September 17, 2012

Battle of Antietam--September 17, 1862--150th Anniversary

Battle of Antietam, by Thure de Thulstrup, 1887
Today, September 17, 2012, is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.  Antietam was fought near the banks of the Potomac River in extreme western Maryland near the little town of Sharpsburg.  The Battle of Antietam has the distinction of being the single bloodiest day of the American Civil War, with a combined total of about 23,000 men killed, wounded, or missing from Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and McClellan's Army of the Potomac.  This battle was the culmination of Lee's invasion of the North, and while the battle is generally considered a tactical draw between the two armies, it is also viewed as a strategic victory for the North, and gave President Lincoln the ability to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Dunkard Church
The Battle of Antietam really was a near run thing for Lee and his Confederate army.  He was significantly outnumbered by McClellan's Federal army, and he had his back to the Potomac River with really very limited maneuvering room.  Tactically, Lee did have the advantage of interior lines, and could more easily move his forces to respond to areas of weakness along his lines as the Federals attacked.  This advantage, however, would have been largely nullified if McClellan's army had been able to attack the Confederates in a sustained and coordinated fashion.  As it was though, McClellan's attacks over the course of the day were initiated in a piece-meal fashion starting early in the morning in the northern portion of the battlefield, near the Dunkard (or, Dunker) Church, the North Woods, the East Woods, and the Cornfield.  In this part of the battlefield two large Federal corps (I and XII Corps) slugged it out with rebel troops commanded by Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet.  The fighting in the Cornfield was the scene of some of the most savage and indescribable slaughter, and it was estimated that the Cornfield changed hands no fewer than 15 times in the course of the morning.

After the Federal attacks in the northern sector of the field were repulsed, the fighting in this area became quiescent by mid-morning.  True to character, McClellan then began feeding troops from two more Federal corps into the battle in the center portion of the field immediately east of the town of Sharpsburg.  Again, the fighting was intense and brutal as Lee shuffled his troops to meet the new threats, and two farm roads along which much of the fighting occurred are now well known features of the battlefield--The Bloody Lane and The Sunken Road.  Repeated Federal charges and Confederate repulses resulted in the dead and dying being stacked like cord-wood along these two roads.  By mid-afternoon, the two more Federal corps were largely thrashed and the fighting slowly died down along the center.

Burnside's Bridge, by Edwin Forbes, 1862
Lee's army was clearly on the ropes, and McClellan was beginning to believe that one more good push might be all it would take to shatter the rebel army.  Finally, he was able to get Major General Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps moving on the southern portion of the battlefield.  Burnside's corps was on the east side of Antietam Creek, and was separated from Lee's right flank by a well-made stone bridge over the creek known as Rohrbach's Bridge, but is now known as 'Burnside's Bridge'.  The bridge was stoutly defended by some rebel troops from Georgia that commanded the forested high ground on the west side of the creek.  Eventually a concerted and coordinated charge initiated by the 51st New York and 51st Pennsylvania were able to weather the musket fire of the rebel troops and charged across the bridge and gained the high ground.  The 21st Massachusetts, located on the left side of the bridge, provided covering fire during charge, and it was here that a direct ancestor, on my father's side, was badly wounded (shot through both legs with a musket ball).

Once the bridge was taken and successfully crossed, much of the IX Corps then poured across Antietam Creek and began advancing through the fields southeast of Sharpsburg towards Lee's main lines.  It was at just this moment though that a division of Lee's army, under A.P. Hill,  that had been tasked with capturing the Federal garrison at Harper's Ferry reached the field after a hard 17-mile forced march.  Hill's men struck Burnside's left flank and threw most of them back almost to Antietam Creek.  For all intents and purposes, the Battle of Antietam was over and combat across the field slowly died down.

Over the course of the day of battle, the Federals suffered 12,400 casualties, including 2,108 killed.  The Confederate army suffered a total of 10,318 casualties, including 1,546 killed.  McClellan lost about 25% of his total force during the battle, and Lee sustained losses approximating 31% of his total force.  Bluntly put, more Americans died on this day (a total of 3,654 killed), 150 years ago, than on any other day in our country's military history. In fact, a soldier in the 9th New York, part of Burnside's IX Corps, wrote after the battle that--
The mental strain was so great that I saw at that moment the singular effect mentioned, I think, in the life of Goethe on a similar occasion--the whole landscape for an instant turned slightly red.
Finally, I think it is important to point out that for much of the day Lee's army's entire position had been in dire straits, and had McClellan thrown his entire army forward in one concerted effort it is hard to imagine any other outcome other than the complete defeat of the rebel army.  It didn't happen though, because all along McClellan just couldn't convince himself that he wasn't horribly outnumbered by Lee's army, and that his own army was near complete disaster itself.  While McClellan was a good organizer of the Union army, he was essentially incapable of actually using the army to fight.  McClellan was imbued with what Lincoln called "the slows".  In fact, for several days after the battle McClellan, and his army, remained on the field near Sharpsburg, and had let Lee safely disengage his army and slip away back across the Potomac River unimpeded and into Virginia.  President Lincoln was not impressed, to say the least, and finally relieved McClellan of his command of the Army of the Potomac on November 7, 1862.

If you are interested in reading more about the Battle of Antietam, I would offer the following suggestions--

The Gleam of Bayonets: The Battle of Antietam and Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign, September 1862
By James V. Murfin
Softcover, 472 pages
Louisiana State University Press, 1965 (reprinted 2004)

Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam
By Stephen W. Sears
Softcover, 464 pages
Mariner Books, 1985

The Maps of Antietam: An Atlas of the Antietam (Sharpsburg) Campaign, Including the Battle of South Mountain, September 2-20, 1862
By Bradley Gottfried
Hardcover, 326 pages
Savas Beatie, 2011


September 9, 2012

The Civil War in the West--Part One

After many, many years of reading and studying about the American Civil War (1861-1865), I have found that I am generally much more interested in the politics associated with and the fighting that occurred in the western theater of the war.  Of the many tens of thousands of books that have been written about the Civil War, I'd wager that probably three-quarters of them, or more, cover events that occurred in the eastern theater, i.e., the region surrounding Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia.  Frankly, I have sort of come to the conclusion that from the perspective of the Confederate states the war probably couldn't have been won in the west, but it surely could be lost out there.  I thought it might be interesting to look at why I believe this, and I'm going to do it in conjunction with a series of postings that review several books that I believe are particularly relevant to the Civil War in the west and my conclusion, stated above.

First though, I think it worthwhile define precisely what I mean when I say "the Civil War in the West".  As you probably know, eleven states seceded (starting with South Carolina in December 1860, concluding with Tennessee in June 1861) from the United States and became the Confederate States of America (CSA).  The eleven states that seceded included the following, in the order in which they left the Union: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee.  Two other states tried to secede, Missouri and Kentucky, but were retained in the Union by interests within each state.  Obviously, the border states between the Confederate states and those in the Union were bitterly contested during much of the war, especially in Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland.  The states in green on the map, above, are the eleven in the CSA.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the "western theater" of the war encompassed that region of the CSA west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi River.  So, this generally included all of Tennessee, and significant portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the border state of Kentucky.  The regions west of the Mississippi (e.g., Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico Territory, and much of Louisiana) and where fighting between the two sides occurred was referred to as the "Trans-Mississippi", although these regions were certainly in what we would call the 'western' portion of the country today.

The western theater of the war was huge, particularly when compared to the eastern theater of operations in the area around Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia.  For example, from Lexington, Kentucky, to Mobile, Alabama, as the crow flies was about 450 miles; and from Memphis, on the Mississippi River east to Knoxville, Tennessee was about 350 miles; or from Vicksburg, Mississippi east to Atlanta, Georgia was nearly 400 miles.  By way of comparison, it was little more than 100 miles from Richmond to Washington, D.C.  The map of the western theater, below, helps to place these great distances in context, especially when compared to the area of operations in the eastern theater.

The western region was also considered "The Heartland" of the Confederacy, and was chock full of natural resources and agricultural products that the CSA would require in order to effectively sustain itself, not to mention fight a war against the USA.  Obviously, the major transportation corridors included railroads, roads, and rivers, and were certainly some of the critical geographical points and infrastructure that was fought over by both sides.  Without the major rivers or railroads, the CSA would largely have been unable to efficiently shift foodstuffs and other material, including troops, from one theater to the other.  For example, because northern Virginia was occupied by Federal forces and was picked pretty clean, Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was hugely dependent upon the agricultural produce and other resources of the west to feed and arm itself, and trains loaded with flour, grains, beef, pork, gun-powder, fodder for horses, and so forth, regularly chugged into the large railroad junctions at Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia from 1861 through the end of the war in late-Spring 1865.

Geography played a big role in the conduct of the war in the west as well.  For example, the rivers in the western theater (e.g., the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Mississippi Rivers, etc.) are typically oriented in a north-south direction, in contrast to the rivers in the eastern theater that typically run east-west.  This meant that in the west, the Federal forces could use the rivers as transportation corridors to knife deep into the heart of Confederate territory; and in the east, the rivers were used by both sides as defensive barriers.

Like I said at the outset, whenever the Civil War is brought up in casual discussion, most folks think about the major battles between Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac at places like Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor.  And largely all of these big, and very bloody, battles were fought on or very near the same patch of ground in and around Washington, D.C. and Richmond.  The western theater had more than its fair share of major and horrendously bloody battles too, but these battles were scattered up and down and all across the entire theater.  Kentucky saw a bloody battle fought at Perryville.  Tennessee hosted many major and minor engagements, but battles at Shiloh, Stones River, Chattanooga, Nashville, and the ferocious Battle of Franklin stand out, and all rivaled any of the larger battles in the east.  In September 1863, Georgia had the distinction of being the location of the bloodiest battle in the west at Chickamauga; and the state was later savaged by Sherman's army with the fall of Atlanta and his "march to the sea" in late-1864.  Mississippi saw the tenacious campaign of U.S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee to capture Vicksburg, the "Gibraltar of the Mississippi".

Dealing with the geography of the region and the significant logistical challenges, not to mention the fighting out west, gave rise to the military careers of several prominent Union commanders like U.S. Grant, William T. Sherman, George H. Thomas, and Philip H. Sheridan.  It also wrecked the careers of some Union generals, like Don Carlos Buell, William S. Rosecrans, Alexander McD. McCook, and Thomas L. Crittenden.  We'll talk about some of the Confederate commanders in the following sections of this post.

My intent with this series of postings about the Civil War in the west, of which this is the first, is to provide a review of the books that I am reading about the western theater, the commanders involved with the various armies, and the battles that were fought.  My goal is that by the time I have finished this series, I hope to have a much clearer understanding about the importance of the war in the west, and how it affected the political decisions made by Presidents Lincoln and Davis.  I want to see if it can be definitively shown that, from the Confederate perspective, the war couldn't be won in the west, but it could be lost out there.  Finally, while I will be periodically referring to battles and their outcomes, these postings generally won't be focusing on battlefield tactical situations, but will be looking at theater strategies and operations and the relationships between army commanders and their subordinates, as well as with the civilian governments in Richmond and Washington, D.C.

The book that I am reviewing in this first posting is the first volume in a two-volume series about the Confederate Army of Tennessee, and is entitled, Army of the Heartland: The Army of Tennessee, 1861-1862 by Thomas Lawrence Connelly (1938-1991).  Professor Connelly was teaching at Mississippi State University when the book was published in 1967.  As the title indicates, this is the story of the Army of Tennessee during the first two years of the Civil War.  Depending upon who's doing the classification, there were something like seventeen different Confederate armies that were constituted during the Civil War, but only two of them really mattered--the Army of Northern Virginia in the eastern theater, and the Army of Tennessee in the west.  I'd always understood that the Army of Tennessee was essentially the 'bastard child' of the Confederacy and never had the requisite supplies, lacked effective leadership, and was largely ignored by the political leaders in Richmond.  I always wondered why this was so, particularly given that the theater of operations was so important to the ultimate Confederate goal of achieving its independence.

First, I want to make it clear that while this book was written and published forty-five years ago, it is not stale or out-dated in any respect.  This is a quality piece of historical research that is written with style and lyricism.  It is extensively footnoted and contains a superb bibliography.  I actually found pristine hardcover editions of this two-volume set from a reprinting issued in the late-1980s and early-1990s by the Louisiana State University Press (I just love Amazon).  I am so glad to add both volumes to my library.

In the first volume, Professor Connelly tells the story of this much-maligned army in five parts, with each part being the story of the army commander that was in charge during the period of 1861 through the end of 1862.  Over a nearly two-year period there were essentially four different commanders of the Army of Tennessee, and even if they had all been incredibly competent commanders it still would have been difficult for the army to adapt to such frequent change at the highest level.  The Army of Tennessee, as its name implies, was an army of and from Tennessee.  It was originally raised as a state army shortly after Tennessee seceded from the Union, and then was later turned over to the Confederate government.  The first commander was Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, and while he tried hard to ready the army, it was an army in name only, and lacked training, weapons, and professional military leadership, and was largely ignored by Richmond.

The Army of Tennessee began to take shape as a professional military entity with the appointment of General Albert Sidney Johnston as its commander-in-chief in September 1861 (photograph at left).  Johnston had resigned his U.S. Army commission and had traveled all the way across the country to Richmond from his post in California, and was given the command of the Army of Tennessee by President Davis.  At that time, the Army of Tennessee was only about 27,000 strong, and was badly outnumbered by the numerous Federal armies adjacent to Tennessee in the region.  While Johnston was certainly a decent man, and fully committed to the Confederate cause, Connelly maintains that he was largely overwhelmed in the job of trying to weld the army into an effective fighting unit and, at the same time, develop and implement a strategy for defending the 'Heartland' from Federal incursion and conquest.  Greatly complicating the job, according to Connelly, was that Johnston was never able to corral and control his fractious subordinates, especially Lloyd Tilghman, Simon B. Buckner, Gideon Pillow, and the worst of the lot, Bishop General Leonidas Polk (Polk was also an Episcopal bishop).  In fact, because of this failure to effectively develop a coordinated command structure among the army's leadership, Connelly observes that--
"Unlike the Virginia army, which depended for its morale upon a few individuals such as Lee or "Stonewall" Jackson, the men of the Army of Tennessee never attained a real esprit at a corps level.  Instead, the peculiar western morale was usually most evident at the regimental or brigade level."
With the sudden and devastating losses of Forts Henry and Donelson, and because of the ineffective defensive strategy devised by Johnston, as well as the ineptitude exhibited by his subordinates, the army was largely maneuvered completely out of Tennessee and into northern Mississippi.  At this juncture, Pierre G. T, Beauregard came west and joined Johnston as his second-in-command, and began advocating for a concentration of Confederate forces and going on the offensive against Federal forces in Tennessee.  Connelly describes how Johnston essentially turned the army over to Beauregard, and then somewhat inexplicably sat back as Beauregard reorganized the army and developed the plan to attack U.S. Grant's Federal army at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, just north of the Mississippi-Tennessee border.

On April 6-7, 1862, the Battle of Shiloh was fought as the Army of Tennessee attacked Grant's forces and by the end of the first day had pushed them back all the way to Pittsburg Landing by the Tennessee River.  Because of Beauregard's initially complicated attack plan, and that the Confederate forces' unit cohesion became completely and hopelessly disorganized during the ferocious combat, the army was largely fought out by the end of the day.  During the night, the Federals were able to tighten up and make a stand near the Landing and were also reinforced by elements of Buell's Army of the Ohio.  On the following morning (April 7th), the Federal forces counterattacked strongly and ultimately routed the Confederate army from the field and back to its starting point in Corinth, Mississippi.  Among the 23,000 total casualties in this bloody fight was the army commander of the Army of Tennessee--Albert Sidney Johnston--who was killed during the middle of the first day of fighting.  Beauregard was now the commander-in-chief of the Army of Tennessee.

 Beauregard didn't last long.  In fact, Connelly describes this period as "the Beauregard Interlude" in his book.  While a good organizer of the divisions and corps within the Army of Tennessee, Beauregard added to the overall malaise and issues of command performance within the army.  Additionally, Beauregard and President Davis didn't, and just couldn't, seem to get along and the Army's relationship with the Richmond government soured.  On June 28, 1862, Davis removed Beauregard as army commander and replaced him with General Braxton Bragg (photograph at right).

Upon assumption of command of the Army of Tennessee, Bragg inherited an army that was still fraught with significant command structure issues.  And while Bragg was a personal friend of President Davis, he was considered irascible and rigidly inflexible and stubborn by his peers and subordinates, and the personality clashes among the leadership within the Army of Tennessee were only exacerbated (again, Bishop Polk being one of the worst offenders).

The last section of the book tells the story of Bragg's conduct of the "Confederate Heartland Offensive", which was his campaign to invade Kentucky and see if it could be successfully brought into the CSA.  Here again, Bragg's issues with his own subordinates, as well as with the independent command of 9,000 troops under Major General Edmund Kirby Smith, leads to the rebel forces meeting the vastly larger Federal forces in a series of sharp engagements, culminating in the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862.  While Perryville can be considered a tactical victory for Bragg and the Army of Tennessee, it was a strategic victory for the Union in that Bragg and his army had to retreat in face of the much larger Federal army, and that Kentucky stayed on the Union side of the ledger-book.  The Army of Tennessee inflicted almost 4,300 casualties on the Union Army of the Ohio's First Corps, but it also incurred about 3,400 casualties itself.  Bright spots for the Army of Tennessee that emerged from the forging fires of the army's fights at Shiloh and Perryville were that Confederate Generals Patrick Ronayne Cleburne and Alexander P. Stewart were well on their way to becoming superb combat commanders.

In the late-fall of 1862, following the Battle of Perryville, the 38,000-strong Army of Tennessee retreated out of Kentucky and towards a rendezvous with its own destiny at the end of the year with a Federal army at Murfreesboro on the Stones River in middle Tennessee.  This story will be told early on in Professor Connelly's second volume of his history of the Army of Tennessee, Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865.

In conclusion, I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this book and learned a lot about the reasons behind much of the early dysfunction in the Army of Tennessee, and that much of it stemmed from the general ineptitude or outright insubordination of general officers under the command of, first, Albert Sidney Johnston, and then Braxton Bragg.  Based upon my interpretation of the material presented by Professor Connelly in the book, it is clear that both Johnston and Bragg should have been more forceful in exerting their leadership qualities as commanders, but I genuinely think the largest share of the blame can be squarely laid at the feet of Bishop Polk.  Bluntly put, it is my opinion that the man was criminally negligent in just about all of his doings with the Army of Tennessee.  The Army of Tennessee deserved so much better than that.


Finally, for your information, the books that I will be reading and then reviewing over the next few postings include the following:

Army of the Heartland: The Army of Tennessee, 1861-1862
By Thomas Lawrence Connelly
Hardcover, 305 pages
Louisiana State University Press, 1967 (1986 reprinting)

Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865
By Thomas Lawrence Connelly
Hardcover, 558 pages
Louisiana State University Press, 1971 (1994 reprinting)

Two Great Rebel Armies: An Essay in Confederate Military History
By Richard M. McMurry
Hardcover, 204 pages
University of North Carolina Press, 1989

Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West
By Steven E. Woodworth
Hardcover, 400 pages
University Press of Kansas, 1990

The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi
By Earl J. Hess
Hardcover, 392 pages
University of North Carolina Press, 2012

September 6, 2012

Review: "The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War" By Donald Stoker

As you can tell from my recent postings, I have immersed myself in reading and reviewing some really excellent books about the American Civil War.  Being a history buff, especially an American history buff, I have always had an abiding passion for the political and military events associated with this momentous period in our republic's history.  I often wonder if most people really realize just how close "the great American experiment" came to becoming a complete and abject failure?  Reading books about the Civil War continues to remind me just how precious and fragile our great democracy really is, and that it has always taken great sacrifice and dedication to carefully protect and nurture it, and that remains so even today.

I also have a very personal connection to the American Civil War as my great-great grandfather served as a member of the 21st Massachusetts Volunteer infantry regiment.  He started as a private and ultimately rose to the rank of 1st Lieutenant before being mustered out near the end of the war in 1865.  The regiment was formed in Woburn, Massachusetts, and fought in Burnside's North Carolina coastal campaign (1862) and then many of the campaigns of the Union Army of the Potomac, including the Battle of Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Grant's Overland Campaign of 1864.  My ancestor was actually badly wounded (shot through both legs) at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 at the fighting around Burnside's Bridge at the southern end of the battlefield.

With both my personal connection and my historical interest in the Civil War, I very much looked forward to reading Donald Stoker's relatively recent book, The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War in an effort to better understand how the rebellion was actually put down by the Union, and why the South wasn't able to reach its goal of independence.  It is worth mentioning that Stoker is well-qualified to write about this subject as he is a Professor of Strategy and Policy for the U.S. Naval War College's program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.  This well-written book guides the reader through the prosecution of the Civil War from secession through the surrender of the final Confederate armies in the field in May and June 1865.

I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about most of the major political and military battles fought during the war, as well as with all of the various personalities on both the Confederate and Union sides, but I can't say that I was all that familiar with the national and regional realities that shaped the development and implementation of the over-arching strategies used to prosecute the war.  This book does a superb job of setting the stage and then walking the reader through the development of the national policies and decisions that led to the fashioning of national and regional operational strategies by the civilian political leaders and military high commands.  There was a steep learning curve for leaders--political and military--on both sides during the first year or so of the war.  Lincoln was perhaps more adept at drawing the bright line ensuring that military commanders didn't dabble in the political arena, but he was almost as guilty as Jefferson Davis when it came to meddling with day-to-day military matters.  Many of the army commanders and their subordinates, on both sides, were graduates of the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point, and many had years of field experience serving in the U.S. Army, including during the Mexican War (1846-1848).  While many of the military commanders had solid resumes when it came to tactically leading troops into battle, most were not able to effectively develop and implement a larger-scale strategic vision.  It would take a couple of years of hard fighting to weed out the more incompetent commanders and begin to identify those with strategic vision and that also shared the same strategic goals and objectives as their respective civilian authorities.

I think that there were two critically important themes that ran through this book that made all of the sense in the world to me once I stopped and considered them, including: (1) In order to develop an effective national strategy for winning the war, and then developing effective operational or theater strategies, it first required the identification of specific "centers-of-gravity"; and (2) meaningfully addressing the logistical issues associated with the movement and sustaining of large armies in the field became vitally important.  The centers-of-gravity concept was an important one for me--as well as the generals and political leaders--to fully grasp and understand.  For example, some of the primary Union centers-of-gravity, in the context of militarily suppressing the rebellion included the following:

  • Implementing and maintaining an effective blockade along the Confederate coast line, which prevented the South from receiving supplies and exporting its cotton and other commodities;
  • Controlling and/or destroying the Confederate rail-road infrastructure, which limited the ability of the rebel armies to transport men and material, and allowed the Union to use the rail system for its own military purposes;
  • Control of the rivers (especially the Mississippi River) and water-ways in rebel-held territories, which allowed the Union to deny the rebels the use of the rivers while using them as transportation corridors itself;
  • Maintaining the focus on the capture and/or destruction of rebel armies (especially the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee); and 
  • Occupation and restoration of Union control within the State of Tennessee which was the 'heart' of the Confederate west and largely ensured that Kentucky didn't go south too.
Obviously, there are sub-sets associated with these primary centers-of-gravity at both the national and/or regional or operational theater levels.  Strategies would necessarily need to be adapted and modified based upon conditions in the field, personalities involved, and the political climate at the time.  Frankly, as the war wore on, the Union civilian and military leadership was much more effective at the identification of and then focusing on these centers-of-gravity than the Confederates ever were.  Of course, there were notable exceptions, like Robert E. Lee as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.  He understood that perhaps the only realistic center-of-gravity that the Confederates had or could impact was associated with wearing down the North's will to continue the fight.  In other words, if the South could just buy some time by defeating Union armies in the field, and interfere with the logistical challenges of transporting and supplying Union armies, that there might be a realistic chance of achieving a political solution leading to Southern independence and recognition by foreign governments of the South's right to exist.  After the Battle of Antietam in the fall of 1862, and Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, and then the shift in Union thinking that part of the war's aim was to abolish slavery, it became less and less likely that the South could ever achieve that goal.

Clearly, Federal manufacturing, transportation infrastructure, ability to raise and sustain armies and replace those killed or wounded far out-stripped that of the Confederacy.  If the Confederate States were going to achieve victory it really had to have occurred early in the war, and needed to occur decisively.  Once the Union implemented the naval blockade, exerted diplomatic pressure on other countries not to interfere, and then brought the full weight of the Federal war-making machine down upon the South it really just became a matter of time.  Stoker's book brought home the point that the war may well have gone on even longer had not Lincoln finally found and entrusted prosecution of the war to generals like Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, George H. Thomas, and Philip Sheridan, and like-minded others.  These military commanders understood that victory meant the absolute and utter destruction of not only the enemy's armies, but the will of the citizens to continue the fight.  This was the "Total War" developed and so effectively implemented by Grant at Vicksburg, and then greatly expanded upon by Sherman as he marched across Georgia to the coast and then northward through the Carolinas.  From mid-1864 to early-1865, Sherman and his armies literally ripped the guts out of the Confederacy whilst Grant pinned and pummeled Lee's Army of Northern Virginia outside of the gates of Richmond and during the siege of Petersburg.  Logistics was the determinative factor in bringing to bear and sustaining Union power in its strategic contest with the Confederate armies and civilian populations.

Professor Stoker's book does a great job of describing all of the key decision-making that led to the battlefield victories or defeats, and how the civilian and military leadership, on both sides, was able to adapt, or not, to changing circumstances as they developed national and/or operational strategies.  The political and military conduct of the war is largely arranged chronologically in the book, and at the end of each chapter he provides an interesting summation and analysis of what worked, or didn't, and why.  Additionally, at the end of the book, the last chapter essentially provides a "report card" and grades the political and military leadership of both the Union and Confederacy, and it makes for great reading and pondering.  There are several large-scale maps scattered throughout the book, and I think if I had one reasonable criticism it would be that I would have liked a few more maps at the regional or theater scale that might have helped to better support and understand some of the issues associated with the geographical or logistical issues for both sides.

Finally, I think this is actually an important book that will appeal not only to readers interested in American history and military history, but that it really should be required reading among senior non-commissioned officers and officers in the military, as well as our national civilian political leadership.  This would seem to be particularly pertinent as the United States enters its eleventh year of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and other regions around the world.  Understanding the concept of centers-of-gravity and the development and design of appropriate strategies would seem to be a pretty important element in successfully prosecuting a war through to its conclusion.


The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War
By Donald Stoker
Hardcover, 512 pages
Oxford University Press, USA, 2010

September 2, 2012

Review: "The Darkest Days of the War--The Battles of Iuka and Corinth" By Peter Cozzens

Peter Cozzens is rapidly becoming one of my favorite Civil War authors, and The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth is just one good example of why.  This a well-written, fast-paced historical accounting of a campaign and two sharply fought battles in the extreme northeastern corner of Mississippi in early fall 1862.  There may be other accounts of the battles of Iuka and Corinth out there in the many thousands of Civil War books that have been written, but I'm betting that this really is one of the best, if not the best.  It is a relatively fast read at something over 300 pages.  It contains some terrific illustrations and some truly superb maps.

Corinth was important from a strategic perspective to both the Union and Confederate forces, as it was a relatively important rail junction that accessed the Mississippi valley (to the south and west), Tennessee (to the north), and connected with Chattanooga and Atlanta (both to the east).  The Union needed to control the Corinth region in order to facilitate planned future movements towards both Vicksburg and Chattanooga.  The bottom line was that Corinth was, in a sense, a magnet that drew the opposing forces to it; and if the war was going to be effectively prosecuted in the western theater, Corinth had to figure prominently in the plan and be controlled by one side or the other.

It was interesting to me that in reading this book I learned a lot about the early or formative periods, if you will, of Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William S. Rosecrans.  While Grant had largely kind of stumbled into a major victory at Shiloh in early-April 1862, he really wasn't all that helpful or supportive of Rosecrans during the Corinth campaign described in this book.  For his part, Rosecrans exhibited traits during both of the battles at Iuka and Corinth that should have had the Union high command sit up and take notice (and not in a good way!).  Rosecrans seemed to have not handled stress well at all during the actual fighting phase of the battles he was involved in, and would become almost bizarrely disconnected and even panic-stricken.

Grant, following his experiences at Shiloh, would learn and steadily improve his performance as both an operational strategist and as an on-scene battle commander.  Unfortunately, Rosecrans really didn't shake his bad habits, and later as the commander of the Army of the Cumberland he was badly beaten at the bloody Battle of Chickamauga (mid-September 1863).  Also, the professional relationship between Grant and Rosecrans soured following the Battle of Corinth, and the two men never could effectively work together from that point forward.  After the Corinth campaign, Grant moved on and conducted the brilliant Vicksburg campaign, and largely made himself indispensable to the Union cause.  Meanwhile, Rosecrans again got lucky and barely eked out a victory at the bloody Battle of Stones River (Murfreesboro) in Tennessee on January 1, 1863.  By the late-fall of 1863, Rosecrans was out of a job, and Grant was well on his way to eventually becoming the General-in-Chief of all Union forces in early 1864.

Intriguingly, the same sort of questionable leadership situation was sorting itself out on the Confederate side at Corinth too.  The two rebel commanders, Major Generals Earl Van Dorn, and Sterling Price were largely way over their heads in trying to conduct this campaign, and it was only through utter ineptitude, particular on the part of Van Dorn and several of his subordinate division commanders, that Rosecrans wasn't decisively defeated at both Iuka and Corinth.  The really tragic part of this story, and Cozzens tells it well in this book, is that because of the blunders of the commanders on both sides, a lot of good and patriotic men in butternut and blue were killed or horribly maimed.

Peter Cozzens has written several books about the Civil War in the western theater, and while I still think his masterpiece This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga is one of the best (reviewed here), this book about the battles at Iuka and Corinth is an excellent account about a somewhat forgotten, but still quite important campaign.  Finally, I think by reading Cozzens' books about the Battles of Iuka, Corinth, Stones River, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga the reader can't help but begin to better understand the strategic importance of the western theater and the commanders, on both sides, that had to fight for and defend these regions.  Cozzens, through his books, wants us to understand that there was much, much more to the Civil War than just the theater of operations around Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia, and that thousands upon thousands of men "gave the last full measure of devotion" on far-flung western battlefields, large and small, like those at Iuka and Corinth.


The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth
By Peter Cozzens
Hardcover, 389 pages
University of North Carolina Press, 1997