This is the fifth or sixth anthology published by the Library of America that I have read, and obviously the second on the Civil War. Increasingly, IThis is the fifth or sixth anthology published by the Library of America that I have read, and obviously the second on the Civil War. Increasingly, I am finding great joy and value in these works that provide primary sources covering a wide range within given topics.
In this particular volume, the following are of note:
Military matters, from the actions of individual common soldiers to grand strategy. All point to, and a few soldiers explicitly mention, the vast difference experiencing a battle from the front line compared to the "general's eye view" back at HQ or in the history books. Both are extremely important and impart valuable knowledge to average citizens today. The reality of battle is described in harrowing detail which every adult and teenage Civil War buff should remember; these were not chess pieces silently moved off a board. On the larger scale, generals have to deal with the infamous "fog of war", and McClellan unfortunately gave repeated examples of a general with victory in his grasp losing the opportunity due to unwarranted fear of the enemy's strength and abilities. The entire Peninsula Campaign saw Little Mac complain of lack of reinforcements and that he was constantly outnumbered, when in truth the Army of Northern Virginia was down in men and just barely barring the side door to Richmond itself. Pope could hardly have done worse at Manassas due to his arrogance and belief that the enemy was weaker than they actually were. Antietam provides another example of opportunities lost due to mismanagement and the lack of coordination (Clausewitz's notion of "friction" coming into play for both sides). Not that all mistakes were made by the Yankees; Braxton Bragg caps the year off with a suicidal and completely predictable charge against Rosecrans at Stones River. Again, average citizens would do well to learn vital military lessons from these pages that we might better understand the limits and compass of military power.
Perhaps more interesting is the political aspect of the conflict. In 1862, Britain and France seriously considered brokering a deal between the belligerents in a manner not too dissimilar from what the United States tries to do in broken countries today. But for the timely draw at Antietam, Palmerston might have brought the British fleet to bear upon the blockage, effectively ending the war.
And of course we have the issue of slavery. Of great importance in this work are the Second Confiscation Acts and the Emancipation Proclamation, necessary but undoubtedly stretching the powers invested within the President beyond any reasonable reading of the Constitution. Lincoln's desire to emancipate the slaves over a period extending to 1900 and for colonizing freemen to Africa or South America makes a very, very interesting "what if" for discussion.
Pope's General Orders 5, 7, and 11 should be read and contemplated in light of the enemy combatants controversy raging around the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Also of interest is Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus.
A rich book, covering only one year but raising all sorts of social, political, economic, and military matters. It is no surprise to me that my love of those topics can all be traced to becoming a Civil War buff back in early elementary school. As one who has read a few books on the topic, I would highly recommend this to any Civil War enthusiast and to anyone wishing to read for civic enlightenment. ...more
I enjoy reading these collections of primary sources, and this collection is particularly worthy of notice due to the subject studied. The arguments cI enjoy reading these collections of primary sources, and this collection is particularly worthy of notice due to the subject studied. The arguments concerning the justification of secession on both sides are profound and well argued. The accounts of battles were good, but the social and political letters and articles are of more use to Civil War buffs already well versed in the military aspects. Also interesting to see the mistakes made in initial reports, just like we see in ongoing crises today.
Worth picking through at least, again in particular the arguments made prior to the start of the war....more
Very good read on the history of the Army of Northern Virginia from the point of view of one who lived it. Surprisingly candid in his criticisms of LeVery good read on the history of the Army of Northern Virginia from the point of view of one who lived it. Surprisingly candid in his criticisms of Lee, though still reverential of the man himself. Of course, Alexander, a veteran of the entire conflict, is best known for his conversation with Lee on that last morning about sending the men off back to their states rather than surrendering to Grant. Alexander still feels a twinge of shame and admits so openly, not because of any ill intentions on his part but because of how small he felt in comparison to Lee's position on the issue.
In terms of tactics and strategy, his main beef is the lack of coordination in attacks, the lack of seasoned staff officers to oversee said attacks, and most interestingly the Confederate strategic mistake of not utilizing "interior lines" between the theaters of the war. He took part in the Battle of Chickamauga, in which the 1st Corps ANV was transferred to the West and delivered a stunning blow to the previously victorious Yankees. Alexander in particular thinks Lee should have personally led troops out West to relieve Vicksburg rather than invading the North in the summer of '63. Certainly an intriguing what if.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the flashes of his personal opinion on The Cause. He's clearly accepted the benefits of the Union victory and flat out says the Confederacy would not have survived victory. Hard to imagine any nation fighting a civil war that bloody and then, within days, getting on the same train cars with their former opponents and making a point of being civil. Very interested in reading his other book, but in all of my reading the proposed future of the Confederacy in peace is one I've surprisingly never come across. ...more
A short, interesting, and very readable account of Fremantle's travels throughout the Confederacy during the year 1863. I like books written by firstA short, interesting, and very readable account of Fremantle's travels throughout the Confederacy during the year 1863. I like books written by first hand eyewitnesses to the Civil War, and this one is even more interesting due to the fact that it was published while the war was still going on. Fremantle ends the work predicting a Confederate victory, so one would be hard pressed to accuse him of revisionism or hindsight.
A nice feature of his excursion is that he traveled to so many different parts of the Confederacy. We get tales from the wilds of Texas, rattlesnakes and Yankee gunboats on the Mississippi, a decent account of Bragg's army in Tennessee, Charleston and its defenses, Richmond life, the Army of Northern Virginia during the Gettysburg Campaign, and to top it off, the race riots in New York. The hardships of war life are portrayed admirably, as is the stiff upper lip put on by the victims in the South. He runs into nearly every big name of the South alive at the time: Bragg, Beauregard, Polk, Hardee, Joe Johnson, Magruder, the fire-eater Rhetts, Judah Benjamin, Jefferson Davis, Longstreet, Ewell, Hill, and of course General Lee, who Fremantle describes not unreasonably as the pinnacle of human perfection.
Fremantle is an exception for his time in that he is a British aristocrat who looks favorably upon the Confederacy and is not particularly bothered by the South's "peculiar institution." He goes out of his way to show slavery in a positive light, with masters treating their beloved negroes with respect and earning their love in return. How much of this is driven by fear of the whip, propaganda against what the Yankees would do to them, or genuine affection for people they have known their entire lives, is hard to tell. Fremantle does show some degree of revulsion to a slave trade auction and is sure to mention all decent Southerners deplore it as a necessary evil. While I'm more than certain he overstates the case, Fremantle does provide a counterweight to Northern propaganda, which wasn't exactly dedicated to the straight and unquestionable truth, either.
Militarily, the great event is the Battle of Gettysburg, which Fremantle was on hand to witness as a guest of Lee and Longstreet. While certainly recognizable as Gettysburg, his account is sufficiently different to raise eyebrows among anyone who has studied the battle in depth. That shouldn't be a great surprise, as he didn't have anything other than his own perspective to report. In times of crises, all sorts of rumors fly; I still remember CNN reporting the White House had been struck during 9/11. There are some certain points one should get out of his account. For starters, Lee was still creating plans with Longstreet on the morning of the 2nd; there was no "dawn attack" plan, regardless of what Early had to say. Secondly, Lee was surprisingly hands off once the battle got going. Fremantle states that Lee sat on a stump for the second day's battle, receiving and sending off a total of one report. Perhaps the most surprising thing I read in this book was how Longstreet responded to the repulse of Pickett's Charge (which Fremantle missed, having gone off looking for a better vantage point). Longstreet is busy trying to build up a defense, but once it is clear the Yankees are not going to launch a counter attack, he's surprisingly cheerful for a man who personally knew a great number of the people who had literally just died violent deaths in front of him. By the 4th, he's making jokes with a Federal messenger who came under a flag of truce to report Longstreet had been wounded and captured but would be treated well. Granted, if somebody told me I had been wounded and captured when I was safe and sound in my own lines, I might laugh, too.
Anyway, I enjoyed this book. For someone new to the Civil War, I would recommend something more perspective in hindsight to start you out, but for anyone familiar I would absolutely recommend it (I found it for free on Kindle). It's definitely an interesting at the time account and a reminder of what kind of evidence we are dealing with as historians. ...more
A fascinating little read. Starting from the colonial charters requiring colonial laws not to contradict British law and the Somerset case outlawing sA fascinating little read. Starting from the colonial charters requiring colonial laws not to contradict British law and the Somerset case outlawing slavery, Spooner shows slavery really didn't have a legal leg to stand on (not a single state constitution mentioned slavery when the national constitution was ratified). Slave advocates were reluctant to make explicit slavery in the founding documents, what with all of the liberty talk. The notorious passages implying slavery can be explained without it, though I have to say the argument justifying the ban on importation was weak. How people could become slaves, and who, was never legally explained by the controlling constitutions, putting any state legislation in a weak spot.
Worth reading. I'm glad Spooner did not just rely on natural law. ...more
It was decent, though I would more highly recommend Alexander's work. Unfortunately, Longstreet often comes off sounding defensive, which he undoubtedIt was decent, though I would more highly recommend Alexander's work. Unfortunately, Longstreet often comes off sounding defensive, which he undoubtedly was. His personal account at Appomattox makes it worth reading, as he wasn't with Lee but with the troops awaiting word. His reunion with Grant is touching if you can picture it.
I do wish we could know more about what was going on in his head during this horrific events. While not entirely detached and clinical, his accounts really leave me wondering what he was feeling during these battles and the aftermath. Could they really be so comfortable with death?...more
A blurb on the cover of the third volume describes this as an American Iliad; one leaves this work believing it need not be undertaken again. And so iA blurb on the cover of the third volume describes this as an American Iliad; one leaves this work believing it need not be undertaken again. And so it is. Foote, God rest his soul, was an outstanding author. It would be impossible to complete this 3,000 page project if it was not eminently readable. The tale, an extraordinarily epic one, is told in a way that perfectly balances the personal stories and the "bigger picture."
This was a solid read. Horigan makes a pretty damning case against the War Department. It is always rather startling to think that such a hell could eThis was a solid read. Horigan makes a pretty damning case against the War Department. It is always rather startling to think that such a hell could exist in my own backyard. ...more
An interesting and enjoyable work considering the Confederate States of America apart from the military aspects (as much as possible for a state thatAn interesting and enjoyable work considering the Confederate States of America apart from the military aspects (as much as possible for a state that never really saw a day of peace). Davis goes into quite some detail explaining the hardships faced by the people and the governments at all levels in sustaining a living while dealing with a destructive conflict in a newly forming country. Military, political, economic, and for soldiers, civilians, and politicians alike, personal issues are all interwoven in life, so a true understanding of that conflict requires an understanding of what was going on behind the lines. This book filled in a gap in my knowledge of the Confederacy that I imagine exists with many Civil War buffs....more