in reading Two Brothers that Jones struggled to nail down the book’s genre as he set about writing it. The work often resembles non-fiction with much “telling” of history rather than the “showing” of character-driven action and drama that makes for good fiction. While the “telling” made for interesting history, as a piece of fiction, the book was less than satisfying. That said, Civil War buffs will enjoy the military aspects of the book which are well researched.

Acquisition: An Army At Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942 – 1943 Plus…

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Just a note that I’ve picked up a copy of An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 by Rick Atkinson. This book, the first in his Liberation Trilogy, won the Pulitzer Prize. I was quite impressed by Mr. Atkinson’s book, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, which I reviewed here.

anarmyatdawn

Paperback: 768 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Revised edition (May 15, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805087249
ISBN-13: 978-0805087246

I also purchased the second book in the trilogy, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, which many reviewers have indicated surpasses the first.

the-day-of-battle

Paperback: 848 pages
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 080508861X
ISBN-13: 978-0805088618

Even better, I’ve discovered that most of Mr. Atkinson’s books are available in audio format free from my local public library and so they will be on my MP3. Sweet!

American Rifle, A Biography

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Under the guise of a Christmas gift for my husband, I have acquired a copy of Alexander Rose’s new book, American Rifle, A Biography. I have reluctantly agreed with him that he should thus have the opportunity to read it first.

Alex has been getting some outstanding reviews including one from the Washington Post which you can read here. You can catch up on more reviews over at Alex’s blog here.

americanrifle

Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press (October 21, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0553805177
ISBN-13: 978-0553805178
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches

Lincoln and His Admirals

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I’m very pleased to have received a review copy yesterday of Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds from the terrific folks over at Oxford University Press. You can view the book’s listing at OUP here. Being a student of both the American Civil War AND maritime history, I can’t think of a better read. I’m reserving this one for the Christmas holiday. This will also be my first introduction to the work of Craig L. Symonds. More to come on my review.

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Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 17, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0195310225
ISBN-13: 978-0195310221
Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches

Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life

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alaplYesterday, I was pleased to receive a review copy of James M. McPherson’s upcoming release, Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life from Oxford University Press. It is scheduled to be released on the date marking the 200th year since Lincoln’s birth. While I’ve yet to complete it, I was impressed by Dr. McPherson’s candor in the introduction about his own shift in opinion about Lincoln and his presidency. While initially critical of Lincoln, not unlike the abolitionists of the era of his presidency, McPherson’s years of study brought new appreciation for Lincoln’s skills as an adroit commander-in-chief tasked with challenges of incredible complexity.

Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0195374525
ISBN-13: 978-0195374520
Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.7 inches

For the Common Defense

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Peter Maslowski and Allan R. Millett. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. Enlarged edition. Simon & Schuster, 1994. See the book on publisher’s site here.

This monumental survey of American military history has three stated purposes. The first is to analyze the development of military policy. The second is to examine the characteristics and behavior of the United States armed forces in the execution of that policy and the third is to illuminate the impact of military policy on America’s international relations and domestic development. Millett and Maslowski propose that there are six major themes that position military history within the larger context of American history. These include the following and are quoted from the text.

  1. Rational military considerations alone have rarely shaped military policies and programs. The political system and societal values have imposed constraints on defense matters.
  2. American defense policy has traditionally been built upon pluralistic military institutions, most notably a mixed force of professionals and citizen-soldiers.
  3. Despite the popular belief that the United States has generally been unprepared for war, policy makers have done remarkably well in preserving the nation’s security.
  4. The nation’s firm commitment to civilian control of the armed forces requires careful attention to civil-military relations.
  5. The armed forces of the nation have become progressively more nationalized and professionalized.
  6. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, but especially during the twentieth century, industrialization has shaped the way the nation has fought.

The authors further suggest that Americans do not consider themselves a warring people but have in fact become involved in a number of conflicts and that because of this, the study of the United States’ military history is important in if one hopes to gain better insight into both America’s history and its current and future identity.

Millett and Maslowski structure their book chronologically, which is completely fitting. They begin with a survey of colonists from 1609 – 1689. They devote a chapter as well to the Colonial Wars that occurred between 1689 and 1763. The American Revolution follows and includes the years between 1763 and 1783. Two chapters cover the military history of the new republic including its expansion. This includes the period 1783 – 1860 after which the country is on the precipice of civil war. Two chapters are devoted to the American Civil War the first focusing on the early years of 1861 and 1862. The second surveys the years between 1863 and the war’s end in 1865. And so the format continues covering major years of either military growth or conflict through to two great wars. Several chapters are devoted to the period spanning the Cold War during which the Korean War took place. The Vietnam War covers the period from 1961 – 1975. The periods marking the end of the Cold War follow and then a chapter is devoted to the Gulf War.The book was written and published in its revised format prior to the Iraq War.

Millett and Maslowski’s work provides outstanding bibliographies expanded in the revised edition to include selected references at the end of every chapter as well as a generous General Bibliography. It also includes an excellent set of illustrations and photographs. This work is intended for students of American military history and American history in general. It should also appeal to the reader who wants a perspective on the events of world history in which the American military has been engaged.

Both authors bring impeccable credentials to their authorship of this text. Allan R. Millett (see his 2007 vitae here) is the Raymond E. Mason Jr. Professor Emeritus of History from The Ohio State University. He is the Stephen Ambrose Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. He received his B.A. in English from DePauw University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from The Ohio State University. He is a retired colonel of the Marine Corps Reserve, and a specialist in the history of American military policy and 20th century wars and military institutions. He is one of the founders of the military history program at The Ohio State University. Dr. Millett was recently honored with the 2008 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing (see the news release here).

Peter Maslowski is Professor of History at the University of Nebraska where he specializes in the history of the Civil War, military, and Vietnam War. He received his B.A. from Miami University and M.A. and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. Professor Maslowski served as the John F. Morrison Professor of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff from 1986 to 1987. In 2002, Professor Maslowski, a highly regarded teacher/lecturer, received the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA). He is on the Advisory Board of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. For an excellent interview with Professor Maslowski on his career, see the 2005 interview in the Daily Nebraskan here

I have found no other resource on U.S. Military History that is so comprehensive in nature. Recommend.

Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War

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Rick Atkinson. Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. See the publisher’s book site here.


Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Atkinson presents as narrative history the Persian Gulf War from its opening salvo to the American victory parade in the nation’s capital. His stated purpose is to tell the story of this “limited war,” certainly, but in doing so, he reveals much about America’s military elite and their need to heal from the failures of Vietnam. He exposes a heightened intra-service competition not unexpected in a campaign of this size but indicative of the growing role of air power in limited war. He also presents a study in leadership and a particularly frank examination of the Schwarzkopf war room which most senior commanders feared entering due their leader’s explosive temperament and demoralizing criticism. It is Atkinson’s view that his leadership style actually prevented, to a significant degree, decentralization of initiative conducive to effective field command. The book demonstrates well that the America of the 1990’s had reached the level of superpower. Equally revealing is the jockeying for power among Schwarzkopf’s commanders. Atkinson makes a clear case for the lopsidedness of the war evidenced by an American technological and logistical strength unparalleled in history. He also emphasizes the advantages enjoyed by America’s dominance of the air and the crucial role that played in the conflict’s outcome. But he concludes that the American and allied war machine was not flawless. Weapons technology proved in some cases finicky, airplanes vulnerable to Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries, and friendly fire mishaps unavoidable.

Rick Atkinson

Mr. Atkinson comes to the task of authorship with impressive credentials. A graduate of East Carolina University and the University of Chicago, his most impressive qualifications come from a strong record of investigative and writing skills. His role as primary correspondent for the Washington Post during the Gulf conflict certainly put him in the thick of that which could be revealed during the war. More extraordinary is his thorough post-conflict research including extensive interviews and the study of documents made public after the war. At the time of the book’s publication, Atkinson had already won a Pulitzer Prize (for national reporting, 1982). He would go on to win two more, one for Public Service (1999) and a third, the 2003 Pulitzer for History, for his book “An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943.” He would also serve as the 2004 General Omar N. Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership at the Army War College, and has been a recipient of numerous journalism awards.

Crusade carries importance for a wide audience within the United States military, military historians, and civilian government. But it is particularly informative for the American public. Atkinson pulls from the shadows information about the inner workings of the American political and military engines that drove both strategy and execution of the Gulf War in a manner decidedly more guarded than the Iraq War of the 21st century. The insight allows the reader to make a more balanced evaluation of the conflict. Atkinson demonstrates the fickleness of public opinion in a powerful epilogue which contrasts the military victory parade in Washington with the demise of the Bush administration, even after what was initially considered a successful war. I find it difficult to attribute this, and other conclusions Atkinson draws, as evidence of any bias. Indisputably, the power and relevance of the book has grown immeasurably given Bush-the-younger’s return to Iraq post 911.

Highly recommend.

The Army and Vietnam

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Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. The Army and Vietnam. Reprint. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

Change is inevitable and organizations must learn to adapt. Author Andrew Krepinevich, Jr. asserts in this work of history and analysis of the United States military experience during the Vietnam War that the army failed prepare or adapt to new circumstances. Instead it prepared and proceeded to fight the type of war to which it had become accustom, a war like that of World War II in a European theater.

Krepinevich asks a remarkable question worth repeating.

“How could the army of the most powerful nation on Earth, materially supported on a scale unprecedented in history, equipped with the most sophisticated technology in an age when technology was assumed the role of a god of war, fail to emerge victorious against a numerically inferior force of lightly armed irregulars?”

Andrew Krepinevich Jr.

Analyzing this question gives the book its purpose. His conclusion is that the nation’s civilian and military leadership failed to adapt. In so doing they ensure that the “United States Army was neither trained nor organized to fight effectively in an insurgency conflict environment.” At issue is what Krepinevich calls “The Army Concept” of war which he defines as “the Army’s perception of how wars ought to be waged and is reflected in the way the Army organizes and trains its troops for battle.” A key conclusion is that the army’s previous experience, which would help to inform “The Army Concept,” simply didn’t prepare it for a counterinsurgency. While the U.S. Army became masterful at the World War II form of battle, it did not prepare for the deployment of light infantry formations, firepower restraint, and the need to resolve political and social issues with a country targeted by insurgents. Interestingly, Krepinevich also concludes that the ability to adapt to this type of war should have been maintained in the collective military for we had been insurgents ourselves during the American Revolution. Likewise, America fought the equivalent of an insurgency against Native Americans, and guerillas during the Philippine War. But the author contends that Army leaders chose to focus rather on more conventional forms of war.

Krepinevich structures his text chronologically into three parts. The first reviews the period from 1954 – 1965 when the United States served as advisor to the South Vietnamese. The second part covers the period from 1965 – 1968 during which time the U.S. had committed a significant number of troops. His final section covers the years of withdrawal, 1968 – 1973. The author provides a thorough notes section. This work’s intended audience is broad. It’s appropriate for military historians certainly, as well as today’s military and civilian leadership and strategy makers. Given the evolution of counterinsurgency as the norm for warfare in today’s world, the lessons to be learned all the more urgent. The author of the forward for the work, Colonel George K. Osborn III, also points out an additional audience, students of organizational change within large bureaucratic organizations. I couldn’t agree more.

Dr. Krepinevich is a graduate of West Point and at the time of the book’s publication was a Major in the U.S. Army. He holds an MPA and Ph.D. from Harvard University and is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He presides over the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent policy research institute established to promote innovative thinking about defense planning and investment strategies for the 21st century. He is both author and lecturer on U.S. military strategy and policy. His recent works include Strategy for a Long Peace; Transforming America’s Alliances; The Quadrennial Defense Review: Rethinking the U.S. Military Posture, and How to Win in Iraq. His has published work in Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, Issues in Science and Technology, Joint Forces Quarterly, The Naval War College Review, and Strategic Review. He is also a contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and has appeared on each of the major networks, National Public Radio, and The McLaughlan Group. He has lectured at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, the U.S. Military Academy, the Air University, the Army and Naval War Colleges, Europe’s Marshall Center, and France’s Ecole Militaire. His book, The Army and Vietnam, received the 1987 Furniss Award. Krepinevich’s book is sure to be provocative. As an overview of America’s engagement in Southeast Asia and the lessons learned there, it is excellent.

East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950

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Back on July 5th, 2008 when I was reading East of Chosin as assigned for the class “Studies in U.S. Military History,” I posted several thoughts which you can read here. I made mention of it in another post on Technology in U.S. Military History  here. This is a remarkable story and one of those rare books that I count among the best I have read. I know others in my class felt the same.

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Roy E. Appleman. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950. Reprint. Texas A&M University Press, 1991. See the Texas A&M University Press page on East of Chosin here.

East of Chosin

This haunting work by Roy Appleman falls into the genre of narrative history that is difficult to set down once a reader begins. Appleman’s stated purpose is to “tell the neglected story of American soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division who fought on the east side of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.” He succeeds in portraying in significant detail the fate of these near 3000 U.S. Army soldiers trapped east of the Chosin Reservoir in the dead of the winter of 1950. This is good history. Because Appleman uses a number of primary sources (interviews with survivors), it is likely the most complete account of what actually occurred during this episode. Official records were almost non-existent.

National Archives, Title: WAITING, WAITING. These frostbite casualties of the embattled First Marine Division and Seventh Infantry Division who linked up in the Chosin Reservoir area in a desperate attempt to break out of Communist encirclement wait with set expressions on their faces for pickup by planes of the U.S. Air Force Far East Combat Cargo Command. Incoming aircraft carried supplies, rations, and ammunition to troops., ca. 12/1950;, Local Identifier: NWDNS-342-AF-78466AC

Inchon Invasion, September 1950, The National Archives Photo #: 80-G-420024

The narrative spans a short period of time, approximately four days and five nights during which the battle took place. Appleton begins by setting the scene of the war in Korea in November of 1950. This framing of the picture provides an excellent background for the events of the story: a war five months old, an over confident MacArthur who saw unprecedented success in his Landing at Inchon, a “Chinese phantom force” stealing across the Korean border. He then chronicles the deployment of U.S. Army troops in the area of the reservoir. Pointedly he also devotes a chapter to what the troops and their leaders did not know, predominately the massing of Chinese troops in the vicinity. The remaining chapters give a day-by-day account of the action. He ends with a chapter that explores whether the troops could have been saved and a thoughtful epilogue. The text has an impressive collection of maps and photos. Appleman created the maps himself after careful study. Most of the photographs are published here for the first time having been collected by Appleton from survivors. The author includes a large number of first person accounts of experiences by the men who returned which adds to the work’s credibility.

In an essay in the Appendix, Appleton addresses the inevitable rival-based comparisons between the disastrous breakout attempt of the Army’s soldiers east of Chosin Reservoir and the successful breakout to the sea of the much larger Marine forces that occurred in December of 1950. His conclusion is that the Army units east of Chosin were pieced together quickly to guard the Marine flank. They were not given adequate time for supply and planning, This points the finger of blame for the resulting tragedy clearly at senior leadership.

The audience for East of Chosin is clearly military historians but it also has relevance for the families of those involved in the event. It is equally informative to lay readers who want to better understand the nature of the Korean Conflict, much forgotten to the current generation.

Appleman brings respectable academic credentials and those of a soldier who fought in the Korean War. He was not a professor of history, rather a civil servant and soldier and his experiences inform his publications. He received the A.B. degree (magna cum laude) from The Ohio State University, attended Yale Law School, and was awarded an A.M. degree from Columbia University. He was first employed as a sites survey historian by the National Parks Service in 1936, and in July 1937, entered on duty as regional historian in Richmond, Virginia. He retired as chief, Branch of Park History Studies, Washington Office, in 1970. Appleman served in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. He was combat historian and captain with the Tenth Army on Okinawa and lieutenant colonel with the X Corps in Korea. His service as army historian during the Korean War required him to interview troops shortly after combat, a role that gives him a truly unique perspective from which to approach his writing. Appleman authored (or co-authored) several other military history studies including South to Naktong, North to the Yalu, Okinawa: The Last Battle, and Ridgway Duels for Korea, which won the Truman Library Book Award.

Appleman has successfully woven into his narrative much about the American military force in Korea including the weapons at its disposal and its command and control structure. The book is an excellent choice for providing a real accounting of the experience of soldiers in the Korean War. Highly recommend.

War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

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John W. Dower. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. Pantheon, 1987. See Pantheon’s site for this book here. See Professor Dower’s profile here.

  • Published on: 1987-02-12
  • ISBN-10: 0394751728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394751726
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 416 pages

Dower proposes in this out-of-the-ordinary work that we must constantly work at correcting and re-creating historical memory if we are to have hope of understanding World War Two in Asia or international and inter-racial conflict in general. He suggests that the war hates between the Americans and Japanese seemed to disappear almost overnight after the surrender of Japan and that they have continued to fade over time. His ultimate goal is to better understand how racism influenced the conduct of the war in Asia. To accomplish this, he went “beyond the formal documents and battle reports upon which historians normally rely” and drew “on materials such as songs, movies, cartoons, and a wide variety of popular as well as academic writings published at the time.” These were critical, he claims, “for re-creating the ethos which underlay the attitudes and actions of men and women during the period. One of Dower’s objectives was the identification of “dynamic patterns in the torrent of war words and graphic images” and to interpret from them “how stereotyped and often blatantly racist thinking contributed to poor military intelligence and planning, atrocious behavior, and the adoption of exterminations policies.” He also sought to explain how the hatred of the war years could have dissipated so easily. Chief among his observations is that atrocities occurred on both sides, thus making the subject a good one for comparative study. He concludes that the idea of race must be explored within “a larger context of hierarchical and authorities thinking” on both sides for race and power are inseparable.

John W. Dower

Dower divides his work into four parts. The first looks at the larger topic of vilifying one’s enemies including a section on “War hates and War Crimes.” Here he seeks to answer the question of why the west would place the Japanese above their other enemies in level of hatred. The second section looks at the war from western eyes and the third from the perspective of the Japanese. A final section covers the war’s close and the nature of post war race relationships. There is an extensive bibliography and notes section as well as a large number of illustrations many of which appeared in mass media of the era.

John Dower brings an impressive albeit somewhat different background to the realm of military history. Currently Professor of Japanese History at MIT, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1972 focusing on History and Far Eastern Languages. His book was honored with National Book Critics Circle Award and was an American Book Award Finalist. Among numerous other publications, Professor Dower’s more recent book, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize in Letters for General Nonfiction, National Book Award in Nonfiction, Bancroft Prize in American History, John K. Fairbank Prize in Asian History, Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History, Mark Lynton History Prize, and L. L. Winship/PEN New England Prize.

This work is one of considerable value to military and social history. It is a unique contribution and should be of interest to scholars of Japanese history as well as media history.

The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945

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Peter R. Mansoor. The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945. The University Press of Kansas, 1999. [See this item on the University Press of Kansas website here.]


Mansoor states as purpose for his study to examine the evolution of combat effectiveness in the American infantry divisions that fought against Germany and Italy during World War II. But an underlying goal is to refute recent arguments that suggest that the Allies won the war “through the sheer weight of materiel they threw at the Wehrmacht in a relatively unskilled manner.” He focuses on the “standard American infantry divisions that formed the bulk of the Western Allied forces by the end of the war.”  Mansoor concludes that sheer numbers could not have alone been responsible for the Allied victory rather, the relative quality of forces fielded by the Allied and Axis powers was crucial to the ultimate outcome. He further concludes that Allied combat effectiveness increased over time while Germany’s declined, a victim of huge casualties and shortages of key resources. Mansoor examines a number of variables impacting combat effectiveness which he breaks into three groups: human, organizational, and technical.

An interesting conclusion is that endurance plays a key role in combat effectiveness which Monsoor defines as the ability of a military force to sustain itself over time. The element of time is an important, albeit often overlooked element of combat effectiveness, he argues, and “political as well as their military advisors tread a fine line between committing forces to combat to achieve the desired ends of policy and allowing those forces the time to develop into effective organizations before doing so.” Late and hasty mobilization plagued the American Army but it adapted, gained experience, and overcame those challenges sufficiently enough by the summer of 1944 to reach a level of effectiveness that enabled defeat of Germany and Japan.

Monsoor structures his work loosely chronologically. He begins with the mobilization of the Army followed by a chapter on pre-combat training. He then dives into the primary campaigns and battles of the war: North Africa and Sicily, the Italian Campaign of 1943-1944, Normandy, the Siegfried Line, the Battle of the Bulge, etc. His final chapter summarizes the path of the American Army toward combat effectiveness.

Peter Mansoor (see full bio here) is a warrior and a scholar. He graduated first in his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1982, and received master’s and doctoral degrees in military history from The Ohio State University in 1992 and 1995. He also holds a master’s in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is currently holder of the Mason Chair in Military History at The Ohio State University. At the time of the book’s publication in 2003, he was poised to assume command of the Army’s 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Freiburg, Germany. His units went on to receive acclaim in the Iraq War. His star has continued to rise as a person of influence of policy and strategy within America’s war machine.

Mansoor’s book won the Society for Military History Book Award and the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Book Award. It should be of interest to the serious military historian and both civilian and military leadership.

This work has several features worth special mention including a large number of campaign maps and illustrations, a glossary, and impressive notes section, index, and bibliography. The introduction is a masterful essay that serves as an excellent foundation for the rest of the work but easily stands alone. Mansoor’s conclusions appear fact-based and pull no punches. He is honest about the military’s early mistakes but ability to learn and adapt. This work is an excellent addition to military history.

Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

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This weekend I finished David Fuller’s novel, Sweetsmoke, which I first mentioned on WigWags here.

A work of fiction can be judged by many criteria. My approach is pretty simple.

1) Did it keep my interest past page five?
2) Did I find myself wanting to set other pressing activities aside to return to the story?
3) Did the characters grab me?
4) Was the writing such that I could see what the characters see?
5) If a mystery, did it keep me guessing?
6) Did I learn something?
7) Was I a bit blue the day after I finished it because — I didn’t want to be finished?
8) Would I recommend it to family, friend, or colleague?

Here is my run down on Sweetsmoke. The numbered answers below correlate, of course, to the aforementioned questions above.

1) By the time I thought about whether the story had held my interest past page five, I’d just finished Chapter 5. Enough said on that one.

2) My finances remain in a growing “to do” pile.

3) The protagonist, Cassius Howard, was entirely satisfying as the central player in the story. I found particularly intriguing his relationship with his owner, Hoke Howard. And what a fresh idea to make the “sleuth” of the murder mystery that is the undercurrent of the story, a plantation slave.

4) I found Mr. Fuller’s descriptive writing excellent. His recounting of the Battle of Antietam (see Antietam National Battleground link here), was shockingly realistic and worth the price of the book alone. He is a master of “showing,” not telling. Well done.

The Bloody Lane, Antietam Battlefield. Photo: National Park Service

5) The mystery’s twists and turns definitely kept me guessing. I won’t reveal anything here…

6) While I was familiar with the history, Mr. Fuller’s description of plantation life from the slave’s perspective was insightful. Many readers will benefit from the historical aspects of the book.

7) I am completely miffed that I don’t get to continue the story this evening.

8) I just this minute loaned my copy to my sister to read on her vacation. She and her daughter will likely fight over it. Vacation reading is sacred. Only the best.

Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America

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Jennifer D. Keene. Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. See the JHUP book reference here.

Jennifer Keene, (see her bio here) in her study of the experience of American soldiers who served in World War I, sets as goal to fill what she contends is a significant inequality in the focus of scholars of World War I when compared to more popular conflicts: the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. She suggests that in light of other wars, World War I is seen by many as a “dissatisfying experience with little transcendent significance.” She states as purpose a quest for the true importance of the Great War in American history by telling the story of the generation who served in that war and the way in which their experience shaped American society. Her thesis is that World War I was, in fact, a pivotal experience because it led to a transformation of the federal Army into a stronger national institution. Critical to this change was what she considers the most sweeping social welfare legislation in American history, the G.I. Bill, driven by the generation who would fight in the Great War. Her conclusion is that the Bill changed dramatically the experience of the millions of American men who would participate in mass military service in the twentieth century and was a direct result of the mistakes made by the military in the care of World War I servicemen. She approaches the subject less as an examination of the traditional themes of military battle tactics and strategies and more as a study of the experiences of citizen-soldiers. This allows an in-depth view of topics such as training, combat, discipline, race relations, experiences in France, health care, and the re-entry process after the war. The result is a sobering view of war’s realities at the troop level, a far cry from typical ideologically-based accounts of the Great War. One of the most important conclusions of Linn’s work is that this generation of citizen-soldiers refused to conform to the expectations of military officials and so found their collective voice, becoming political and societal advocates for military reform. Their biggest effort was on adjustment in postwar compensation, a cause they eventually won in 1936 after prolonged lobbying and activism. At issue was the government’s contract with citizen-soldiers, and the debate expanded to include the government’s obligations to the poor.

Keene chooses a chronological organization of her material and follows the experience of the common soldier through conscription, training, and deployment overseas. She describes in a fresh manner the experience of black soldiers abroad and the startling revelation that they were more highly regarded and better treated by the French than by their own countrymen. She continues their story through the post war years and their battles for compensation, finishing with the history of the G.I. Bill.

Keene brings strong academic credentials to the work and an impressive resume. At the time of this book’s publication, she was an assistant professor of history at the University of the Redlands in Redlands, California. She is currently the Chair of the Department of History and a Professor of History at Chapman University. She has been recognized with the Wang-Franklin Professorship in Scholarly Excellence award (2007-2009). Professor Keene received her Master of Arts from George Washington University and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University.

Her work should be of interest to both military and social historians as well as those investigating the experience of black soldiers in the military. She provides an impressive notes section revealing a plethora of primary source materials. Keen’s work is noteworthy for its examination of the pluralistic military tradition of professional and citizen-soldiers. America had to conscript, train, and deploy a huge army in a short period of time and made many errors in the process. Her coverage of this aspect the Great War was exceptional. The text also provides an interesting take on America’s commitment to civilian control of the military. The power of the states and the federal government to raise and manage a large conscription force was tested as was the responsibility of civilian government to those soldiers upon return to a peacetime society. Fascinating issues of contractual obligation to fair wages are covered in depth. Inherent in the latter issue is that fact that rational military considerations alone rarely shape military policies.

Keene demonstrates that once again, that the United States was able to raise an army fairly quickly in support of a perceived threat to the nation’s security. However she also highlights the cost in lives of that rushed effort.

This is an impressive addition to the scholarly base of American military history albeit of decidedly different focus. Highly recommend.

Next Class: Antebellum America: Prelude to Civil War

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After a short break, I’ll be diving into my next class which starts November 3rd. As is my custom, I’ve added this to “The Courses” page.

“Antebellum America: Prelude to Civil War” (starts November 3rd)

This course is an analysis of the conditions existing in the United States in the first half of the 19th century. The course focuses on the political, cultural/social, economic, security, leadership, and other issues that played roles in starting and shaping the Civil War. We will analyze the issues in the context of war and peace to determine whether or not such conflicts as civil wars can be avoided prior to their inception.

Required Texts:

TBD once the syllabus is available. For now, the list is as follows which is very light in comparison with my last class:

Publisher: W. W. Norton and Company

Half Slave and Half Free : The Roots of Civil War by Bruce Levine

Publisher: Hill and Wang

Road to Disunion : Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854, Volume 1 by William W. Freehling

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Since I read 14 books in Studies in U.S. Military History (a challenge but I loved IT!), this may be a light reading term.
Because William Freehling’s book, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836, received such high acclaim, I’ve purchased it as well.
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Finally, it would not surprise me at all if Daniel Walker Howe’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, What Hath God Wrought, was added to the reading list as well.
Publisher: Oxford University Press
All of these texts can be found on the “Antebellum America” shelf of my virtual library here.

The Philippine War, 1899-1902

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Brian McAllister Linn. The Philippine War, 1899-1902. Reprint. University Press of Kansas, 2000.

Brian Linn recounts the military operations that took place between the opening months of 1899 and July 1902 in what some of his reviewers have labeled as the “definite study” of the Philippine War. Ultimately, his goal is to set the record straight on the myths surrounding the conflict and recount its history as the complex and challenging event it was. Written from the American perspective, he concludes that the war was nothing less than the most successful counterinsurgency campaign in U.S. history.

He sets out to write a narrative history of the conflict but admits to encountering challenges because the war varied so greatly in the different locations in which it took place. The geographical expanse of the Philippines thus becomes a part of the story of the war itself. These challenges lead Linn to organize the book around two broad themes. The first section describes conventional military operations on the island of Luzon that took place in 1899. The second focuses on operations in other parts of the archipelago which can be categorized as guerrilla warfare and pacification activities.

While the book’s focus is on United States military activities, Linn provides excellent historical background on the Philippine leadership cadre as well. He makes specific mention of the need for a study that more comprehensively represents the Filipino perspective of the conflict. Linn is blatantly honest about the strengths and the foibles of both the United States military and the Philippine Army of Liberation. He captures the intra-service rivalries and associated squabbles and maneuvering for notice and promotion among officers on both sides. He also describes the performance of America’s volunteer citizen-soldiers, who distinguished themselves by behaving with aggressiveness, courage, and élan, and yet were at times difficult to restrain.

Linn captures well instances of the fog of war and its impact on both sides. He provides a fascinating description of the recruitment, training, transport, and sustaining of volunteer American troops engaged in the conflict. His review of the Battle of Manila reveals superior preparation and discipline among American troops and yet the recklessness of officers who ordered repeated frontal attacks over open ground against armed fortifications. He notes that most of these attacks were successful due primarily to insurgents shooting high. Linn points out that this gave the Filipinos the impression of American invincibility, increasing the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that at times caused native soldiers to flee.

Emilio Aguinaldo

Linn arrives at several important conclusions. First he refutes the clichés so often attributed to the Philippine War. He posits that while the U.S. military was victorious, this occurred as a result of the ineptitude of the independence movement and its “titular leader,” Aguinaldo, as opposed to the prowess of the Americans. Some guerrilla leaders showed brilliance at the small unit level but there was never a successful prolonged defense of any area or recovery of any areas once lost. Rebels also failed to effectively win the broad support of the populace. American forces struggled with a number of problems including maintenance of forces levels, diseases, and logistics.

Americans did have clear advantages in weaponry and this added to their effectiveness. The Krag rifle, armed gunboats, and field artillery were all contributory to American success. The U.S Navy was also a key contributor to the win providing not only transport of men and matériels but also blockade functions and support for amphibious operations. Linn also points to the role of civic action or social reform as a crucial component of the American victory.

Because of the unique nature of this conflict, and its counter insurgency flavor, Linn suggests that it has much to offer readers of both civilian and military cadres. I agree. The book’s notes section is impressive as is the bibliography. The book has received the following honors: Army Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List, Air Force Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List, Winner of the Society for Military History Distinguished Book Award, Selection of the History Book Club.

At the time of the book’s publication, Brian Linn was professor of history at Texas A & M University, a post he has held since 1998. He received a B.A. with High Honors from the University of Hawaii, and M.A. and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. He has also taught history at Old Dominion University and the University of Nebraska as a visiting professor. He is widely published and the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships.

Overall, Linn’s work is an important contribution to U.S. military scholarship.

People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War

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Fred Anderson. A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War. Reprint. The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years' War

Anderson sets out to examine New England provincial soldiers and their experiences during what he terms the “last and greatest of America’s colonial wars.” He considers it a work of social history because of the quantitative data on which it is based but caveats that its focus is a single conflict, the Seven Years’ War, as opposed to a long term study. His focus is on ordinary men. His conclusion is that the Seven Years’ War was nothing less than world-shaping and thus unifying to the lives it impacted. Their common experience marked them as a unique generation, like others in later times who would be identified with the major events of their lifetime.

He also considers this work to be one of military history because of its focus on war and military service. But he claims an intentional diversion from the classic approaches of military historians whose focus is more on campaigns and the “analysis of generalship.” Anderson’s focus is the story of the common citizen-soldier inclusive of their shared values and their beliefs concerning war and military service.

He divides his study into three parts. The first section titled “The Contexts of War,” provides background for military service of men in Massachusetts. A key conclusion of this section is that “the way in which provincial armed forces were recruited strongly influenced their performance in the field.” The second section, “The Experience of War,” looks at the details of daily life in the military. Anderson examines both the nature and impact of variables such as diet, shelter, disease, discipline, work, and combat. He concludes that the delta between the experiences of these men before and after military service began was so large that it created a unique frame-of-reference from which they subsequently viewed their experience. The third section, “The Meaning of War,” explores in more depth the unique frame of reference possessed by soldiers from Massachusetts and how that remained incomprehensible to both their superiors and British regular officers. Much of the content of the book comes from primary sources of soldier’s own accounts.

The audience for this book is those interested in scholarship on America’s early history, social history, and military history. It has several special features including five informative appendices. One includes as listing of primary sources predominantly in the form of diaries. Another provides a fascinating summary of troop disorders suffered within the Provincial Army between 1755 and 1759. Anderson has chosen to footnote his work rather than have a separate notes section.

Fred Anderson brings strong academic credentials in fact this work is based on his doctoral dissertation. He received his B.A. from Colorado State University in 1971 and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1981. He has taught at Harvard and at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he is currently Professor of History. His has also published Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (2000) and, with Andrew Cayton, The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000 (2005). This work is entirely readable and an excellent addition to early American scholarship. Its extensive use of personal accounts adds to its appeal.

Some Press for Wig-Wags

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I’m pleased to report that Wig-Wags has been featured on the following sites in the past 30 days:

Indiana University Press found my review of Edward Hagerman’s book, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. You can read their post here and my full review here.

Jessica Merritt included Wig-Wags in her story titled, “100 Awesome Blogs for History Junkies” along with several of my fellow bloggers. Look for me under the “Academic” header. I only wish I could have been listed under several headers.

And finally, Alltop has listed Wig-Wags on their Top History News page. Alltop has a neat layout. They are effectively a feed aggregator by topic that pulls in the latest posts on sites that meet a topical criteria. Readers can “mouse over”  any of the top feeds for a site and the full story will be visible as a pop-up of sorts. I like it! 

New Addition – Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

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I received a review copy of David Fuller’s Sweetsmoke today from the good folks at Hyperion and very much look forward to reading it and passing along my impressions. Mr. Fuller is a screenwriter by profession. He has an interesting lineage of combatants in the American Civil War, which you can read more about on his website here.

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Hyperion
ISBN-10: 1401323316
ISBN-13: 978-140132331

Sweetsmoke

A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783

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Charles Royster. A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783. Reprint. University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

In his award winning, sweeping work on the American Revolution, Charles Royster sets out to prove his thesis that “there was an American character prevalent during the War for Independence and that we can profitably analyze it.” His focus is on the emotions, attitudes, and conduct of Americans in wartime but he also set out to prove that Americans exemplified collectively the disposition of revolutionaries. This notion of national character is an important one because it suggests an emergence of a sense of nationhood among the inhabitants of America’s colonies. Royster acknowledges that not all Americans were anti-British but he does conclude that the majority of Americans during the War for Independence were loyal to the revolution’s cause. These arguments are foundational to his discussion of the Continental Army. Royster deals with the rather broad topics of the ideals of revolutionary citizenship, society, and state by limiting his scope to the standards “that Americans defined for themselves in creating, recruiting, and fighting in an army” and it is this focus that makes the book more relevant to the military historian. He finds evidence of a disparity between society’s ideals and its actual conduct, the latter being “always flawed.” To find reasons for the disparity he touches, admitted lightly, on other areas such as religion, government, and commerce, drawing a connection between these and the way in which Americans related to the army.

Royster describes his book as analytical rather than narrative history. This distinction drives the book’s chronological format which supports his position that the study of revolutionary attitudes and the changes that took place over time are best observed “in the order that Americans experienced them.” Royster begins with an examination of the high ideals that Americans caught up in the revolutionary mindset placed upon themselves and others, ideals of virtue and valor. This foundation then allows him to explore the “tension” created when Americans failed to live up to those ideals and how they dealt with the disparity between desired standards and reality. Thus Royster begins with the years prior to the war’s start, describes the “rage militaire” of 1775, and then proceeds through the early war years in a series of chapters with religious titles and analogous themes: 1776: The Army of Israel, Jericho, and The Promised Land. The second half of the book focuses on Valley Forge, Treason, Division, and finally Legacy. It is in this final chapter that Royster brings together his analysis of the whole of the American experience at war.

This work is intended for students of early American history and particularly those who want to better understand the American Revolution. It should also find interest among military historians because of its focus on the experience of soldiers in the American Army of Independence as well as the institutional history of America’s armed forces. Royster’s forays into the realms of sociology, psychology, political, and civic history, should allow the book to find even broader readership. The work’s extensive notes section is worth mention. There is also an essay in the appendix that challenges some other authors who draw conclusions too quickly from statistics about American soldiers who fought in the Revolution, many of whom were both young and poor. The book is particularly noteworthy for its use of readily available primary sources but fresh approach to the information contained therein. His presentation is entirely satisfying albeit occasionally repetitive. One of the clear strengths of the book is its introduction to the reader of a broad number of characters of the period often through their own narrative or those of others around them.

Charles Royster brings impressive credentials to his work which is a shortened version of his doctoral dissertation. He received all of his degrees from the University of California, Berkeley including an A.B. (1966), M.A. (1967), and Ph.D. (1977). At the time of the book’s publication, Dr. Royster was assistant professor of history at the University of Texas. He is now professor of history at the Louisiana State University. Royster has amassed an impressive list of publications several of which received academically recognized awards. His work Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans won the Bancroft Prize, The Lincoln Prize, and the Charles S. Sydnor Award in Southern History. A Revolutionary People at War was recognized with the 1981 Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, the 1979 John D. Rockefeller III Award, the 1981 National Historical Society Book Prize, the 1980 Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award from the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York, and the 1980 Silver Medal, Nonfiction from the Commonwealth Club of California.

Overall, Royster provides an excellent addition to scholarship of early America.

The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare

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Edward Hagerman. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command. Reprint. Indiana University Press, 1992.

In this important work on tactical and strategic military history, Edward Hagerman posits that the American Civil War marshaled in a new era in land warfare colored by the impacts of the Industrial Revolution. He argues that the complete command and control systems of armies was impacted by factors both occurring across the globe (i.e. technological developments in weaponry and transportation) and unique to America: its culture, geography, and history.

Hagerman is clear in setting two broad aims for the book. The first is to provide a new analysis of the “theory, doctrine, and practice of field fortification in the tactical evolution of trench warfare.” The second is to analyze the development of field transportation and supply and its impact of the movement and maneuvering of Civil War armies

Petersburg, Virginia. Dead Confederate soldiers in trenches of Fort Mahone

Hagerman organizes his study around several themes. The first addresses the ideas and education that informed the American military including the influence of theorists such as Jomini, Clausewitz, and at West Point, Dennis Hart Mahan. Secondly he looks at the organizational change, or lack thereof, in the Army of the Potomac including an explanation of the educational orientation of its leaders. Thirdly he explores the Army of Northern Virginia and the culture and traditions which informed men of the south who entered the military. Next he dives into the emergence of trench warfare and the strategic and tactical evolution that resulted from it. And importantly, he finishes with the evolution of total war and the strategy of exhaustion. 

Dennis Mahan

Dennis H. Mahan

This work should be of particular interest to military historians and even more so to those interested in the American Civil War and its impact on military logistics, the use of technology, weaponology, military tactical and strategic thought, and the concepts of modern warfare and its history.

There is an extensive notes section valuable to the serious student of military history. This is augmented by a “Works Cited” section including listings of primary sources. The introduction to the book provides an exceptional summary of many of the key factors that impacted the war.

Edward Hagerman brings to this study the credentials of academician. He was Associate Professor of History at York University in Toronto, Canada at the time of the book’s publication. He is also the recipient of the Moncado Prize of the Society of Military History.

Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea

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Belatedly, I want to mention that I’ve received a pre-publication copy of Noah Andre Trudeau’s Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea, which I’ll hope to provide a full review of before too long. At first blush, it appears to be an excellent read.

Since this book falls into the category of Civil War Campaigns, I’ve added a shelf in my virtual bookstore to accommodate it which you can find here.

As a student of military history, one of the many things that I find so fascinating about Sherman’s march is that its destructive power encourages its consideration as “total war” a la Clausewitz. Can’t wait to dig in to this one.

For those of you in the Chicago area, Mr. Trudeau’s publisher Harper Collins, indicates that he will be publicizing his book at the following on Thursdays.

Thursday, September 11, 2008
05:00 PM – 07:30 PM
PRITZKER MILITARY LIBRARY
2nd FL 610 N Fairbanks Court Chicago, IL 60611

Sherman's March to the Sea

  • Published on: 2008-08-01
  • Released on: 2008-08-05
  • Original language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060598670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060598679
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.8 inches
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 688 pages
  • Manet and the American Civil War – 5: The Sea Battle Between The Kearsarge and the Alabama

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    Continuing my series on “Manet and the American Civil War,” (see posts 1 here, 2 here, 3 here, and 4 here. In posts 3 and 4, I introduced the captains and vessels of one of the most famous naval engagements of the American Civil War, the sea battle between the C.S.S. Alabama and the U.S.S. Kearsarge. And now to the battle…

    Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, in their fascinating book Manet and the American Civil War, do an excellent job of sifting through sources for a non-partisan view of the events of Sunday, June 19, 1864, a view without the “spin” of media. [2]

    "The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge" [NH59354]
    The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge. Contemporary line engraving, depicting an early stage in the battle. Alabama is on the right, with Kearsarge in the left distance. Courtesy of F.S. Hicks. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

    The C.S.S. Alabama anchored in the Cherbourg roads, “a huge sheet of calm water sheltered from Channel currents by a breakwater,” on June 11, 1864. It had stopped to disembark 40 captives taken during raids on U.S. merchant ships and to refuel. Captain Semmes asked permission of “Vice Admiral Adolphe-Augustin Dupouy, head of the naval district headquartered in Cherbourg,” to have the Alabama undergo repairs in the naval doc. [3] The offer was denied and the request withdrawn. Semmes was now well aware that Captain Winslow and his U.S.S. Kearsarge had come after the Confederate raider and was hovering offshore in wait. While the French attempted diplomatic maneuvers, Captain Semmes informed Samuel Barron, “his senior officer in Paris,” that he intended to fight Winslow. [4]

    “On the morning of Sunday, June 19, Alabama left the Cherbourg roads followed by the French navy flagship, Couronne, and accompanied by a steam yacht flying the Union Jack and a British yach club flag. Alabama fired the first shot. Having elected to fight starboard to starboard, Alabama and Kearsarge then steamed in interlocking circles five to seven times as the current pushed them west. Alabama sank, and Kearsarge returned to anchor on the land side of Cherbourg’s breakwater.” [5]

    This from George Terry Sinclair, a native of Virginia sent to Europe in 1862 to buy ships for the Confederate Navy, in a letter to his immediate superior, Samuel Barron.

    “After some exchanges at long range, they passed each other, using their starboard batteries. They then passed & repassed, always using the same battery (which Semmes had told me was his intention) after passing the seventh eighth time, I observed Semmes make sail forward, and stand in, and I thought I saw smoke issuing from the ship.” [6]

    He was told by another observer that “Alabama ‘went down with her colors flying…the Flag… was the last thing to disappear.’ Sinclair’s own view of the climactic moment had been obscured by a house.” [7]
     

    Charles Longueville. Combat naval (L’Alabama coulant sous le feu de Kearsage [sic]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    In the next post, Edouard Manet’s painting, The Battle of the “Kearsarge” and the “Alabama,” 1864.

    —-
    [1] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 31.
    [2] Ibid.
    [3] Ibid., 28-29.
    [4] Ibid., 31.
    [5] Ibid., 28, 31.
    [6] Ibid., 31-32.
    [7] Ibid., 32.

    Military History word of the day: “thalassocracy”

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    I ran across this word in my reading today and have added it to “the terms” page (here) where I collect definitions of words I didn’t know. I’m continuing to finish the last book in my current course on Studies in U.S. Military History, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, by Rick Atkinson. This book is filled with new terms, many associated with the vernacular of modern warriors. I’ll have some catching up to do on the terms page after the course.

    Here is the context of Atkinson’s usage of thalassocracy.

    If desert warfare seized the imagination of American Army commanders, the battleship held similar sway over many a sea dog. Her strategic value had long been eclipsed by nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. As a tactical weapon she appeared doomed to follow the crossbow and blunderbuss. Yet, for traditionalists, no maritime silhouette better symbolized the American thalassocracy: the pugnacious, jutting bow the looming superstructure; the trio of triple-barreled turrets, each heavy as a frigate. When employed as a gun platform, she remained nonpareil, capable of tossing a shell with the heft of an automobile more than twenty miles. In the gulf war, her hour had come round at last. (Atkinson, 259)

    USS Wisconsin circa 1988-91

    USS Wisconsin circa 1988-91. Source: Naval Historical Center

    The definition…

    thal·as·soc·ra·cy (thāl’ə-sŏk’rə-sē)
    n. pl. thal·as·soc·ra·cies
    Naval or commercial supremacy on the seas.
    [Greek thalassokratiā : thalassa, sea + -kratiā, -cracy.]
    tha·las’so·crat’ (thə-lās’ə-krāt’) n.
    Source:
    thalassocracy. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/thalassocracy (accessed: August 17, 2008).

    The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War

    By the way, I’ve been so impressed with Rick Atkinson’s well researched book that I’ve purchased all of his other works including An Army at Dawn which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. See it on my virtual bookshelves here. Photo source: The Library of Congress which includes a biography here. I’ll be adding Mr Atkinson to my “the historians” page shortly.

    Baltimore Sun’s Civil War Books Discussion

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    Dave Rosenthal, the Sunday and Readership Editor for the Baltimore Sun, asked me to contribute to a discussion of Civil War Books on their book blog, Read Street. I’m up for any opportunity to talk about books. Check out my recommendations and those of fellow commentators here.

    Manet and the American Civil War – 1

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    A recently received a gift of a book that I am thrilled to add to my library. It is, Manet and the American Civil War published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [which I had the opportunity to visit for the first time this year], and Yale University Press. It is co-authored by Juliet Wilson-Bareau, “an independent art historian based in London” and David C. Degener, an independent researcher based in San Francisco.

    The Battle of U.S.S Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama

    Click on image to be directed to my bookshelf listing.

     Manet and the American Civil War

  • Published on: 2003-06-10
  • Publisher: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Yale University Press, New Haven and London
  • ISBN: 0-300-09962-2 
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 86 pages
  • The book’s primary focus is the battle of the U.S.S. Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama. This from the front flap which provides an eloquent introduction to the book which I could not better….

    “On June 19, 1864, the United States warship Kearsarge sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of Cherbourg, France, in one of the most celebrated naval engagements of the American Civil War. The battle was widely reported in the illustrated press and riveted public attention on both sides of the Channel. When Kearsarge later anchored off the French resort town of Boulonge-sur-Mer it was thronged by curious visitors, one of whom was the artist Edouard Manet.  Although he did not witness the historic battle, Manet made a painting of it partly as an attempt to regain the respect of his colleagues after being ridiculed for his works in the 1864 Salon. Manet’s picture of the naval engagement and his portrait of the victorious Kearsarge belong to a group of his seascapes of Boulonge whose unorthodox perspective and composition would profoundly influence the course of French paintings.”

    In part 2, more on Edouard Manet followed in subsequent posts about the two ships and their encounter across the Atlantic.

    Note that I have added a shelf to my online library titled “Civil War Art and Artists.” You can access that shelf here. I will shortly cross-reference this book on the Naval History shelf as well.

    Alex Rose on Writing History

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    Alex Rose, who I mentioned in a post here and added to my blogroll recently, has a superbly entertaining post on writing history here on his new blog. Looking forward to the next installment.

    Alex Rose

    Alex Rose

    Source: shamelessly copied and cropped from his publicity website.

    While I’m shamelessly lifting items from his blog, ahem, I also am porting into my links a terrific site in his blogroll titled Reviews in History.  Quite interesting and worth a look-see.

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    Written by Rene Tyree

    June 25, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Military History Book of Interest: Napoleon on the Art of War

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    Napoleon on the Art of War

    Bonaparte, Napoleon. Napoleon on the Art of War. trans. and ed by Jay Luvaas. New York: Touchstone, 1999.

    Jay Luvaas has pulled together in a single work what Napoleon never set to paper – a cohesive, single treatise on his philosophy of war. Luvaas, a respected military historian, accomplished this by reviewing, organizing, translating and editing Napoleon’s writings over the course of his life including much of his correspondence. He has organized the book into a series of essays so that it is structured not unlike the work of other military theorists. It begins with Napoleon’s views on creating a fighting force and preparations for war. This is followed by his thoughts on military education – an area about which Napoleon was passionate – particularly as related to the study of “great captains” of history: Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne and Frederick the Great.. A section on “combat in arms” reveals Napoleon’s brilliance in changing up formations utilizing the men, animals and weaponry at hand. “Generalship and the art of command,” army organization, strategy, fortification, the army in the field, and the operational art are also examined through Napoleon’s writings with additional historical references as well as reference to correspondence written about major Napoleonic campaigns. This book is instructive to the study of military philosophers and military thought in that it provides insight into one of the most influential militarists in history. Military thought leaders such as Clausewitz and Jomini were contemporaries of Napoleon and highly influenced themselves by strategizing to fight with or against him. The book fills a rather noticeable gap and would be an excellent addition to any examination of military philosophers and strategists.

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    May Civil War and Military History Book Acquisitions – II

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    Continuing with my May book acquisitions which illustrate, as said by Civil War Interactive’s comments on my blog this week, why bank robbery may be needed to support my book-buying habits…

    How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War
  • ISBN-10: 0061129801
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Collins; Reprint edition (January 22, 2008)   
  • This looks like a great read. Author Tom Wheeler, an accomplished man by any measure, has a terrific website here with more about his book and research. This has moved to the top of my list of reading for between terms.

    The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864 (Civil War America)
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (April 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807829315
  •  

    Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign (Civil War America)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (September 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807831549
  • I have DISCOVERED Dr. Hess and the growing list of terrific titles he has published on the Civil War. No doubt his other books will show up in my library before long. Dr. Hess, who has impressive academic credentials, has a website here. His book, Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

    Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; New edition (February 28, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521599415
  • I’ve been intending to pick this up. Authored by military history professor and fellow blogger Mark Grimsley, it too is at the top of my reading list. Dr. Grimsley’s OSU webpage is here. His blog is here.

    Confederate Strategy Reconsidered (American Crisis Series)
    Retreat to Victory?: Confederate Strategy Reconsidered (American Crisis Series)
    By Robert G. Tanner
  • Paperback: 162 pages
  • Publisher: SR Books (January 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 084202882X
  • My post, “Fabian Strategy and the American Civil War” here, lead me to this book. One of my readers recommended it and suggests that it proves that the Confederacy could not have used the Fabian strategy effectively. I’m looking forward to this one.

    The European Inheritance
  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas; New Ed edition
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700603794
  • Jav Luvaas is another prolific writer of military history and my collection of his books is growing. I first discovered his work while taking the course, Great Military Philosopers (see “The Courses” page here for details. I picked up his titles: Napoleon on the Art of War and Frederick the Great on the Art of War.

    I’ll be adding these authors to my “The Historians” page shortly.

    Academic Book Review – George Bancroft

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    George Bancroft. By Russel B. Nye. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1964. Bibliography. Pp. x, 212. $.60.

    If biographies written in the twenty-first century tend toward tomes, Russel Nye’s 1964 work on George Bancroft, the most acclaimed American historian of the nineteenth century, demonstrates how to impress with a modicum of words. Though Bancroft’s life spanned almost a century, Nye skillfully paints a portrait of the man against the sweeping landscape of the United States’ passage from fledgling country at the turn of 18th century to battle-scarred nation ninety years later, all in fewer than two hundred pages.

    Nye’s book is part of the Washington Square Press “Great American Thinkers Series,” targeting an audience of general readers as well as serious secondary and college students who want readable history. George Bancroft as subject is in good company among other well known Americans included in the series, like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John C. Calhoun. Series editors provided a general outline for Nye to follow, which included a short biography of the subject, a critical evaluation of his central ideas, and his influence upon American thought as a whole.

    Nye approaches the task in a somewhat unconventional manner. He begins and ends with reasonably standard material. A chronology of key events in Bancroft’s life is placed in the front matter of the book, beginning with his birth in 1800 and ending with his death in 1891. End materials include a list of Bancroft’s extensive published works and a complete bibliography and index. It is in the book’s narrative that Nye shows structural creativity. He reveals Bancroft by coming at the subject from six different directions: life history, views on education, artistic and cultural perspectives, formation as a politician, views on humanity and the divine, and Bancroft’s contribution to historiography.

    The first chapter, titled “The Pattern of a Life,” provides a highly readable narrative overview of Bancroft’s ninety-one years. Nye begins with the family and culture into which Bancroft was born, and then explores his passage through school years, including entry into Harvard at the age of 13. His formative years studying abroad are covered next, and insight is provided into the effects that European intellectuals and artists had on the now young man. Nye brings Bancroft home to the United States, doctorate in hand, and traces his quest for direction in life that leads him away from ministry and into politics and writing. His life as politician and as an emerging and then accomplished historian are described, as well as the events that bring a close to Bancroft’s life.

    Nye devotes the entire second chapter, “Experiment at Round Hill,” to Bancroft’s daring project as schoolmaster of a preparatory school for boys in New England. Partnering with a colleague from Harvard, Bancroft incorporates in the endeavor the progressive concepts in education he observed while in Europe. But Bancroft has a love-hate relationship with teaching, and gradually realizes that his destiny lies elsewhere. As the chapter closes, he has sold his interest in the school to his partner and moved on, having left his mark on the history of American education as the creator of the first high school and a modeler of educational reform.

    In the third chapter, “The Anatomy of Culture,” Nye explores the Romantic Movement’s impact on Bancroft and his contemporaries, and makes good use of the subject’s actual writing. Excerpts of Bancroft’s early attempts at poetry are presented by way of showing that, while his own poetic work was amateurish, he was able to channel his love for art into the role of literary critic, becoming quite adept at it. Nye does a masterful job of showing, through excerpts of Bancroft’s reviews and critiques, not only his appreciation of the artistic, but his gift for seeing broad themes like democracy in art. He also shows how Bancroft was able to bring his interest in artistic judgment and creation to his growing preoccupation with history. Instead of losing touch, “he absorbed his interest in art into the larger context of his theory of culture and his concept of history. To him, as to his contemporaries, the boundaries of intellectual specialization were fluid” (63). This fusion of the literary with history defined Bancroft’s historical writing. Nye’s ability to correlate the cultural milieu of early 19th century with Bancroft’s growth as philosopher, theologian, artistic critic, and historian is particularly well done.

    Chapter 4, “The Fabric of American Political Life,” guides the reader through Bancroft’s life as a politician, and his metamorphosis into a Jacksonian democrat and political thinker. Again, Nye identifies themes from Bancroft’s writings and personal correspondence, including the idea that political figures are heroes to the populations they serve. Nye closes the chapter with a moving description of Bancroft’s role as eulogizer of Lincoln, a man who Bancroft grew to consider as a hero of some stature through the course of the Civil War. He also traces Bancroft’s evolving views on slavery.

    In Chapter 5, “Nature: Human and Divine,” Nye explores how Bancroft came to his religious beliefs and his philosophical stand on the nature of humanity and the divine. This is an important topic because Bancroft’s theological thinking informed much of his historical writing and speaking. Nye shows Bancroft as a man of his times, influenced by the enthusiasm of a country running toward a bright future, and yet a man who contributed much to that nation because of his study abroad and exposure to many of the world’s foremost thinkers. Nye does a good job of showing how Bancroft reconciled his belief in man’s free will as long as it was exercised within the larger will of the divine.

    In his final chapter, “The Shape and Meaning of History,” Nye looks as Bancroft the historian and the influence of his historiography. He provides an excellent overview of the state of historical study at the turn of and into the early 19thcentury, contrasting rationalistic historical theory against Romantic history a la Rankian Zeitgeist. His review of the expectations of historical writers in Bancroft’s generation is excellent. But most important in this chapter are the selections from Bancroft’s own essays, illustrating how he conceived of his own calling. His personal philosophy, which he put to paper not long after returning from studies in Europe, placed the office of the historian second only to the poet in its noble call to find God within history.

    This perspective, Nye informs, pervaded the first three volumes of Bancroft’s most famous work, The History of the United States of America from the Discovery of the Continent, in which it was clear “that he was convinced that the United States was the creation of Divine Providence” (158). The second theme was that of man’s right to pursue freedom. Nye takes the reader through the completion and then revision of the seven volumes which took place over the course of most of Bancroft’s remaining life. He touches upon the influences of the American Civil War on his writing, and particularly on the volumes having to do with the Revolutionary War. Nye gives insight into Bancroft’s work style and ethic, as reflected in a two-volume work on the American Constitution. He interjects some deserved criticism of Bancroft who, he suggests over simplified the events surrounding the Constitution’s creation, ignoring “the whole tangled skein of economic and political rivalries, conflicting interests, and clashing personalities” (170).

    Nye leaves the reader with a sense for Bancroft’s brilliance across a broad range of diverse interests. He paints him as a man who enjoyed the privileges of an education well beyond the norm of his day, and earned by an innate drive and love for scholarship. Nye’s Bancroft was comfortable with life choices that went against the norm, an indication of independent thought. But he was also a man of his times, influenced by the great thinkers of his era and yet contributing one of the most important voices of the nineteenth century. He brought to his generation a better sense of the American story, and to a large degree, popularized history with the first complete treatment of the United States through its inception as a nation. He was guided by a strong belief in divine providence and its hand upon America. But at his core, he was, as depicted by Nye, a scholarly man of letters – a distinction I suspect would have pleased Mr. Bancroft. His legacy is a remarkable body of work sadly forgotten by most citizens of the 21st century because of changing standards in historiography.

    Nye does a masterful job of identifying Bancroft’s core beliefs and the influences that formed the man and his career. He also shows a considerable grasp of the nuances of both history and historiography that were in play in the 19thcentury – worth noting because Nye’s training is in literature rather than history. Like all series authors, Nye brings to the work a Ph.D. An English professor at Michigan State University, he might seem like an odd choice to profile a historian, but he proves himself equal to the task, perhaps because biography straddles both history and literature. His obvious mastery of the large collection of papers Bancroft left behind for his biographers is impressive.

    Russel Nye was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for this work. Is there a better recommendation?

    Rene Tyree
    American Military University

    Photo credit: Einstein at 42 from Wikipedia Commons. Public Domain

    Rotov on Suffering

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    Catching up on my reading, I found Dimitri Rotov’s post [here] on Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering to be Death and the American Civil Warinsightful. Follow his links to his previous posts as well. He suggests that Faust may step in for James McPherson as leading Civil War historian. While I gather he isn’t a fan of the latter, he seems to be of the former. I look forward to his upcoming review.

    You may recall that I mentioned receiving Faust’s book in my posting here. It’s near the top of my review list.

    For more information on Faust and McPherson, see my the historians page here.

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