Thursday, November 15, 2007

A couple of (history) book recommendations

Last week I finished Bruce Catton's A Stillness at Appomattox, which covers the last year of the Civil War. Actually I've read it several times before. This book won the Pulitzer Prize when it was first published back in the 50's. It's part of a trilogy on the Civil War, but I haven't actually read the first two books, but I assume they are as well written as this one. If you love history, the Civil War, or know someone who does this is a must read.

I am always struck, when I read about the Civil War by several things. One thing that always gets me is how much we know about every aspect. Some Civil War buffs can recreate the movement of every battalion of either army in any given battle. The amount of not only official documents and reports, but letters, journals, and even photographs is staggering.

One of the most interesting things about this war is actually that it was two wars, at least in tactics and strategy. While most of us think of WWI as being the first trench war, the latter year or two of the civil war really could be classified as such, even though it started off as more of a "traditional" war, with the armies meeting in wide open fields, and firing rounds from a standing position in carefully choreographed cadences. New technology also changed the war. Repeating guns, ones that could fire several bullets before needing to be reloaded, while not in widespread use in the entire army, were beginning to make an impact that old tactics couldn't account for.

This and other developments were causing a material change in the nature of warfare, and for the most part, the military leaders seemed to be completely oblivious to it. Even the "greats' like Lee still sent armies into battle in straight battle lines to be slaughtered, until his need for purely defensive tactics forced him into the trench. But of course this is always easy to point out in hindsight. Makes me wonder about the things that are going on under our noses that we are missing.

Growing up, I always laughed when I read (or saw in the movies) the Southerners' claims that one of them could "lick 10 Yankees" - or was it 12? Anyway, while it seems foolish considering the outcome of the war, the more I read about the actual military campaigns, the more I believe it, at least when it comes to the leaders. I am constantly astounded by how the northern generals were so talented at bungling things up. Obviously the Confederates had a decided advantage in that they were on the defensive most of the time, but the Federal army couldn't even get orders to attack to the right people half the time, so that it wasn't unusual for a dawn attack to be delayed until 3 pm. I haven't actually counted, but I do believe that Lee really did lick many more than 12 generals.

If you are ever interested on a real in depth read about the war (or want the ultimate gift for a history buff), I highly recommend Shelby Foote's three volume series entitled The Civil War. Foote was a writer first, who grew interested in the Civil War. So the writing is top notch, and very engrossing. One of the best gifts Kelly has ever bought me!


walkmom said...

One of the really interesting things about the Civil War was that the North had more casualties, both deaths and wounded, than did the South. Statistically, on paper, the South should have won. Micah says the real problem was that the South basically starved to death (partly from Sherman's march).

Candace said...

I'll have to look into these for Greg! He's a huge History buff!

Thanks for the recommendations!

Tami said...

Vicki, You are right about the casualties, but I believe it was because most of the time the south was defending and the north was attacking. Statistically, an attacking army is nearly always going to suffer higher casualties, as a defending army is usually entrenched or at least behind cover (the Battle at Cold Harbor is a classic example). And of course the north had a much bigger population than the south, so it had more men to replace the casualties - the south didn't.

And they were starving (not just for food but ammo, medicines, horse feed, etc.) and that had a huge affect. Sherman's march hurt them, as did Sheridan's march through the Shenandoah Valley, but the naval blockade was probably even more effective at that - they couldn't get anything from outside their own borders.

Fascinating stuff, huh?