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With My Face to the Enemy: Perspectives on the Civil War

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Essays on the most vital conflict in our nation's history written by renowned historians and presented by the editor of the acclaimed What If? With My Face to the Enemy is a provocative and wide-ranging anthology of essays on the Civil War-our nation's defining struggle and the first modern war in history. In thirty-five illuminating essays and one hundred and fifty thousand words, it examines the war from the perspectives critical to its outcome-the larger-than-life personalities of the important players from Lincoln to Lee, and the national strategies and key battle tactics that shaped the four-year-long crisis. Contributors include the leading lights of Civil War scholarship: James M. McPherson, Stephen W. Sears, Gary W. Gallagher, David Herbert Donald, and twenty others. James M. McPherson's essays ponder three diverse, yet fascinating subjects: Abraham Lincoln's use of language and its role in his victory; Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee's failed Southern strategies; and Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs as a reflection of his superlative generalship. Stephen W. Sears, in four essays, describes the daring flanking maneuvers of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville, and presents the last word on Lee's infamous "lost order", among other topics. Other highlights include David Herbert Donald on Lincoln's early command; Gary W. Gallagher on Lee's record before his ascension as a Southern icon; John Bowers on Chickamauga; Noah Andre Trudeau on the battle of the Wilderness; Thomas Fleming on West Point, and much more.

464 pages, Hardcover

First published June 4, 2001

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About the author

Robert Cowley

52 books36 followers
Robert Cowley is an American military historian, who writes on topics in American and European military history ranging from the Civil War through World War II. He has held several senior positions in book and magazine publishing and is the founding editor of the award-winning MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History; Cowley has also written extensively and edited three collections of essays in counterfactual history known as What If?

As part of his research he has traveled the entire length of the Western Front, from the North Sea to the Swiss Border.

He currently lives in New York and Connecticut.


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5 stars
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41 (51%)
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Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews
Profile Image for Nathan Albright.
4,414 reviews95 followers
February 15, 2016
Although I had already read this some years ago and owned the book in my Florida library, I was given this book some months ago by a friend of mine who knows of my interest in the Civil War, and so despite its length at more than 500 pages of material, and despite my own fairly crushing load of books to read and review on a regular basis, a burden that I place on myself, I read this book little by little, until I got to the point where, after the midpoint of the war, I was able to enjoy reading it at a much more rapid pace. This book is a collection of essays by noted Civil War historians like James McPherson, David Herbert Donald, Gary Gallagher, and others, and the essays cover a broad scope of the war and are in such small and discrete formats of fifteen or twenty pages or so that the book is easy to read as an anthology, with information about obscure battles, a Rashoman-like account of the fighting on Little Round Top, and some excellent biographical sketches of various important figures, both North and South, as well as some accounts of the often neglected naval history of the Civil War in addition to its more typical battlefield accounts, generously filled with maps of battles and campaigns.

Although this is an excellent book, it must be admitted that the book is designed to be written for those who are already knowledgeable about the Civil War, because several of the essays, including the excellent essay on the obscure Battle of Westport and its deadly aftermath for the Southern forces of the Trans-Mississippi front, focus on battles that are often neglected by casual narrative accounts. The approach assumes that the reader of this book is familiar with the standard narrative history of the Civil War and enjoys more specialized and narrowly focused accounts [1]. As a result, those readers who are not familiar with Civil War historiography will likely struggle to see the forest for the trees, while those that have a strong narrative understanding of the Civil War already will be able to appreciate and enjoy the small, polished essays that make up this volume as ways to savor familiar battles and leaders in perhaps unfamiliar perspectives, such as the view of Robert E. Lee before his costly victories against McClellan in the Seven Days' Battles as lacking in aggression, or ways of picking up unfamiliar nuggets of information and intriguing stories and accounts that one might not have seen before.

Even for those who are very familiar with and passionate about the Civil War, this book has much to offer. As a noteworthy anthology it provides an opportunity for a wide variety of skilled historians to write about their specialties and areas of focus, which allows for a rich tapestry of essays when these essays are put together. Likewise, the fact that the book is not a single narrative but rather a strong collection of secondary essays about focused and targeted subjects, means that the book can be profitably read little by little, or as a way to occupy some down time, or to enjoy the familiar plot of the war, where one knows for sure that there is a book with a happy ending, since the (relatively) good guys win at the end. In a sense, reading about the Civil War in a book like this allows one both a bit of novelty along with the familiar and enjoyable aspect of reading something for the pleasure of reading without being burdened with having to learn everything that is in the pages, sort of life a collection of nonfiction short stories for the military history reader, and that is a worthy reading collection, even if one is reading it for the second time.

[1] See, for example:









Profile Image for Chandra Powers Wersch.
88 reviews9 followers
May 23, 2018
excellent collection of essays from Civil War historians, most notably James McPherson. I personally really enjoyed his analysis on the macro & micro strategies that led the North to a victory ("Failed Southern Strategies" and "How Lincoln Won the War with Metaphor"). The book is well laid out with sections on the early battles & ideologies that led to the war, with attention to the collection of West Point graduates now pitted against each other; a section on the brutal middle years ('62 & '63); specific leaders and their tactics; the final year; and like I mentioned above, looking at the war as a whole, the larger perspective. There are also maps that prove handy. I've definitely been able to incorporate a lot of this information into my college classes when I lecture on the Civil War.
Profile Image for Justin.
197 reviews1 follower
November 23, 2013
A book filled with essays from some of the leading Civil War historians and authors of recent times. Found it easy to read with 10-15 page stories that ranged from battles and leaders to politics and overseas involvement in the war. Highly recommend it to those looking for a little bit of everything when reading about the Civil War.
Profile Image for Anson Cassel Mills.
559 reviews8 followers
January 20, 2023
As would be the case for any compilation of essays written by various authors, some of these pieces are more enjoyable and better written than others. But the standard is very high. Though I consider myself knowledgeable about Civil War history and have even worked for the National Park Service at a related site, I still learned something from almost every one. Most of all, I reveled in the fine storytelling gifts of these men (yes, they are all men). With political correctness being de rigueur in the academy these days, I doubt that Cowley could today assemble a similarly gratifying compilation from material written by professional historians during the last two decades.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
446 reviews14 followers
October 4, 2018
A few of the essays in this volume were good, such as John Bowers' essay on George Thomas or Glenn La Fantasie on James Longstreet. However, much of this book seems to be nothing more than battle accounts (like about Malvern Hill, Marye's Heights, and Stones River) that are covered in full length books in far greater detail.
5 reviews
January 16, 2009
Cowley has collected all the best writers of the Civil War and allowed them to write about their specialties.
Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews

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