Richard M McMurry's Atlanta 1864: Last Chance for the Confederacy (copyright 2000, University of Nebraska Press) is an exceptionally good book.
RecountRichard M McMurry's Atlanta 1864: Last Chance for the Confederacy (copyright 2000, University of Nebraska Press) is an exceptionally good book.
Recounting the story of the chess game played by William T Sherman and Joseph E Johnston between Chattanooga and Atlanta, McMurry's deft touch insures that all the significant moves, and many of the more subtle feints as well, receive their just due. Given the tremendous impact of this particular campaign on the history of the Civil War, and on Lincoln's re-election bid, and on the fate of slavery and of the United States, too often these particular stories are given short-shrift elsewhere. McMurry corrects that oversight in this concise yet detail-packed slender volume.
McMurry successfully holds at bay the legends and myths of the men involved, devoting considerable time to their foibles, personal limitations, and strategic and tactical errors and outright blunders. No more is this more evident than in his treatment of both Sherman's and Johnston's behaviors and choices during the campaign. But there is no sign that McMurry has a personal axe to grind. He is more interested in divesting the myth to reveal the raw and dirty facts of the fight than he is to advance the agenda of either side over the other.
Often in books of Civil War campaigns we are told merely what happened, which direction some army or other elected to travel on a map. McMurry refreshingly always provides insight as to what informed these often pivotal decisions: for this reason alone this book is superior to about ninety percent of its competition in the genre, and all writers in this arena would do well to seriously consider emulating the model presented here.
Also worthy of mention is McMurry's consideration of the influence of politics and personal foibles that significantly impacted these events. For example, Sherman later claimed he launched the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain because he was concerned about his army becoming rusty from not fighting. McMurry shows that Sherman was also feeling political pressure to have a fight even if he doubted he could win it, and one is reminded of similar actions by Sherman at Chickasaw Bayou and in the early fruitless attacks on the stronghold of Vicksburg. Also, I'd long been mystified by the strange Federal failures at Utoy Creek, and McMurry illuminates the scandal of John Palmer's dereliction of duty on the field which led to a crisis here and subsequent loss of life.
This isn't a difficult book to read, but that doesn't mean it's easy to breeze through, either. This is a book that requires some degree of concentration, but it rewards that attention in abundance. Rarely would I give a book like this such a high rating, but McMurry has done a superb job with his subject, and his book deserves the highest praise and recommendation. ...more
The thing is, Abraham Lincoln had a bad first term as President. This whole Civil War business had spiraled out of control, and Northern generals seemThe thing is, Abraham Lincoln had a bad first term as President. This whole Civil War business had spiraled out of control, and Northern generals seemed to lack the wisdom and/or inclination to reliably conduct and win battles. Things looked better for the North out west, but who cared about out west? No one. Robert E Lee had been driven out of Pennsylvania and back into Virginia, but at such an appalling cost that it was difficult to see Gettysburg as a victory. True, Vicksburg had fallen too, and the Mississippi River was in Union hands, but all that could be tucked away conveniently into a folder called the "uninteresting western struggle" and be casually ignored. By the time that the election was approaching in the fall of 1864, Sherman's army was bogged down in static siege conditions around Atlanta, and thousands of boys had become corpses as Grant had ramrodded his way through the Wilderness campaign, digging into another static siege at Petersburg, with only legions of dead to show for his progress. In political terms, it all added up to poor hopes for a Lincoln reelection, and should Lincoln lose and George McClellan become the new President, the direction of the war would surely be radically altered. The stakes were substantial.
In these terms we must view Price's raid into Missouri lest we forget that the forces which contributed to its inception, organization, and conduct were not strictly military goals, but were mixed with political goals: the wider goals of the Confederacy, and the political goals of Sterling Price personally, for example. Price did not necessarily have to successfully capture St Louis or Jefferson City to be successful. If he could merely continue putting pressure on the Yankee Army so that Northerners were sufficiently discouraged to not vote for Lincoln, he could claim some success. Alas for Price and the South, Sherman would capture Atlanta early during Price's raid, and the resulting rising spirits in the North would insure a Lincoln landslide.
Price was then compelled to conduct a campaign that was primarily of a military, not a political, nature. Unfortunately, as always, Price's troops were insufficiently armed, insufficiently fed, insufficiently clothed, and insufficiently disciplined. He conducted a rabble into Missouri. Fortunately for Price, at least until he reached Westport, the Union Army, sufficiently armed, fed, clothed, and disciplined, was unable to do him much harm, excepting in a few limited encounters.
Dick Titterington considers primarily the Union response directed by William Rosecrans out of St Louis in this book. Although Titterington calls himself an amateur historian, he certainly knows his chops and he can be counted on to get his facts straight, to dot every i and cross every t, and to provide excellent documentation all along the way. Moreover, when presenting a broad story like this one with so many characters and changing places, Titterington does something which is difficult: he organizes his tale in an order that is easy to follow. That takes some real storytelling skill, particularly when you're dealing with nonfiction which can't be rewritten to heighten dramatic effect.
This book aims to show Rosecrans' field officers in a better light than that in which they are usually remembered, to provide an accounting for why they kept not quite catching up and closing with Price, to emphasize how absence of reliable military intelligence encouraged a conservative approach to tangling with Old Pap. I've read other accounts of this raid, and the analyses put forward by others, and I confess I'm unpersuaded by Titterington's thesis. In military terms, Price made numerous errors during his raid, and the Union Army was almost never in a position to capitalize on them. I have a feeling we would be less willing to forgive Grant or Sherman for paralysis due to absence of intelligence as we are asked to do for Rosecrans. Nevertheless, although my interpretation is not the same as Titterington's, the events he documents are unshakably solid.
Some might find fault with Titterington's unwillingness to move away from absolute historical objectivity and reveal some of his own interpretive and subjective opinions about the people involved. I myself understand exactly why he does not do this, as it necessarily would taint the objectivity of the story he's setting down. What I do think would help, however, would be to add a layer of sensation: to better show the country and the weather, the cold and the rain of the surroundings, to hear the wagon wheels creak and the mules bray, to smell the ears of corn cooking and feel the campfire smoke burning in our eyes, to make us feel we as readers are more present in the world of 1864. Just a few paragraphs of such strategically placed throughout a text like this can work wonders.
As far as books about Price's raid go, this is a very good one, and one told with a different emphasis than I've seen before. I'd like to have seen more of the action around Westport and beyond, but no doubt that's for a later book in the series. I'd recommend this concise and absorbing story to everyone interested in the western conflicts of the Civil War, and to everyone who lives in the region now....more
The role of the state of Missouri in the American Civil War is terribly complex, as any student of the Western Theater is painfully aware. Besides theThe role of the state of Missouri in the American Civil War is terribly complex, as any student of the Western Theater is painfully aware. Besides the difficulty of divided loyalties shattered into so many different factions and interests ― political, social, pro- and anti-slavery, pro- and anti-Union, economic interests, German and Irish immigration, etc. ― one must also have a facile, working familiarity with Bleeding Kansas, as well as with the guerrilla war, which in some ways can be seen as a second, more personal and ugly war contemporaneous with the Civil War. While providing appropriate coverage of all these aspects of the story he would tell, in Damned Yankee: The Life of General Nathaniel Lyon, Christopher Phillips has also provided a superb biographical recounting of the life of one of the most pivotal players in the early part of Missouri's Civil War tale. Let me tell you something: in technical terms alone, in the level of research and private reflection required to produce this kind of book, this is no mean feat.
Although Phillips' prose flows smoothly enough, this very well researched book is not particularly easy to read and understand. A certain degree of familiarity with the story is not required, but it's most definitely helpful, and even then, this is a book that demands real intellectual engagement and not infrequent pauses to let the implications of the text sink in, to wrangle with them, to engage with Phillips and his arguments and evidence, to struggle with complex personalities long dead and to try to reach one's own conclusions about the subject matter under consideration. I will tell you that this book has caused me to rethink my own assumptions about the character of Nathaniel Lyon, and in truth to conclude that, in certain ways, I don't understand this man, and perhaps I never will. This kind of ambiguity about character is the opposite of what we expect to find in a biography, but perhaps it is fitting with regard to Lyon, who died so early in the war before leaving a more substantial body of evidence for us to examine.
Sometimes when reading this book I felt I detected a little bit of authorial bias seeping through. This bothered me a few times, but not overly so: this is a balanced book, and when Phillips is expressing his own opinions and conclusions, these are usually apparent for what they are; what's more, we all have biases of which we are generally unaware, and these lead to what is called style and tone in an author's voice. Some of Phillips conclusions I disagree with, whether these are about Lyon's personality or the significance of his stance at Springfield and Wilson's Creek, although I freely admit that Phillips lays out his reasons for his conclusions quite clearly, and even if I hold differing opinions, or even divergent opinions, I respect Phillips sufficiently to recognize that his viewpoint may be closer to the truth than my own. In other words, I will continue to grapple with this book now that I'm finished reading it.
Many students of the Civil War are more partisan than I, and depending on their starting point they will have very strong opinions about Nathaniel Lyon and so will probably reflexively praise or loathe this author and some or all of this book. That is a shame, I think. All of our heroes (e.g., Nathaniel Lyon and/or Sterling Price, say) have human hearts, all of them make mistakes, all of them make some choices on the spur of the moment which in hindsight strike us as genius or as evidence of a heinous soul. Whichever way your more partisan leanings tend, I think in this book you will find Lyon to be as terribly complex a character as the times in which he lived and died. ...more
Because I admire Ed Bearss and his incomparable commitment to the preservation of Civil War battlefields and the stories with which they're associatedBecause I admire Ed Bearss and his incomparable commitment to the preservation of Civil War battlefields and the stories with which they're associated, it pains me to report that reading this book of his is not unlike reading a master's thesis: a surpassingly dry and tedious master's thesis. This extremely well-researched, slim volume is impressively concise, but unless you're hopelessly obsessed specifically with this one particular battle, to the near exclusion of all other aspects of life, and unless you're already so intimately familiar with all of the officers who take to the field herein that reading one of their myriad names instantly conjures a vast biography in your mind, this book will probably put you to sleep after every page or two. The problem is in the lopsided minute-fact-to-compelling-narrative ratio. The extensive battlefield maps are pretty good, although occasionally unit designations are by a regiment's commander's name while the accompanying text focuses on the names of higher echelon commanders or vice versa so that text/map comparisons becomes a frustrating exercise. I'd welcome a better summary-analysis of what could have been or should have been at Wilson's Creek, but so far I haven't found one in this book or elsewhere.
Bob R Bogle, author of Memphis Blues Again ...more
The reputation of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (1831-1924) as an American scholar of the classics, particularly of Greek studies and of philology more gThe reputation of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (1831-1924) as an American scholar of the classics, particularly of Greek studies and of philology more generally, is beyond dispute. But the two essays of his which are combined in this volume, "The Creed of the South" (1892) and "A Southerner in the Peloponnesian War" (1897), have not aged well, to put it charitably. The value of this book is more historic than historical.
I had hoped for penetrating insights into the daily life of a confederate soldier during the American Civil War, but few are to be found here. Instead, Gildersleeve spends his time flaunting his erudition, which probably passed for high-brow diversion in his own time, but which now comes across as irksome and highfalutin. This is especially true in the first essay, and one inevitably considers that if this kind of Aeolian pretense that passed for Southern scholarship – especially long and obscure, sentimental passages in Latin and Greek intercut with the text-proper – while the North was emphasizing a more pragmatic curriculum – training in practical engineering and the kind of direct discourse serviceable to an expanding industrial culture – then perhaps the outcome of the war was less in doubt than might have been supposed. Flowery rhetoric will carry you so far until it puts you to sleep. The second essay is built upon a rather bizarre premise of comparing and contrasting the American Civil War with the Peloponnesian War, and this seems like an argument that only another philologist might conceivably appreciate.
For all its author's scholarship, this book is regrettable revisionist, although there's little doubt its author is sincere in all he says. The problem is the disconnect between what is said about the South's reasons for fighting years after the war had ended in contrast to what was said before and during the war. Here we have the usual "it was about states rights, not about slavery" mantra alongside the unironic assertion that white Southerners would never have debased themselves to be enslaved by the North. The historic aspect here is that its author is one of the earliest advocates of the Lost Cause theory.
Oddly, I picked up this book in the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans. A fine purchase.
This book reads as a well-researched and well-docOddly, I picked up this book in the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans. A fine purchase.
This book reads as a well-researched and well-documented outline of the passage of Sherman's troops from the time they set out from Chattanooga until they reach Savannah. I could provide a list of things this book is not: it is not a biography of Sherman, for example, or a military chronicle, whether focused on local tactics or broader political strategy, nor is it a psychological reconstruction of the feds or rebs involved in the drama it portrays; nevertheless, this book at times embraces all these areas of focus, and more.
Certain chapters become slightly annoying as they are crammed with well-documented incidents which are, nevertheless, presented in a manner which is neither temporally sequential nor makes much sense with respect to the passages Sherman's troops cut through the Georgia countryside. But this is a minor problem and I won't dwell on it.
This book is a fine repository for a good deal of information about Sherman's Georgia campaigns. The map it contains of north Georgia is especially useful. I would like to have seen a better map for events occurring in the immediate vicinity of Atlanta. As for the March to the Sea, Kennett did about as good a job as could be done (although I thought he gave very short shrift to the incident of abandonment of camp-following former slaves at Ebenezer Creek, although presumably this was a conscious choice based upon an absence of documentary evidence). We also see next to nothing about Fort McAllister and Savannah, which is unfortunate.
This is really quite a remarkable little guide covering all the essential ground between Wilson's Creek at Springfield and down to Prairie Grove in ArThis is really quite a remarkable little guide covering all the essential ground between Wilson's Creek at Springfield and down to Prairie Grove in Arkansas. It's quite impressive to me how its already noteworthy authors (see, for example, Shea and Hess' Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West) have been able to compress so much detail about so much ground into so little space. The maps are quite excellent as well.
I bought the ebook version and have some quibbles about the formatting, but their minor. I live a thousand miles away from Pea Ridge, but having this guide on my reader makes me want to return to the region ASAP and start tramping around some of the back roads they mention. Other reviewers here mention certain local sites that this book misses and I won't disagree with them, but nevertheless I would highly recommend this guide to anyone who will be visiting any of the parks which it covers.
I also own a few other volumes in the Civil War Battlefield Guide series of which this is a part. They're all generally very good, but I'm tending to think this is the best one I've come across in the series. ...more