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Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of…

Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry-Fort Donelson…

by Kendall D. Gott

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Good review of a little-covered topic. Only drawback is passages were repeated in several spots, detracting from the work in general. ( )
  bobbre | Feb 22, 2009 |
Kendall D. Gott's study of the Forts Henry and Donelson campaign is a competent analysis from the commander's viewpoint with all the right stuff: colorful characters, good pacing, plenty of maps (although lacking a scale and elevation markings) and a detailed order of battle (down to the regimental level). It is severely mistitled, however: Neither did the South lose the war in this campaign nor does Gott treat it that way in his book. Furthermore, the book's unhistoric cover shows the second Confederate national flag, which came into use in May 1863, amid blooming vegetation. Great choice for a winter campaign that took place more than a year earlier. Fortunately, the content is far superior to the book's cover.

The campaign itself pitted the Union A team against the Confederate C team on every level: Politically, Lincoln blew Davis away, on the strategic level Halleck crushed Johnston and on the operational level Grant whipped a bunch of mediocrities. The Confederate generals compounded their disadvantages in men and resources with outrageously bad decisions such as having an attorney situate Fort Henry below the winter water line. On the Confederate side, the campaign is a study in incompetence. The Confederacy never formulated strategic goals which resulted in volatile tactical decisions. How important was the interdiction of the Tennessee and the Cumberland rivers that it merited only a single point of defense each? These half-hearted measures were set up for failure - and failed at the first contact with the enemy.

Grant's generalship was not without faults either (faults he repeated both at Shiloh and Champion's Hill): During the crucial stage of the battle for Fort Donelson, Grant was far away from the action conferring with the navy. He also played favorites by assigning the tougher position to the untested general McClernand instead of the professional Smith. His unfortified forces were surprised by a flank attack. Only the disparity of forces allowed the Union to prevail. Pillow had routed half of Grant's army, but his exhausted forces lacked the strength (and ammunition) to tackle the other half too. A situation repeated at Shiloh and Champion's Hill. Grant was a bad tactician which he redeemed by his strategic initiative and his tenacity. ( )
2 vote jcbrunner | Mar 17, 2008 |
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