Archive for October 2009
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.
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.
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.
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.
6″ x 9″ x 0″
1 B&W Illus., 3 Maps
Published: 2009, Oklahoma University Press
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:
|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|
A moment of celebration for the 200,000th view of Wig Wags that occurred sometime today. Many thanks to those who have stopped by.
Ahem. Carry on…
OH and thanks to Gabriel Pollard for the photo.
The National Book Awards finalists have been named.
Congratulations to the authors and publishers!
I’ve got my eye on the The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.
A friend recently found a newpaper article regarding the death of his wife’s great grandfather, published below with permission. Since I live near the border of Missouri and Kansas and have posted quite a bit on our Civil War era border wars, I found this particularly interesting.
Note that Elwood, Kansas (originally called Roseport) is directly across the Missouri River from St. Joseph, Missouri.
St. Joseph Morning HeraldThursday September 11, 1862
Killing in Elwood (Kansas). Last Thursday a Mr. Slaughter was killed in Elwood by some Federal soldiers from Troy. We heard different versions of
the affair, at the time, and declined to publish any of them. Yesterday Mr. John Norton of Elwood, who lives with the Coroner, and was the
first man on the ground after the killing, brought us the following account of the affair, obtained from Mrs. Slaughter, the wife of the deceased:
Samuel A. Slaughter, living in Elwood, was killed Thursday night Sept 4, about 1 o’clock, as follows: A man named Day was living in
the house with the deceased. The soldiers came to the door which was left open, and began ballooing for the man of the house. Mr. Day asked
them what they wanted, and they replied, “A light.” He immediately struck a light, and they then asked him if a man named Slaughter lived there.
He replied affirmatively. They told him to tell Slaughter they wanted to see him. Mr. S. put on his clothes, went to the door, and asked them
what they wanted of him. They replied, “No matter, come along with us.” They took him out of the yard, and as soon as he was outside the gate, a revolver was fired. After the firing, the soldiers twice cried “halt.” They then cried, “There is a dead man out here, come and take care of him.”
Mr. Day and Mrs. Slaughter went out there, found Mr. Slaughter dead, ‘roused some of the neighbors, and procured a Coroner. The soldiers forbid them holding an inquest. They said they were there to arrest Mr. S. and he ran from them, and none should be held.
Mr. Slaughter was a secessionist, aged 26 or 28 years, and leaves a wife and two children. He formerly lived in this city, and once kept a
small saloon by the Elwood Ferry landing, called “The First and Last House.”
Elwood, first called Roseport, was established in 1856. In its heyday scores of river steamboats unloaded passengers and freight at its wharves and every 15 minutes ferryboats crossed to its Missouri rival, St. Joseph. During the 1850’s thousands of emigrants outfitted here for Oregon and California. Late in 1859, Abraham Lincoln seeking the Republican nomination, here first set foot in Kansas, and spoke in the three-story Great Western Hotel. Elwood was the first Kansas station on the Pony Express between Missouri and California. Construction of the first railroad west of the Missouri river began here in 1859. On April 23, 1860, the first locomotive, “The Albany,” was ferried over and pulled up on the bank by hand. Elwood’s ambitions for greatness were thwarted, not by St. Joe, but by the river which undermined the banks and washed much of the old town away.