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The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War
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The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  120 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
Despite the abundance of books on the Civil War, not one has focused exclusively on what was in fact the determining factor in the outcome of the conflict: differences in Union and Southern strategy. In The Grand Design, Donald Stoker provides for the first time a comprehensive and often surprising account of strategy as it evolved between Fort Sumter and Appomattox. Remin ...more
Hardcover, 498 pages
Published July 15th 2010 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published June 27th 2010)
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James Murphy
Aug 12, 2010 James Murphy rated it really liked it
The story of the Civil War told in narrative is a familiar one. And at first Stoker's history seemed just another one. His intent is to explain the course of the war in terms of the military strategy developed and employed by the two sides. His claim that it's not been told before is questionable. The strategies are present in all general histories of the war, but they're folded in with the enormous amount of information about the individual battles and about the personalities that make the hist ...more
Jul 25, 2011 Mark rated it it was ok
Shelves: civil-war
I really can't rate this book higher than two stars. I wanted to like it; but I kept barking my shins on poorly-substantiated sweeping statements (such as the statement that there has never been a book written concerned with Civil War strategy) and questionable conclusions. It's well-researched and capably-written... but.

The author unquestionably knows his stuff, but I'm not convinced by some of his arguments. It's notable that he goes against the grain and highlights some of the positive point
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
As you can tell from the reviews I've recently posted, I have immersed myself in reading some really excellent books about the American Civil War. Being a history buff, especially an American history buff, I have always had an abiding passion for the political and military events associated with this momentous period in our republic's history. I often wonder if most people really realize just how close "the great American experiment" came to becoming a complete and abject failure? Reading books ...more
Apr 29, 2013 William rated it it was amazing
There is the drama. There is the story. Then there is the analysis.

The U.S. Civil War usually gets the drama/story write-up. After all, it is an epic that has never ceased to fascinate. But Donald Stoker has skipped those well-trod lanes of narrative to pave the road less-taken: analysis. "The Grand Design" is about how the war was fought.

The Civil War came with no instruction manual. How does one muster the strength of a nation and commit to a multi-year war? How does an officer with command
Sep 17, 2015 Joe rated it did not like it
Shelves: history

The author's stated goal with this book is to provide a new perspective on the Civil War; the strategic plans, both in theory and in practice, employed by both the Union and the Confederacy, from Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, through each side's commanding generals, down to the foot soldier and the results on the battlefield - Both an interesting case study and one possibly long overdue. Unfortunately this book doesn't accomplish this lofty goal and quickly becomes mired down in detail
Heinz Reinhardt
Nov 22, 2015 Heinz Reinhardt rated it really liked it
The War Between the States has experienced a never ending stream of literature printed on the conflict ever since the centennial over fifty years ago. Despite this vast library of works, however, few look at the conflict through the lens of strategy, how it correlates to military action, how it is implemented by a state for political ends, and how this is then filtered down through the military hierarchy to the sharp end where the poor sods with the guns (in this case, rifled muskets) had to bea ...more
Nov 07, 2016 Johnny rated it really liked it
A good overview of the evolution of strategy of both the US and Confederate government.
Josh Liller
Dec 13, 2016 Josh Liller rated it liked it
Shelves: military, civil-war
The Grand Design is a "top down" (the author's words) book about the Union and Confederate military during the American Civil War. It looks at high-level decision making in regards to military and political strategy, operations, and grand strategy. Stoker examines the war through not only concepts that were known to the presidents and generals, but also through more modern philosophies like Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. As a professor of strategy and policy for the Naval War College, Stoker seems like ...more
May 08, 2011 Dan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011, favorites
This is a challenging book because of its breadth; Stoker really covers everything and sort of expects the reader to have a familiarity with most of what he writes about. I wouldn't recommend picking up this book on a whim. To get the most out of it, it requires deep study, and perhaps a notepad on the side to keep track of the various ups and downs of the war.

I view this as the best book about the Civil War that I have ever read. Stoker rescues the war from a discussion of a chain of battles an
Jan 08, 2017 Andrew added it
Excellent overview of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis as the principal belligerents, and their attempts to formulate a Strategy to win the war according to their stated goals.

Very light on specific Battle details, but that is okay as most battles have been done to death. This looks deeply at the logistics end of the war and provides greatly needed context.
Jan 13, 2011 Chuck rated it really liked it
Strategy and the US Civil War by Donald Stoker is a well written and interesting book dealing with interactions between the top military leaders on each side, and how they determined and carried out their military goals.

When the war began, the United States did not have a tradition of a permanent General Staff. Nor, did the US have a ready stable of experienced Army commanders. Due to the generally dispersed and small size of the regular military, and the reliance on short term militia call-ups
Nathan Albright
Jan 18, 2016 Nathan Albright rated it it was amazing
As a historical reader with a passionate interest in the American Civil War, it is a treasure to be able to find, read, and recommend a book that provides something meaningful that has not already been said in depth and at length about the Civil War. This book delivers, in a detailed examination of the often-muddled attempts on both sides to align civil and military goals and ensure civilian leadership without harming the need for working through the military hierarchy. While this may not sound ...more
Jun 06, 2013 Matthew rated it it was amazing
About fifteen years ago, a historian friend of mine expressed some dismay at the upcoming 150th anniversary of the US Civil War. She was afraid that it would come to dominate the historical landscape even more than it had. The sadder truth seems to be that this hasn't happened, and the historical landscape has shrunk, although perhaps in the South, there is more to the observance.

This summer, though, with the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) at hand, it seemed apropos to
Oct 29, 2011 Steelman rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, 2011
This book is written to focus specifically on the planning and execution of policies and strategies on both sides of The Civil War. Battles and their outcomes are mentioned, but only as a result of the strategies each side pursued.

The Union developed a strategy well-suited to winning the war early in the conflict, but Lincoln encountered much difficulty finding both leaders and a command apparatus to implement his policy effectively. The Confederate government likewise developed a strategy they
Frank Roberts
Nov 28, 2010 Frank Roberts rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A new perspective on the Civil War, which is quite an accomplishment considering the millions of words on the subject. Stoker gives a great review of the War from the vantage point of Grand Strategy, and shows how the Confederacy never achieved a strategic vision, while Lincoln and the Union did. He also challenges some longstanding truisms of Civil War buffs, such as the decisive nature of Gettysburg or the importance of Vicksburg.

Would have rated it higher, but Stoker gets into the weeds in s
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 Sean Chick rated it did not like it
A one rating might not be fair, for Stoker has his moments. His analysis of McClellan is dead on. Unfortunately, his examination of Confederate strategy is shallow, revolving around the tired idea that Davis could do no right. Meanwhile, Lincoln's obsession with "destroying armies" (which NEVER OCCURRED IN A FIELD BATTLE) is blithely trotted out like gospel true. If Grant fails it is always the fault of others. Most of all, any book on strategy in the American Civil War that claims to be "the fi ...more
Dec 09, 2011 Hale rated it did not like it
Examines what we usually call the "Civil War" at the strategic level, a treatment that is long overdue. Most accounts of the conflict stress particular campaigns and battles -- the trees -- rather than poltical and miltary objectives, logistics and plans, and how they drove the conflict (the whole forest). The fact that we call this war the "Civil War" and not the "War for Southern Independence" tells you the story -- the US was able to align its military and political means (often in unforseen ...more
Nov 20, 2012 Rich rated it really liked it
A well-written, significant contribution to Civil War literature. Stoker provides comprehensive coverage of the Union & Confederate strategies from the war's start to finish. There's more detailed coverage of the Union, but that's only logical since the Union ended-up having more of a 'grand strategy' than the Confederacy. In discussing the Confederacy, Stoker says that the generally accepted thought that they pursued an 'offensive-defensive' strategy is incorrect and shows why.
John Kelley
Nov 01, 2011 John Kelley rated it it was amazing
Few books have given a cogent view of the use, or non use of strategy in the duration of war for more than four years. The Author, Donald Stoker has the credentials to write such an inviting look at the Civil War from the top down. This was not a quick read, but I finished reading last night.
I suggest those who hear the sound of the guns should read this excellent study on strategy in the Civil War.
Feb 17, 2011 Al rated it really liked it
Shelves: strategy, wbts
Dr Stoker presents a very lucid explanation of the three levels of war: strategic, operational, and tactical. Throughout this book, he reminds the reader what level of war is being discussed. This is a great strategic overview of the Civil War, presenting startegic and operational reasons for campaigns such as Arkansas-Missouri, as well as the political rationale. A very good read.
Dec 27, 2010 WRH rated it really liked it
Interesting piece on the Civil War. The key idea was to examine the way from a strategic political viewpoint. That topic was reasonably addressed but, at times, drifted into a regular civil war history. However, I learned some new information and it was reasonably entertaining.
Jul 28, 2012 Tom rated it really liked it
Great look at the Civil War. It just reinforces that Grant and Sherman were the best generals of the war (not excepting Robert E. Lee).
Christopher rated it really liked it
May 03, 2011
Josh rated it liked it
Mar 01, 2012
Kári Gautason
Jun 01, 2015 Kári Gautason rated it liked it
Frekar þurrt en ágætlega upplýsandi um ákvarðanir sem mótuðu borgarastríðið
Michael Deeb
Michael Deeb rated it it was amazing
Oct 20, 2011
Mark Hendricks
Mark Hendricks rated it liked it
Apr 21, 2015
John Richley
John Richley rated it it was amazing
Nov 13, 2016
James rated it really liked it
Sep 21, 2015
Nicholas rated it liked it
May 25, 2014
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  • Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864
  • Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
  • Gettysburg--The Second Day
  • Chancellorsville
  • General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse
  • Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas
  • Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage
  • The Union War
  • Vicksburg, 1863
  • The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command
  • Lincoln and His Generals
  • For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War
  • An American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War
  • Look Away!: A History of the Confederate States of America
Donald Stoker is Professor of Strategy and Policy for the U.S. Naval War College's program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California."
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