"Decision in the West" covers Sherman's campaign in Georgia from May 1864 to September 1864. It also delves into many of the events and decisions earl"Decision in the West" covers Sherman's campaign in Georgia from May 1864 to September 1864. It also delves into many of the events and decisions earlier in the year (January-April) leading up to the campaign. Hood's Nashville campaign and Sherman's March to the Sea are briefly summarized in the last chapter.
This is a predominately military history, but it generally doesn't go deeper than the brigade level. It is very much concerned with the decisions of the generals - what they tried to do, why they tried to do it, if they succeeded, and what might they have done differently. It certainly has some interesting but fair opinions of Sherman, Johnston, and Hood. The experiences of the soldiers are covered as well and they demonstrate that Sherman's campaign was every bit as grinding for both sides as the campaigns in Virginia at the time and for the same reason (near constant contact with the opposing army and increased reliance on entrenchments).
This book is now more than 2 decades old, but the content seems to have held up pretty well. The Atlanta Campaign has received some more recent writing, but while they often delve deeper into the occupation and burning of Atlanta than Castel does they also often gloss over the events prior to Sherman's crossing of the Chattahoochee and Hood replacing Johnston. As a result, books like War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta make for interesting companions to "Decision in the West" rather than successors.
One very odd decision that actually works out well is that this entire book is written in the present tense. History books are written about the past and as such are normally written in the past tense. It certainly captures the feeling of "immediacy" that is mentioned in the Preface.
Classic campaign study that is a must-read for any Civil War buff....more
I was really interested to read this book with all the positive reviews. For such a major figure in American history, Robert E. Lee is sorely lackingI was really interested to read this book with all the positive reviews. For such a major figure in American history, Robert E. Lee is sorely lacking in a biography to go with his stature. The only great Lee biography seems to be Douglas Southall Freeman's Pulitzer-winner from the 1930s, a 4-volume behemoth that from being written by a devout Lost Causer. Korda has written several dozen books, including biographies of Grant and Eisenhower which would make him seem a good choice to tackle the subject. As a non-American he would also seem likely to be unbiased on the many heated issues related to the Civil War.
This book does have some things going for it. The book is a bit hefty, which is necessary for the subject. There are some clear themes and conclusions about Lee's personality. Korda clearly thinks positively of Lee, but also recognizes that, like any person, he had flaws. There is also a mostly modern view on James Longstreet. Lee's "Old Warhorse" was a longtime scapegoat of the Lost Cause, but has gotten some reevaluation in recent decades now that Lee's halo has largely come off. Korda also makes some clearly stated disagreements with two classic authors on the subject of Lee, Freeman and J.F.C. Fuller.
Unfortunately, this book is riddled with flaws, especially once it reaches the Civil War. Korda oversimplifies Lee's views on slavery, especially making an awkward comparison to Lincoln. Eric Foner rather vehemently disagreed with this comparison in a book review; I see the point Korda was trying to make, but still think it a poor choice or at least one that could have been better qualified. Even though he is willing to disagree with Freeman on some points, Korda far too often uses Freeman as the source for quotes. He is also lazy with some of his explanatory footnotes, being so brazen as to repeatedly cite Wikipedia. Korda lists Hennessy's outstanding Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas in his bibliography, but at one point makes a Wikipedia footnote for something that could have easily been cited from Hennessy. Furthermore, he seems to have completely missed a major argument of Hennessy's book: that Longstreet's repeated delays in attacking were justified and Lee agreed with them once he investigated the situation. If Korda disagrees with that conclusion then he should have said so rather than just ignoring it.
The high page count is justified by the subject, but not by the execution. There are too many clever uses of French expressions and references to Tolstoy. Korda hits his themes too hard at times, becoming annoying repetitive in places. Worse, the book becomes incredibly spotty dealing with the latter part of the Civil War. The book never addresses Lee's intentions with Stuart on the third day at Gettysburg, skims over Lee's handling of the retreat from Gettysburg, doesn't mention Mine Run or the Bristoe Campaign (which one author called "Lee's last strategic offensive"), makes on a passing mention to North Anna, skims over the siege of Petersburg, and doesn't mention the last-ditch breakout attempt Lee ordered at Fort Stedman!
This book is also riddled with minor errors, some of them particularly head-scratching. Korda repeated refers to Gettysburg's Copse of Trees as "Ziegler's Grove" which is actually a different part of the battlefield. He also repeatedly refers to the heights defended by the Confederates at Fredricksburg as "Saint Marye's Heights"; where he got the "Saint" part of the name I have no idea.
This book has enough content and insights to avoid a complete thumbs down, but has so many shortcomings that I can't really recommend it to anyone....more
This book may be the only general history of Florida in the Civil War in print. That alone gives it some merit. The book covers a variety of aspects bThis book may be the only general history of Florida in the Civil War in print. That alone gives it some merit. The book covers a variety of aspects beyond the battles in Florida such as blockade operations, minorities, Unionists, and Reconstruction. It also attempts to address the role of Florida regiments in the Confederate army, but those chapters end up more a brief military history of the war without enough attention paid to the regiments themselves or their commanders. The book also suffers from editing issues, some corrected in later editions. Most glaring were photo mistakes: Albert Sidney Johnston's photo incorrectly used for John Magruder (fixed in later printings) and a photo of Amelia Island Lighthouse wrongly used for Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. So if you're looking for a simple and mostly easy to read introductory history of the titular subject then you will mostly find it in this book, but more serious or experienced readers will likely be partly frustrated by more than the short length....more