Friday, July 01, 2011

3 Civil war Book Reviews

1. Extraordinary Circumstances : The Seven days Battle - Brian Burton
Excellent, scholarly retelling of the Seven Days Battle (June 24th to July 2 1862) covering both sides. Burton is more interested in the Command relationships and purely military aspects and he rarely discusses politics, grand strategy or Lincoln or Davis' opinion of the battle. Told from a commanders point of view, with very little human interest & few personal anecdotes. He's also fair to every one - including Stonewall Jackson and McClellan. Most will find it too dry and technical, others (including me) enjoyed the absence of heroes and villains (the Sears approach). Flaws: Like most modern books the maps are poor. Rating ***

2. The Union Soldier in Battle - Earl Hess
A rambling examination of the ordeal of combat from the Union soldiers perspective. Based on original letters, diaries, and memoirs. Fairly short at 240 pages, it feels much longer, and I don't mean that in a good way. I didn't find any new insights and it wasn't particularly well-organized or well written. Those new to the subject may find it more interesting. Rating **

3. Battle Tactics of the Civil war - Paddy Griffith
Written by a senior lecturer at Sandhurst, Griffith focuses on the the battle tactics of the war. His main argument: the Civil War, far from being the 1st Modern war, was in fact, the last Napoleonic one. Although his opinions are sometimes excessive, and his knowledge somewhat shallow, he makes a convincing case. While the rifled musket did increase both casualties and power of the defense, its impact has been overrated. Casualties, after all, were high in the Napoleonic wars and frontal assaults often ineffective. Further, the rifled musket had the same rate of fire as the smoothbore musket and although more accurate and easier to fire was still - compared to a bolt action rifle - complicated to load and fire, and inaccurate. While a skilled marksman could hit a man at 500 yards, its doubtful if an average Civil war soldier could hit anyone at over 100 yards.

The lack of decisive battles (overwhelming victories) in the Civil war was due to many reasons including (1) the rough and heavily forested terrain (2) the relatively small numbers of Calvary on both sides (3) the poor roads (4) the bad staff work on both sides (5) the almost complete equivalence of both two sides in tactics, lower-level generalship, men, doctrine, and arms (6) the Anglo-Saxon quality of both sides (7) the low offensive value of artillery and (8) the vastness of the Confederacy and lack of one decisive geographical point.

Griffith's book is fairly short, 200 pages, and is directed at those interested in military history. Its full of statistics and charts. I found it interesting but doubt I will re-read. Rating **1/2


Trooper York said...

I want to see if I can the first one on my kindle.

Trooper York said...

I recently reread Harry Harrison's alternate history where the North and South unite to fight Britain in the "Stars and Stripes" trilogy. It is kinda hokey but I enjoyed it.

Robert Conroy also wrote several interesting alternative fiction books that I have put on the kindle for summer reading fun.

rcocean said...

Thanks for the comments Trooper. I keep thinking about Kindle, but I read too much already, when I should be working.

To me reading is like a disease. If I don't watch myself, I'll read books 24/7 and lose myself in a fantasy world, like Burgess Meredith in the Twilight Zone.

Kindle seems like Crack for Bookworms.

Trooper York said...

It's like crack alright.

And you spend a ton of money. I just downloaded all the Matthew Scudder mysteries and the Harrison Civil War Trilogy and preordered the new novel in the Game of Thrones series.

I am gonna have to sell a lot of bras to pay for all that stuff.

Lyle said...


It's your best friend here. Lyle. What's your take on Stonewall and McClellan during the Seven Days. I'm not a fan of the Sears disdain for McClellan myself.

I'll have to check this book out. I just read Hess' book on entrenching the East recently. It is interesting and informative.

rcocean said...

Hello Lyle,

I think Sears is pretty deranged on McClellan - pretty much blames him for everything. McClellan was a good planner but not greatest field general. He was more interested in not losing a battle than in winning one.
That said, Lincoln should have either supported him 100% or fired him and gotten somebody else he could support.

As for Jackson's bad performance, blame the bad staff work on Lee's part.