By Peter Maslowski
Ash, Stephen V. When the Yankees Came: Conflict and Chaos in the Occupied South, 1861-1865 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).
Ash’s book is the first comprehensive account of the process of invasion and occupation that was an essential part of the South’s defeat. Although Union occupation policies were initially conciliatory, they became more repressive, though never indiscriminate and wanton, when confronted by Southern intransigence and the emergence of guerrilla warfare. An unintended effect of the Union’s invasion was to unleash an array of internal conflicts in the South based on class, race, and political inclination that ripped Southern communities asunder, thus making Reconstruction more difficult.
Buell, Thomas B. The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War (NY: Crown Publishers, 1997).
Organized around matched pairs of generals at different command levels whose wartime service was amazingly intertwined (for example, George Thomas and John Hood or Grant and Lee), this book argues that Union generals were better than Confederate generals, and that the North did not win by sheer numerical weight. The Union high command excelled at the “sinews of war,” that is, those aspects dependent upon technology and technical skills such as cartography, combat engineering, communications, transportation, military intelligence, and logistics. The book’s “hero” is George Thomas, who excelled in almost of these matters, especially when compared to Hood, Grant, and Lee.
Cozzens, Peter. This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1992).
Excellent Civil War battle studies abound, and Cozzens’ is one of the best. Fought in mid-September 1863 amid the forested, rugged terrain of northwestern Georgia, at Chickamauga both armies suffered from acute command and control breakdowns. As a result the armies fragmented into brigades or even regiments operating on their own without much influence being exercised by division, corps, or even army commanders. As so often happened in the Civil War, one side (in this case the Confederates) won a tactical victory, but was incapable of converting it into a strategic advantage. Chickamauga is a good battle to contrast with Gettysburg, which had relatively open terrain and good fields of fire; in fact, rugged terrain, dense forests, and thick undergrowth were the norm for Civil War battlefields.
Current, Richard Nelson. Lincoln’s Loyalists: Union Soldiers from the Confederacy (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992).
Current’s book was the first to calculate how many Southerners served in Union armies, and the number was astounding: 104,000! Most came from Virginia and Tennessee, but every Confederate state except South Carolina provided at least a battalion of white soldiers for the Union. Since the best estimate is that 900,000 men fought in the Confederate Army, the Loyalists represented a very substantial manpower loss. Actually the Confederacy suffered a double loss because the Loyalists were not only subtracted from the South’s Army, but added to the North’s. In addition, at least 100,000 black Southerners served in Union blue. Adding these white and black soldiers together, Current correctly concludes that the South’s lost manpower was an important reason for Confederate defeat.
Fishel, Edwin C. The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996).
The author’s thirty-year career in military intelligence made him well prepared to write this pathbreaking book, the first to explore Civil War military intelligence in a systematic manner. The title is somewhat misleading since the book only covers the Union’s military intelligence in the Eastern Theater from the Battle of First Bull Run through the Gettysburg campaign. Fishel’s work will alter the way historians view many crucial events. For example, the traditional account of Gettysburg is that it resulted from an accidental meeting between two armies groping blindly for each other, but that was true only for the Confederates. The Union Army acted upon excellent information about the enemy’s location and disposition supplied by citizen-spies and scouts. Fishel’s book should be supplemented with William B. Feis, Grant’s Secret Service: The Intelligence War from Belmont to Appomattox (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), which is easier to read and covers the Western Theater throughout much of the war.
Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).
Ever since the U.S. lost the Vietnam War, historians have been investigating the Confederacy’s Civil War performance with the North Vietnamese Army/Viet Cong model in mind. America’s enemies in Vietnam were not only dedicated nationalist with seemingly unbreakable morale, but also successfully employed great strategic flexibility designed to prolong the war until American’s morale broke. Using this model as a baseline, historians have argued that the South lost not because the North had the largest battalions, but because the Confederacy did not engender intense nationalism, its morale was too fragile, and its military strategy was flawed. In this brief but very fine book, Gallagher firmly seats the Civil War in its mid-19th century American context, not in a mid-20th century Asian context, and systematically challenges the post-Vietnam War critique of the Confederacy, defending the strength of its nationalism and morale, and its strategy.
Geary, James W. We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War (DeKalb, IL: Northern University Press, 1991).
The best study of the Union draft, Geary’s book unravels the complex interplay among recruiting, bounties, conscription, and manpower quotas, stressing that authorities mobilized men within a societal context that much preferred voluntarism to compulsory service. Although only 46,347 Union soldiers were conscripts, another 118,000 were substitutes for draftees, and the draft spurred volunteering. Equally important, the draft lessened white resistance to the recruitment of black men. Importantly, the author proves that the draft was not class-based legislation that discriminated against the poor and made the Civil War a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” Accusations of class discrimination originated among antiwar Democrats, but the draft was actually quite equitable, especially compared to the inequitable 20th century Selective Service System.
Glatthaar, Joseph T. Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (NY: The Free Press, 1990).
The Civil War role of the nearly180,000 black soldiers and their 7,000 white officers, organized into the United States Colored Troops (USCT), has been reasonably well known since Dudley T. Cornish published The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 in 1956. If some aspects of Glatthaar’s study are familiar, such as the unequal treatment black troops received from the Union government and their heroic battlefield performance, the book also provides many new perspectives. Among the most significant are the author’s sensitive portrayal of the evolving relationship between white officers and black soldiers, discussion of the USCT’s role in the postwar forces garrisoned in the defeated Confederacy, and investigation of combat stress and its long-term effects on the USCT’s officers and men.
Grimsley, Mark. The Hard Hand of War: Union military policy toward Southern civilians, 1861-1865 (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
The author questions whether the Civil War was a “total war” in which the Union resorted to indiscriminate, annihilating violence to destroy the South. Grimsley traces Union policy toward enemy civilians through three stages, beginning with conciliation, moving toward a pragmatic approach, and ending with one of “directed severity” designed to disrupt civilian loyalty through fear and intimidation. He concludes that even at its third stage the destruction during the war was discriminate and proportional, not a wanton, furious “total war.”
Hattaway, Herman and Jones, Archer. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983).
Written with great clarity and precision, this pathbreaking book went behind the “drum-and-bugle” approach of many Civil War histories to reveal important aspects of warfare often ignored in other accounts.. It emphasized the importance of organization, logistics, communications, transportation, and staff work in the Union’s victory. It also stressed the crucial role of Lincoln and Grant in the evolution of Union strategy, especially in honing the strategic concept of simultaneous advances by all the major Union armies in all theaters, which was essential to success. In addition, the authors drew a crucial distinction between an invasion and a raid, and detailed the development of raiding strategies by both the North and South.
Hess, Earl J. The Union Soldier in Battle: Enduring the Ordeal of Combat (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997).
Hess’ book is a fine explication of many important well-known themes about combat, such as the division between those who have been in battle and those who have not; combat’s chaotic nature and the randomness of being killed or wounded; the battlefield’s horrific sights, sounds, and smells and the fear and confusion they engender; the extensive use of continuous campaigning and field fortifications late in the war; the mid-19th century meaning of courage, duty, and honor; the importance of religion and primary group cohesion in sustaining morale; and the intense ideological conviction of at least some soldiers.
Jones, Howard. Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999).
Jones explores the complex interrelationship between Lincoln’s wartime diplomacy and his desire not just to save the Union but to form a more perfect Union, in large part by abolishing slavery. The existence of slavery in a supposedly free republic was a paradox that influenced both domestic and foreign affairs, and the failure to resolve it threatened to undermine democratic government, especially if foreign nations (especially Britain) intervened on the Confederacy’s behalf. Only the Emancipation Proclamation ultimately ended the threat of British intervention.
Leonard, Elizabeth D. All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies (NY: W. W. Norton, 1999).
Aside from assuming new roles during the Civil War in industry and agriculture and as schoolteachers, clerks, and nurses, females were also combatants. Leonard tells the story of women who broke through the traditional norms of Victorian womanhood by serving as spies or, disguised as men, as soldiers. Hundreds of women dressed as men, adopted male identities, and enlisted in the Union and Confederate Armies. Some of them were exposed when they were killed or wounded or became pregnant, but others maintained their new identities for decades after the war. Leonard’s book should definitely be supplemented with Lauren Cook and DeAnne Blanton, They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, forthcoming in late 2002).
Linderman, Gerald F. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (NY: The Free Press, 1987).
Linderman enunciates a broad theme applicable to all warfare: the Civil War began as one war, but quickly became two wars, one that civilians watched from afar and one that soldiers fought. In brilliant fashion, he explains how these two wars arose in large measure because of the changing definition of “courage.” As soldiers underwent a perilous battlefield education they adopted a definition that allowed then to admit and display fear; however, civilians, secure in their homes, continued to believe courage should be utterly fearless. The book demonstrates that soldiers define courage depending on the available weaponry--courage was one thing when they fought with smoothbore flintlocks, but quite another thing once rifles became available. After Appomattox the “two wars” were reconciled, but on the civilians’ terms, not the soldiers’; the result was that society forgot how ugly war was, and in 1898 the sons of Civil War soldiers went off to war with a sanitized, romanticized conception of warfare.
Lowry, Thomas P. The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War (Mechanicsville, PA: Stackpole Books, 1994).
In a unique study written in an entertaining, anecdotal style, Lowry deals with the Civil War’s naughty and ribald side, with prostitution and pornography, syphilis and gonorrhea, rape and homosexuality, a priest who became infatuated with a woman and showered her with obscene notes and drawings, and much more. The end result is to humanize Civil War soldiers by showing that they were as consumed with sex as were young men in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Marszalek, John F. Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order (NY: The Free Press, 1993).
Marszalek has written a magisterial biography of one of the Civil War’s most brilliant and fascinating generals--and certainly its most paradoxical one. Sherman helped preserve constitutional government, but was uncomfortable with the seeming chaos of democracy and loathed a free press. Although blatantly proslavery and extremely comfortable in ante-bellum Southern society, he played a paramount role in destroying slavery and transforming the South. While gaining a reputation for waging “total war” against civilians and property, he hated battles and on several occasions let an enemy army escape rather than have to fight it. Writing in a felicitous style, the author has brought Sherman to life better than any previous biographer.
McMurry, Richard M. Two Great Rebel Armies: An Essay in Confederate Military History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989).
McMurry answers a long-debated question: how did the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Robert E. Lee, perform so well compared to the Army of Tennessee, which had five different commanders? He does this by comparing the armies in regard to such factors as the geography, demographics, and economic development in their respective theaters of operations; the quality of the Northern and Southern generals in each theater; and the impact of several Confederate government decisions, such as locating its capital at Richmond. Although all these elements favored the Army of Northern Virginia, McMurry concludes that the truly decisive difference was Lee’s moral courage and innate intelligence compared to the gross incompetence of the Army of Tennessee’s various commanders.
McPherson, James M. Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2001, 3d edition).
The best one-volume survey of the subject, McPherson’s book covers the entire 19th century, tracing the war’s origins to the divergence between a Northern capital-intensive, modernizing region and the South’s labor-intensive slave-based society. His discussion of the complex societal turmoil generated by these differences is exquisite. Then, with deft skill, McPherson weaves the wartime fighting fronts and the home fronts together, and seamlessly integrates discussions of class, race, and gender into the narrative. Unlike many scholars who end Reconstruction in 1877, McPherson demonstrates that it did not end until the 1890s when the war’s results were finally clear. Ordeal by Fire contains excellent maps, charts, graphs, a glossary, and illustrations, plus a comprehensive bibliography.
McPherson, James M. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (NY: Oxford University Press, 1997).
Contrary to much current literature (including Linderman’s Embattled Courage), in this nicely written and wonderfully organized book, based on the letters and diaries of more than 1,000 soldiers, McPherson argues that Civil War combatants fought primarily because of patriotic and ideological reasons. However, as he acknowledges, his sources are skewed toward officers, who may have had a higher patriotic/ideological motivation than men in the enlisted ranks. Whether love of country and notions about preserving honor were as all-encompassing as McPherson asserts is questionable--it ignores such factors as the adrenaline surge, which can act as a narcotic, and the nature of an individual’s memory, which is molded by the intended audience such as parents or wives at home. But this book is ideal for generating debate on these issues.”
McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (NY: Oxford University Press, 1990).
In seven delightful essays McPherson develops three major themes. First, he demonstrates that the Civil War rivaled the French Revolution in its revolutionary implications. Second, the war transformed attitudes regarding power and liberty; before the war most Americans believed power and liberty were at opposite ends of a spectrum and that when governmental power increased, liberty automatically suffered. But the Union used power to expand liberty, demonstrating that power and liberty could be friends rather than foes. Finally, McPherson presents Lincoln as one of history’s most successful revolutionary leaders.
Musicant, Ivan. Divided Waters: The Naval History of the Civil War (NY: HarperCollins, 1995).
Although nothing has yet surpassed Virgil C. Jones’ three volume study of The Civil War at Sea (1960-1962), Musicant’s book is a first-rate single volume study. In a lively narrative style, Musicant recounts the Union Navy’s ascent from a drowsy, moth-eaten organization in 1861 to arguably the world’s most powerful navy by 1865. While giving appropriate attention to the Confederate Navy and to the naval campaigns both on the inland waters and out in the deep blue, the author emphasizes the Union blockade, which slowly strangled the Confederacy by eventually sealing off all 3,549 miles of its coastline. Few scholars disagree that the blockade was instrumental in the Union’s victory.
Patterson, Gerard A. Debris of Battle: The Wounded of Gettysburg (Mechanicsville, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997).
Patterson studies an aspect of the Civil War that has virtually been ignored: battle’s gruesome aftermath, especially the fate of the wounded (approximately 21,000 men at Gettysburg) and the disposition of the dead (approximately 7,000 men and 3,000 horses and mules). The story is a mixture of incredible devotion by hundreds of unsung heroes, and of the utter blackness lurking in the human spirit as local folks engaged in rampant theft and heart-rending extortion from the wounded before they would help them. Although somewhat disjointed, the book is well worth reading to take the luster off romanticized images of battle.
Reardon, Carol. Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
Since the publication of Thomas L. Connelly’s The Marble Man (1977), which discussed the mythology surrounding Robert E. Lee, historians have tried to unravel the complex interrelationship between “objective” history and fallible memory (both of individuals and of the culture as a whole) as it relates to the Civil War. Reardon’s book is a superb analysis not of Pickett’s Charge, but of the history of Pickett’s Charge, revealing how the event’s “true” history became intertwined with postwar factors, such as the efforts of North Carolinians and Tennesseans to prevent Virginians from dominating the memory of Pickett’s Charge. Because of postwar distortions (some of them purposeful, others inadvertent), historians really know surprisingly little about many crucial aspects of the attack--not the least of the mysteries is where Pickett was during the charge.
Robertson, James I., Jr. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend (NY: Macmillan Publishing, 1997).
Robertson’s monumental biography of one of the war’s most enigmatic generals magnificently blends story-telling (narrative history) with analysis, presents important new information on such battles as the Seven Days, and demolishes various myths by subjecting them to the dual demands of careful history and common sense. No one is ever again likely to write such a complete portrait of Stonewall, one that reveals him as an awesomely complex individual: at times he was warm, loving, and compassionate, then fierce and indomitable, and sometimes merciless, tyrannical, and capricious. He often exhibited religious zealotry with a zealot’s propensity to overlook his own faults.
Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee: A Biography (NY: W. W. Norton, 1995).
Few generals stalk the pages of U.S. history as prominently as Lee, whose command of the Army of Northern Virginia has inspired numerous historians. Thomas has deftly portrayed Lee’s private and public life, unveiling the man’s failures and frustrations as well as his successes. Although a great deal of Lee-bashing has occurred in the past quarter century, Thomas rightly depicts Lee as a soldier of uncommon ability, exhibiting incredible audacity, strength of will, and an unparalleled capacity for leadership. One of the book’s main themes is the universal struggle between control and freedom, a struggle that acutely afflicted Lee.
Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861-1865 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000).
Weigley is among the nation’s two or three most prominent military historians, and he has used his considerable knowledge and skill to write a magnificent survey of the Civil War, placing it within the broader context of warfare’s evolution in both the U.S. and Europe. His analysis of tactics and strategy and his battle accounts from First Bull Run to Appomattox are virtually unrivaled, especially since they are conveyed in such a compelling narrative style and accompanied by such fine maps. Weigley concludes that despite the war’s horrors, the conflict was worth the cost because it preserved democratic values and ended slavery. Moreover, he argues that the South collapsed so suddenly in 1864-65 because Confederate nationalism was never genuinely heartfelt by the majority of Southerners.
Wilkinson, Warren. Mother, May You Never See the Sights I Have Seen: The Fifty-seventh Massachusetts Veteran Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac, 1864-1865 (NY: Harper & Row, 1990).
Writing small unit history is a special art, and Wilkinson’s artistic flair is unsurpassed, resulting in a classic study of men at war. With consummate skill he blends a detailed account of the Fifty-seventh Massachusetts into the history of Grant’s 1864-1865 campaign. Few authors have written so eloquently about combat in general and none has so graphically described the ghastly nature of soldiering from the Battle of the Wilderness through the siege of Richmond and Petersburg. As the regiment went from the seeming depths of Hell in the Wilderness to places even worse thereafter, Wilkinson chronicles the regiment’s progressive decimation from combat, disability, disease, and desertion.
Wise, Stephen R. Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988).
Avoiding the romantic image of blockade running that pervades many accounts, Wise discusses the men and private companies who organized the business and unravels their complex motives and operations. Blockade running induced a revolution in ship-building, as light-draft, fast, steel- and iron-hulled steamships with immense cargo capacity increasingly dominated the trade. It also allowed the Confederacy to survive as long as it did by bringing in enough goods--just barely!--to keep its armies supplied. However, having to rely on blockade runners complicated the South’s war effort and produced acute commodity shortages and soaring inflation, with especially grim consequences for civilian morale.
Woodworth, Steven E. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990).
Woodworth agrees with much recent Civil War scholarship that stresses that the Confederacy was not predestined to lose despite the North’s preponderance in resources and that the South lost the war not in Virginia, but in the Western Theater. He argues that the South failed in the West primarily because of the Confederate President’s personal failings, which manifested themselves in muddled relationships between Davis and the commanding generals west of the Appalachians. Davis’ poor health afflicted his judgment, and his basic insecurity made him unwilling to admit mistakes and incredibly indecisive. One of his worst faults was his unwavering loyalty to prewar friends whom he appointed to high command positions early in the war; the intense favoritism crippled his military decision-making by keeping incompetent officers in command and preventing more talented officers from rising to the highest echelons.