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How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War (1983)

by Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1991103,210 (4.12)10
Selected as one of Civil War magazine's 100 essential titles on military campaigns and personalities.

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This is a very good book which I enjoyed reading very much. I picked it up to read one chapter and 700+ pages later I had finished reading the whole book. It is not light reading but I felt I learned a lot about the military history of the war. The book is not about the battles of the war. The authors focused on the logistics, strategy and tactics of the war and showed how they were applied in different battles. Their analysis does help to explain how the tactics changed during the war and why.
A central thesis of the book is that the range and accuracy of the rifled musket greatly enhanced the defensive power of armies. The bayonet charge was no longer effective and it was not possible to destroy an opposing army in a decisive battle. At Second Bull Run and Chancellorsville Lee thoroughly defeated the Union armies but they were able to retreat in good order. The authors point out that the army defending Vicksburg was destroyed only because they allowed themselves to be surrounded and starved out.
In the opinion of the authors Grant won the war by using large scale raids to destroy the resources of the enemy and the morale of the people to continue the war. The North had early success with what the authors refer to as battles of penetration. The capture of Forts Henry and Donelson gave the Union control of a large area of Southern territory. However, control of territory reaches a point of diminishing returns. The more territory that is conquered the more territory must be controlled. More and more Union troops were required for garrisons and Southern cavalry and guerrillas made long lines of communication difficult to maintain.
Sherman's campaign in the West is a good example of how a battle of penetration turned into a large scale raid. As Sherman advanced on Atlanta he had to protect an ever lengthening rail line for his supplies. The further he got more and more of his troops were required for this task. Once he left Atlanta he cut loose from his communications and supplies and did over 100 million dollars damage to the State of Georgia by the time he had reached Savannah. From Savannah he went north through South Carolina and into North Carolina wreaking destruction.
Sheridan in 1865 made a large scale raid through the Shenandoah Valley that destroyed its ability to feed the armies protecting Richmond.
While Sherman and Sheridan were making their destructive raids Grant was holding Lee's army in place. The famous quote by Lincoln, "If a man can't skin then he must hold a leg while the other man does," describes the situation. When Lee brought his army to Appomattox the rations he was expecting were not there and he had to surrender. He was not defeated in battle but by logistics.
The development of this strategy shows the primary difference between Lee and Grant as generals. Lee fought battles and he was probably the best tactician of the war. Grant fought the war and became its greatest strategist. The authors have a much higher opinion of Henry Halleck than others. Since he was the general giving Grant orders they give him credit for the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson. They also consider his strategic advice as general in chief in Washington very valuable.
I have never read such a detailed description of the Southern railway system. One of the best maps in the book is focused on that topic.
The authors quoted Bruce Catton often for his excellent descriptive language. He appears in the index, which is very good, fifteen times. I liked having the footnotes at the end of the chapter. The only humor in the book comes in the description of the surrender of Joseph Johnston to Sherman.
It is important to have a good working knowledge of the Civil War to appreciate this book. I started it four years ago and didn't like it at all. At this point in my Civil War reading I found it well written and interesting. ( )
2 vote wildbill | Feb 12, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hattaway, Hermanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jones, Archermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Vanderlinde, Jerry A.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To: T. Harry Williams
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Selected as one of Civil War magazine's 100 essential titles on military campaigns and personalities.

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