While dipping a bit into academic language sometimes (perhaps unavoidably), 'Freedom National' is a levelheaded and at times startling story of the co...moreWhile dipping a bit into academic language sometimes (perhaps unavoidably), 'Freedom National' is a levelheaded and at times startling story of the course of slavery's destruction during the American Civil War. While Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was an important step in the process, it is usually taken out of context; indeed, the Proclamation was actually a necessary part of the Second Confiscation Act passed by Congress the previous summer, and as such contained part of the language of the Act.
Oakes describes and explains the entire process, from the legislative and judicial actions, through to implementation by the military, the federal government, and by what would today be called 'non-governmental organizations), as well as by the slaves themselves and the reactions of the slave state politicians both inside and outside the Confederacy. The book in some ways reinforces (though far more comprehensively) the message sent by the recent Spielberg movie on Lincoln; the Emancipation Proclamation was a necessary step along the way, but it was far from either the first move or the final one, and that the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery was the true death-knell of the 'peculiar institution,' even more so than Union armies marching through the South-- which may have emancipated up to 15% of the Confederacy's slaves at most, despite all efforts.
Not light reading, but very important and very eye-opening, even for those familiar with the subject.(less)
Grand, sweeping, and epic; but also could have used some editorial trimming. At times it seems like two books (one about British-American relations, o...moreGrand, sweeping, and epic; but also could have used some editorial trimming. At times it seems like two books (one about British-American relations, one about British and Irish individuals participating in the Civil War on both sides) uncomfortably mixed together. Still, a pretty good read, in particular the portions dealing with Lord Lyons, the British minister to the U.S.(less)
I'd been wondering about military intelligence in the Civil War... not the overwrought and overdone "civil war spy" stories, but about real intelligen...moreI'd been wondering about military intelligence in the Civil War... not the overwrought and overdone "civil war spy" stories, but about real intelligence work. This book is what I was looking for. So much of what would come to be recognized as intelligence work was prefigured in the Union Army of the Potomac's Bureau of Military Information, from collating interrogation reports to reading enemy signal flag messages to constructing orders-of-battle of the opposing forces, all in one organization. It seems that all the components had been available for some time; what was missing was a central staff to coordinate information-gathering and to put the reports from various sources together, resulting in a fuller picture of the situation.
For instance, a picket might report that the enemy picket across from him had changed, from somebody in Heth's division to somebody new. That fact is not very useful in itself, but if it's put together with a report from a nearby town that a brigade had passed through and the order-of-battle information on Heth's division, then you can start figuring out that a brigade has been pulled off the line and is on the march in a particular direction.
It appears that this story was untold for many years to protect the identities of a number of the people involved; but intelligence analyst Edwin C. Fishel happened across the records of the Bureau in the archives, still bound up with red ribbons, unread for a century or more. The story is told in exacting detail up through the excellent Union intelligence work that enabled the victory at Gettysburg; the second half of the war, unfortunately, is only lightly covered in an "Epilogue."(less)
I didn't like this book quite as much as I thought I was going to like it. The writing is a little disjointed, as if it was several individual pieces...moreI didn't like this book quite as much as I thought I was going to like it. The writing is a little disjointed, as if it was several individual pieces of writing imperfectly grafted together, rather than a smooth narrative. There are a few jarring discontinuities, such as a chapter that goes in depth on the difficult relationship between Grant and his subordinate McClernand, culminating in McClernand's removal; the next chapter picks up the overall story of the campaign earlier on, with McClernand still in charge of his corps. The reader realizes that the McClernand piece went a bit "into the future," as it were, before returning to the narrative, but it's still jarring.
Noteworthy is a thorough deconstruction of the alleged drinking spree up the Yazoo River, though it pays tribute to Brooks D. Simpson's Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865 as the true pioneer in that regard. It becomes quite clear that the account of the spree was a vengeful fiction by Cadwallader, probably in return for what he saw as a slighting of Grant's chief of staff John Rawlins in Grant's memoirs.
Overall, I much preferred Ballard's Vicksburg: The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi; Grant at Vickburg is only a shadow of that real tour de force.(less)
How the North Won is excellently subtitled ("A Military History of the Civil War"). Politics, social concerns, etc., are pushed into the background an...moreHow the North Won is excellently subtitled ("A Military History of the Civil War"). Politics, social concerns, etc., are pushed into the background and only mentioned in connection with their direct impacts on military planning and operations.
The authors do a first-rate job of analyzing all of the major campaigns of the war by both sides (including ones that didn't happen, or that didn't happen as planned) in the light of the military knowledge and theory of the time. If you've ever wondered "Why did General Gray move to the right instead of the left?" or "Why did General Blue delay before moving on the city?", this book is likely to give you terrific insight as to why.
Many apparent "blunders" show themselves as good plans frustrated by the better plans of the other side, making the true blunders stand out in stark relief. The authors provide excellent interpretations and analyses of the performance of both presidents as military strategists, the weaknesses and strengths of their staffs, and similar views of all of the major armies and commands.
Simple but effective maps are included in the body of the text at appropriate points (though the reader may want to have an overall map or atlas handy to fit them all into place), and a great appendix provides a first-rate summary of the methodology of strategy and military analysis.
If you want to learn the purely military side of the Civil War, this is *the* book to read.(less)
Pretty dry for how interesting it is... or pretty interesting for how dry it is. Henry W. Halleck would become (in)famous in the Civil War for his adm...morePretty dry for how interesting it is... or pretty interesting for how dry it is. Henry W. Halleck would become (in)famous in the Civil War for his administration of the Union armies (his effectiveness in the role is debated but is usually characterized as ineffective), but he originally made his mark as a military engineer and theorist.
In Elements of Military Art and Science, based on a series of lectures he gave at the prestigious Lowell Institute of Boston, Halleck summarizes a great deal of what was known of the art of war in the first half of the 19th Century. He opens by justifying war against charges of its immorality, and of military defenses against efforts to save money by neglecting the military establishment. He then summarizes the arts of strategy, tactics, logistics, and engineering, the importance of intelligent military policy, discusses the state of defenses of the United States at that time (pre-Mexican War), the principles of organization of an army and its components (infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers), and goes into some detail on permanent and temporary fortifications. A final chapter strongly endorses the military academy system as a way of training professional officers.
Halleck makes no claim to originality, clearly stating that he is drawing his ideas and information from others, and provides reading-lists (primarily in French-language sources) for those wishing to delve deeper. But he does a pretty fair job of summarizing the art of war as it was known at the time, and relating it specifically to the interests of the young United States. Elements of Military Art and Science will never replace Clausewitz or Sun Tzu as a classic of military literature, but for an understanding of pre-Civil War American military thinking, it's a good primer. (If dry.)(less)
Major General Henry Halleck is one of the most maligned Union Army leaders of the Civil War. Anders' book sets out to challenge that conventional wisd...moreMajor General Henry Halleck is one of the most maligned Union Army leaders of the Civil War. Anders' book sets out to challenge that conventional wisdom, showing "Old Brains" as a principled, intelligent administrator with strong loyalties to effective military officers and an effective, if understated, management style. A good deal of this comes out in an excellent sampling of Halleck's official and private correspondence.
Unfortunately, Anders torpedoes his own arguments by being far too slanted and one-sided, casually flinging mud and insults at nearly every other figure in the Union who dared to challenge Halleck on anything. A simple chronological compilation of Halleck's correspondence with a bare minimum of commentary and interpretation would have been far more effective than what comes off as a shrill and unpleasant read. There's no analysis here; only cheerleading. The two stars are for Halleck's writings; Anders' writing is a severe drag on the book.(less)