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A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War Paperback – 7 August 2018
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- Publisher : Princeton University Press; 1st edition (7 August 2018)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 616 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0691181098
- ISBN-13 : 978-0691181097
- Dimensions : 15.49 x 4.57 x 23.37 cm
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From the Back Cover
"The best, clearest, and most instructive military history of the Civil War I have ever read.... [A Savage War] hit a home run."--H. R. McMaster, author ofDereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam
"A Savage Waris not just a riveting military narrative of the American Civil War written by two military historians with singular pragmatic experience, but a rare and much needed strategic assessment of the aims and methods of the Union and the Confederacy--highlighted with incisive, blunt--and persuasive--appraisals of all the major generals and supreme commanders."--Craig L. Symonds, author ofLincoln and His Admirals
"Murray and Hsieh offer keen insights on the crossroads of social, political, and technological drivers that produced what the authors call the first modern war.... The mini-portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and William T. Sherman sprinkled throughout that narrative are superb, and the critiques of Jeff Davis and the hapless Henry Halleck are devastating.... [A] stimulating contribution to the field that will captivate readers. [A Savage War] belongs on the shelf of students of war, right next to their worn copy of McPherson's classic, Battle Cry of Freedom."--Victor Davis Hanson, author ofCarnage and Culture and The Savior Generals
"More than just another narrative of the Civil War, this thoughtful and often provocative book is an engaging analysis of the leadership, personalities, and strategies of both sides during America's great nineteenth-century trauma. Murray and Hsieh are not shy in offering blunt judgments of the major players, and they also suggest comparisons with past wars, notably the Peloponnesian War, as well as more recent conflicts to cast new light on familiar topics."--Gary W. Gallagher, author ofThe Union War
"Forceful and convincing. Murray and Hsieh have succeeded in producing a very accessible book about a very complex series of events.A Savage Waris a model of how to write military history."--Jay Winik, author of1944andApril 1865
"Murray and Hsieh bring verve, insight, and originality to their account of the Civil War. In a crowded field, A Savage Warstill stands out as a book of required reading even for specialists."--Allan R. Millett, author of The War for Korea, 1950-1951: They Came from the
"[A] very important new history of the American Civil War by two important historians."--Newt Gingrich
"A genuinely fresh set of insights about the Civil War. Murray and Hsieh have crafted a military narrative that goes well beyond anything else in the literature."--Francis P. Sempa, New York Journal of Books
"A Savage Waroffers a splendid overview of the greatest military trauma in United States history. The authors explore Union and Confederate martial culture, navigate with a sure step through campaigns and battles, and assess leaders convincingly--all the while challenging hoary misconceptions about the conflict. Readers new to the topic, as well as more veteran students, will turn to this book with profit."--John Gooch, author ofMussolini and His Generals: The Armed Forces and Fascist Foreign Policy, 1922-1940
"A genuinely fresh set of insights about the Civil War."--James McPherson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
"A genuinely fresh, persuasive perspective on the Civil War.... [A Savage War] will make even readers with a strong knowledge of the war think about how it was fought and why it ended as it did. A winner for Civil War history buffs."--James McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author ofBattle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
"Hsieh and Murray illuminate the broader political and cultural forces that shaped the [Civil War's] course while also giving due credit to the impact of contingency and human action....A Savage Warwill appeal to both academic and popular audiences with its resonance, accessible prose, and fresh treatment of the events that still captivate America's public consciousness over 150 years later."--Lt.Col. F .G. Hoffman, Marine Corps Gazette
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"A Savage War" discusses the American Civil War in both breadth and depth. It studies meticulously the key battles and campaigns, armies and navies, and military and political leaders of the conflict while putting the Civil War in historical perspective. Early in their study, the authors describe several conditions with created a "military-social revolution" that transferred the nature of warfare. They find that two conditions critically affected the character of both the Civil War and of WW I. The first was the Industrial Revolution which allowed the mobilization of soldiers and material over large areas. The second was the French Revolution which created passion and a spirit of nationalism in the war efforts of both North and South. Throughout the book, the authors stress the influence of these two factors on the conduct and outcome of the War.
The authors also examine other broad factors in the Civil War and its outcome. The most important of these is individual leadership. The book is critical of the attempts of some modern historians to minimize the importance of individual leaders. It argues that strong individual leadership was important politically and militarily to the War's outcome. Abraham Lincoln receives the highest praise in this book for his strong, committed, and astute leadership of the Union war effort. General Ulysses Grant is similarly praised for his leadership and for his rare understanding of the strategic nature of the war and his ability to put his understanding into effect on the ground. Other leaders receiving more qualified praise include Sherman, Sheridan, Lee, and Jackson. Both sides also had their share of unsuccessful leaders, including Bragg for the Confederacy and McClellan for the Union. The authors are thorough and fair in their discussions of the combatants.
The book examines the different Civil War Armies and their competing organizations and cultures. Here as well, the authors explain the differences between the poor showing of the Army of the Potomac as compared with the Union's western armies. Conversely, they show how leadership and organizational structure made the Army of Northern Virginia a formidable force as compared to the Confederacy's Army of Tennessee.
The book emphasizes throughout that the Civil War was a close thing and that the result was not predetermined. Chance as well as leadership played a role in the outcome. The authors write: "[w]e do not take a deterministic view of the war; the North confronted and almost insoluble task of crushing Confederate resistance because of both the distances involved and the tenacious nature of white Southern resistance. In the end, the Union succeeded, but only by the barest of margins."
Some of the strongest passages in the book involve logistics. The work emphasizes the difficulty of projecting Union military might over the long continental distances involved in the War. As the narrative proceeds, it shows how the Union was able to muster its forces and industry only after the first two years of the war. The effort was prodigious. Among many other passages describing logistics, the book gives an extended discussion of the Union's support efforts for Sherman as he began his campaign to take Atlanta in Spring 1864. The discussion provided essential background to understand the campaign, both Sherman's advances and Johnston's defenses.
The book shows how, with the strength of Southern resistance, the Civil War gradually assumed a hard, total, or "savage" character. Again, the conflict became increasingly bitter after the first two years when the Union came to the conclusion that in order to prevail it would have to take away the will to fight of the Southern people. This war was taken to the population in Sherman's March to the Sea and march through South Carolina and through Sheridan's activities in the Shenandoah Valley late in the War. The authors find that this form of warfare, which they analogize to the Allies' bombing of German cities during WW II, was militarily necessary to win the war and to discourage the enemy from reopening the conflict. There is a sharp vision here of the harshness of war. The authors also have a strong underlying moral and ethical perspective about having the strength to persevere and to fight for what is right. Some of this will be controversial; I find it refreshing.
The book is clearly written and organized and allows the reader to follow the chronological development of the war and its intensification. Each chapter is followed by a helpful summarizing conclusion. In the Introductory and concluding chapters, the authors describe their approach to the war in broad terms while the body of the book gives the details of the conflict and supports the authors' understanding of the events. There are over 50 maps which help the reader follow the accounts of the battles. The book is written with great knowledge, wisdom, and a fundamental love for our country. Readers with a strong interest in the Civil War will learn from this outstanding book.
The authors are proven experts in military history in general and in particular. Their theses and analyses are well-founded, but their argumentation suffers from the high degree of abstraction of military descriptions of military action. For those interested in the history of the American Civil War, the works of McPherson and Guelzo are, in my opinion, more accessible. If, on the other hand, you are interested in a well-founded military history in the narrower sense, then 'A savage war' is just right for you. The book impresses with its research approach, which focuses on the effectiveness of military actions and the qualities of military leaders as well as the logistic and technical implications of modern warfare. But it is important to note that the rather abstract descriptions of the deployment movements and combat operations are supported only by sparse and, in my opinion, inadequate map material. The book unfolds narrative qualities only in the introductory and concluding parts of each chapter. The absence of photographs is also a weakness of this book. The strengths, on the other hand, lie in the analysis and contextualisation of events both in the specific context of American history and in the context of modern warfare history. It is precisely the breadth of knowledge of both authors that reveals a critically differentiated and balanced weighting of insights in the respective conclusions and especially in the final chapter. Of particular interest is also the review of the state of research including a critical review of previous publications.
And finally the interpretations, warmed over as they are, are more often than not erroneous in their understanding. This is the least damning of the lot, in a sense, in that people can and do differ in drawing conclusions even when the historical data used is agreed upon. But ironically these men do not grant that grace to those that disagree with them. People with differing interpretations are referred to as “armchair historians.” Aside from being dishwater weak as a pejorative it is silly. Anyone writing since the 1950s is an armchair historian by necessity, if the phrase is understood to mean historians who didn’t see action in the Civil War. If meant to describe those who haven’t seen active duty during any period it would still seem to leave at least one of our authors as an “armchair historian” as he has not served. The other author served five years in the Air Force.
I don’t really want to write 25 pages on the shortcomings of this book (which could easily be done) but I want to examine one specific moment that they describe and show how it is simply wrong. How the authors likely put it in the book is another tale unto itself. During the opening moments of the Battle of Shiloh Grant was not quartered near his troops but miles up the river. After it became apparent from the firing that a battle was underway Grant departed his headquarters on a steamer for the field. Prior to arriving there he would go by where Lew Wallace’s division was stationed, at Crump’s Landing, apart from the rest of Grant’s army. This is how our authors describe what happened there:
“As his (Grant’s) steamboat passed Crump’s Landing, he yelled at Lew Wallace to prepare to move out, if the artillery firing in the distance indicated a major attack.”
I am aware of three primary sources that address what happened at this moment. The first is Grant’s "Personal Memoirs," the second is Wallace’s "An Autobiography" and the third is Manning Force’s "From Fort Henry to Corinth." Force was a regimental commander in Wallace’s division. I am going to quote all three as to how they describe this event.
Here is Grant’s description:
“On the way up the river I directed the dispatch-boat to run in close to Crump’s landing, so that I could communicate with General Lew Wallace. I found him waiting on a boat apparently expecting to see me, and I directed him to get his troops in line ready to execute any orders he might receive. He replied that his troops were already under arms and prepared to move.”
Here is Wallace’s description:
“… when all was silent, he spoke to me on the hurricane-deck. The conversation is given almost word for word. He asked, ‘Have you heard the firing?’ And I answered, ‘Yes, sir, since daybreak.’ ‘What do you think of it?’ ‘It's undoubtedly a general engagement.’ This was the moment for the order. I leaned forward to catch it, and had instead: ‘Well, hold yourself in readiness to march upon orders received.’ I was disappointed, and returned: ‘But, general, I ordered a concentration about six o'clock. The division must be at Stoney Lonesome. I am ready now.’ He hesitated, evidently turning an uncertainty over in his mind, and then said: ‘Very well. Hold the division ready to march in any direction.’”
Here is Force’s description”
“Steaming up the river, he (Grant) stopped at Crump's Landing at eight o'clock and directed Lewis Wallace to hold his division in readiness to move.”
Now none of those accounts are compatible with the description given in A Savage War with Grant’s steamboat hurrying to the battlefield as Grant yells at Wallace as they steam by. At first I wondered if they had simply fabricated the item but I was reluctant to believe that. Then I got an idea. And another layer of this onion is peeled back. The authors discuss their use of sources to some degree in the tail end of the book. During that portion they make the rather startling admission that they used Shelby Foote’s trilogy quite a bit to provide their narrative. Foote was an excellent writer and his prose is very good. I’d recommend everybody read the trilogy once, for the experience. But Foote wasn’t a historian, he didn’t provide citations for sources and his book, partly because of age and partly because he was a novelist, has a number of factually dubious assertions in it. It dawned on me that maybe they got this canard from Foote. And lone behold, what do I find in Foote’s description of Shiloh:
“Without stopping the boat he called out to Wallace as he went by, ‘General, get your troops under arms and have them ready to move at a moment’s notice.’ Wallace shouted back that he had already done so. Grant nodded and went on.”
Depending on Foote was not wise. Additionally it brings up the failure of the authors to do a good job documenting their own use of sources. Often they will assert things and you’ll just have to guess where they got it. In this case I appear to have guessed correctly.
After completing this book I turned to Archer Jones’ Civil War Command And Strategy: The Process Of Victory And Defeat to get the bad taste out of my mouth. It was a good choice. Jones, in his preface, writes:
“By grounding its understanding of the war in the art of war as the participants knew it, this work of military history adopts a good vantage point for understanding and evaluating their performance. This will probably serve us better than the method often used, adopting later wars as the standard for an appraisal.”
Jones is right. The authors of A Savage War made that mistake. They love to reference World War II or the war in Iraq. The repeatedly compare Sherman’s march with the strategic bombing campaigns against Germany and Japan. They should have listened to Jones, the comparisons are inane.
My last criticism is that the authors seem very unfamiliar with modern scholarship on the American Civil War. The book has a very weird retro vibe to it. The more noted author is not a Civil War historian and the other author has written one book on the Civil War. Many of the blurbs they get for the book come from people who are not noted for their work on the Civil War; men like H.R. McMaster and Victor Davis Hanson. Those gentlemen have done some good work, particularly McMaster’s work on Vietnam, but they aren’t men grounded in the topic at hand.
There is no shortage of books on the American Civil War. Don’t waste your time on this item.
I was wrong to be skeptical. A quick glance disclosed that this book delivers far more than McMaster promised. In fact, Murray and Hsieh make a strong case throughout the book that our Civil War represented the first truly modern military-industrial-nation conflict and thus had a global impact.
I have not read the whole book yet but its consistently heading on a positive trajectory as I progress through the narrative. The post battle assessments are IMHO without parallel as the authors point out the rights and wrongs of opposing commanders but they do so using methods in line with contemporary military processes, such as discussing not only the gaining of intelligence information, but also its perceived and actual value, when commanders received it, how they acted or didn't act on it, whether they embraced it or remained hesitant, and what impact their actions ultimately had on the ensuing battle, which is a method of analysis that I am far more familiar with. That revelation appeared on the first page I opened in the book - which discussed the Second Bull Run - and has not proved to be an exception to the rule.
Another example appears on page 268 when the authors discuss the results of Chancellorsville, writing "Who Won Chancellorsville? The obvious answer is Lee and the Confederates. Certainly, in considering the slashing attacks he, Jackson, and Stuart had launched against a superior enemy, who had in the first hours caught them completely by surprise, their performance stands out as one of the great pieces of generalship in the Civil War. Yet the casualty figures on the two sides were nearly equal: a bill the Union with its superior population could afford to pay. but which the Confederacy in the long term could not. Moreover, throughout the battle, Lee had taken chances that had placed his army on the brink of defeat. Perhaps the battle's most significant result was that Lee gained the impression his troops could achieve anything against impossible odds, an estimation that had a disastrous impact on his conduct of the battle the next July at Gettysburg."
I feel that since the authors have had to explain past battles to an audience of field grade officers (who sometimes have a hard time visualizing the link between past battles and today's brand of warfare) in an academic setting, they have gained insights into presenting that material in not only an interesting fashion, but have included details that resonate with modern soldiers seeking (or not) to link today with the past. I enjoyed seeing that style displayed to the fullest because I have sat in one of those classrooms and as such, the language is familiar and I believe their analysis a bit more informed as a result.
The book is organized with thirteen chapters, each running anywhere from 25 - 35 pages in length. They are presented as follows: 1.) The Origins, 2.) The War's Strategic Framework, 3.) "And the War Came," 4.) First Battles and the Making of Armies, 5.) Stillborn between Earth and Water: The Unfilled Promise of Joint Operations, 6.) The Confederacy Recovers, 1862, 7.) The Confederate Counter-Offensives, 8.) The War in the East, 1863, 9.) The War in the West, 1863, 10,) The Killing Time: The War in the East, 1864, 11.) Victory in the West, 1864, 12.) The Collapse of the Confederacy, and 13.) The Civil War in History.
There are no less than 51 maps! The maps adequately depict important subjects/events at both tactical, operational, and strategic levels. However, the large number of maps may have come at the cost of photographs, of which there are none. That said, this reviewer does not believe a lack of photographs detract from the overall story.
I must admit to being glad that A SAVAGE WAR did not come out before now, as the tremendous work by both authors would have seriously dampened my enthusiasm for previously published works on this same topic. If there is ONE volume to read on this conflict, I would strongly recommend A SAVAGE WAR as my choice.
My only caution is that this book should not be considered a populist history per se. If you are more interested in the experiences of individual soldiers and their leaders, then perhaps other fare would meet your needs.