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About the Author

Grady McWhiney is one of the most influential voices in the study of the American Civil War


Works by Grady McWhiney

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Common Knowledge

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This is almost theory years old now and its theory that the rifled musket made assaults in the Civil War a losing proposition has been challenged for awhile. Still, this is valuable to read to see the original argument that may have been exaggerated. Incidentally, it includes some interesting details on tactics, line versus column, details on operations of infantry/cavalry/artillery that greatly enhance understanding when reading other accounts of the war.
MarkHarden | 1 other review | Jun 23, 2022 |
A rather dry book which reads more like a term paper then a published work. The author is making the argument that the tactical offensive tactics learned by the Confederate leadership during the Mexican war lead to the disasterous attacks and the tactics learned failed to take into account the improved weaponry.

To an extent this is a valid critisism of both sides. The last chapter "The Rebels Are Barbarians" though in which the author refers to southerners as "hospitable, generous, frank, wasteful, lazy, lawless" and Yankees as more disiplined, intelligent etc...reveals the bias of the author and invalidates much of his argument.

Not a good book.
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dswaddell | 1 other review | Oct 31, 2013 |
Illuminating discussion of importation of Celtic attitudes and culture to the American South and its influence on development and history.
ritaer | 1 other review | Aug 28, 2011 |
The first in a two-volume work that examines the life and career of Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

By the end of the US Civil War, Bragg was probably the most vilified general in either army. Most historians dismiss him as a harsh disciplinarian who was utterly incompetent and hated by subordinates and ordinary soldiers alike. McWhiney’s intent is to examine Bragg’s record thoroughly in order to give a more even-handed account.

Almost half of the book, which had its origins in McWhiney’s doctoral thesis, is a biography, following Bragg from his birth to a less-than-respectable family in North Carolina, through his West Point years, his Mexican War experiences, and his relatively obscure pre-Civil War life in in the Regular Army at frontier outposts. It’s interesting from the point of view that it’s immediately clear, from his West Point days on, that Bragg was unpleasant to most people: he had enormous problems with authority and was constantly in hot water for his blunt and often brutal letters, complaints, and remarks he made about his superiors and, later, his subordinates. Given his temperament, I think it’s remarkable that from his West Point years on,without a break, one of his best friends was W.T. Sherman. I can not imagine two more prickly characters, although Sherman was not nasty--Bragg was.

McWhiney deals thoroughly with Bragg’s commands, starting with Fort Pickens at Pensacola at the beginning of the war. Bragg was a disciplinarian of the Napoleonic War school--he had no problems with enforcing the death penalty for desertion or looting. While his methods were harsh, he felt them absolutely necessary given the volunteer (and involuntary) nature of the Confederate army; Bragg had great contempt for volunteers and conscripts, having felt that they proved worthless in the Mexican War. Thanks to the disciplinary measures and other issues, Tennesseans in particular hated him even while he was still relatively popular with other segments of the Army of the Tennessee; Sam Watkins in Co. Aytch remarks about it several times, noting especially the onerous duty of having to watch as men were executed by Bragg’s order. Yet his methods did turn what had been a more-or-less armed mob into well-disciplined, well-drilled good soldiers. The pity of it is that he squandered so many of those lives because he, like so many other generals of the war, had not learned a crucial lesson: that weapons technology had outstripped tactics.

In this volume McWhiney covers Bragg’s (as a subordinate) participation in the battle of Shiloh, the ill-fated Kentucky campaign, Perrysville, and finally Murfreesboro/Stone’s River. While Bragg went from highly regarded to instant unpopularity due to the retreat from Kentucky, McWhiney shows that in reality, Bragg performed rather well. Only at Perrysville and most especially at Murfreesboro did Bragg display his inflexible ignorance over the futility of a bayonet charge against entrenched troops with rifled muskets--the technical innovation that destroyed the validity of Napoleonic tactics forever. By early 1863, Bragg, who was a micromanager if there ever was one, was worn out with severe health problems due to overwork that were probably psychosomatic in origin. McWhiney’s claim that he was “disoriented” and confused, unable to exercise high command , is the weakest part of this otherwise admirable book, because I don’t think that he really conclusively demonstrates that--we almost have to take him at his word.

Bragg had many enemies, mostly self-made, but many admirers and defenders as well. Jefferson Davis believed in him to the end. McWhiney’s book is valuable for presenting a much more balanced account of Bragg--showing him as the unpleasant man of his reputation, but in actuality as having performed better than his many critics gave him credit for. The title, unfortunately, is somewhat misleading, since the book ends in early 1863, before the big defeat at Missionary Ridge, for example. Except for Stone River, which was critical, Bragg was not responsible for Confederate losses of territory; much of that blame can go to Davis’ organization of Confederate defenses and he Confederate government's focus on the war in Virginia to the exclusion of almost everything else.

One point I found very well taken: Lee’s invasion of Maryland which resulted in the battle of Antietam and his subsequent retreat back to Virginia was no less o more of a defeat and retreat than was Bragg’s Kentucky campaign. But Lee’s invasion was dubbed merely “unsuccessful” while Bragg’s equivalent was branded “defeat” and “retreat”. But Lee by that time had already gained much of the legendary star quality he would have forever after Chancelorsville, while Bragg was an unpleasant tyrant who shot men for desertion.

The maps are adequate except for the battle of Murfreesboro. The map for the first day is fine, but for some baffling reason, McWhiney chose to depict the second day’s fighting in a map that had the same solid-color blocks for both union and Confederate divisions and brigades; only Breckenridge’s brigade is depicted differently. Since there are no unit designations, unless you have some idea beforehand of what the dispositions were like, it’s truly work to figure out who was who, where.

Other than that, this is a very good book.
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1 vote
Joycepa | Feb 16, 2009 |


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