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Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865

by Steven E. Woodworth

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215491,365 (4.03)4
In this first full consideration of the remarkable Union army that effectively won the Civil War, historian Steven Woodworth tells the engrossing story of its victory by drawing on letters, diaries, and newspaper accounts of the time. The Army of the Tennessee operated in the Mississippi River Valley through the first half of the Civil War, winning major victories at the Confederate strongholds of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg. The army was created at Cairo, Illinois, in the summer of 1861 and took shape under the firm hand of Ulysses S. Grant, who molded it into a hard-hitting, self-reliant fighting machine. Woodworth takes us to its winter 1863 encampment in the Louisiana swamps, where the soldiers suffered disease, hardship, and thousands of deaths. And we see how the force emerged from that experience even tougher and more aggressive than before. With the decisive victory at Vicksburg, the Army of the Tennessee had taken control of the Mississippi away from the Confederates and could swing east to aid other Union troops in a grand rolling up of Rebel defenses. It did so with a confidence born of repeated success, even against numerical odds, leading one of its soldiers to remark that he and his comrades expected “nothing but victory.” The Army of the Tennessee contributed to the Union triumph at Chattanooga in the fall of 1863 and then became part of William Tecumseh Sherman’s combined force in the following summer’s march to Atlanta. In the complicated maneuvering of that campaign, Sherman referred to the army as his whiplash and used it whenever fast marching and arduous fighting were especially needed. Just outside Atlanta, it absorbed the Confederacy’s heaviest counterblow and experienced its hardest single day of combat. Thereafter, it continued as part of Sherman’s corps in his March to the Sea and his campaign through the Carolinas. The story of this army is one of perseverance in the face of difficulty, courage amid severe trials, resolute lessons in fighting taught by equally courageous foes, and the determination of a generation of young men to see a righteous cause all the way through to victory. Nothing but Victoryis an important addition to the literature of the Civil War.… (more)

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Great book! A masterful blend of detailed, primary-sourced research and compelling narrative. ( )
  daddywarbooks | Mar 22, 2014 |
While I don't have a lot to say about this book that hasn't been said by others, I do wish that it had existed about ten or fifteen years ago, as it does provide a good synopsis of the field force in question. If you've already done a fair amount of reading about the late unpleasantness between the states you might have that been there/done that feeling.

There is also no doubt that the author loves him some U.S. Grant, and could probably have stood to have been more critical. On the other hand it is refreshing to see Henry Halleck get the drubbing he so richly deserves. Woodworth's unvarnished attitude in regards to federal command politics is probably the main attraction for the experienced reader.

Finally, as has also been commented upon, one map for a whole war does not cut it. ( )
  Shrike58 | Dec 14, 2010 |
If you're interested in the Civil War, I just finished reading Steven Woodworth's "Nothing But Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861 - 1865," the first of his works I've read, and it's a great book. Woodworth focuses a lot on the private soldiers, and his research shows he's done a lot of reading of journals, diaries and letters written by the foot soldiers who served in the Army of the Tennessee (primarily from midwestern regiments - Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, etc.) These are the men who fought, whose names remain pretty much unknown, many of them who gave their lives for the survival of the United States as a whole, healthy and powerful country. Unlike some Civil War writers, Woodworth sees some of the humor in the war, and more than once I found myself laughing out loud at something he had written. Sometimes a little humor helps to lighten the serious and often nerve-wracking tales of violence and death. Of the Civil War writers that I admire, Steven Woodworth is right up there with Bruce Catton, James McPherson, Jeffry Wert and Shelby Foote. I'll be buying and reading more books by Woodworth. ( )
  LeahsChoice | Aug 18, 2009 |
Steven Woodworth delivers a masterful Stephen Ambrose-like paean to the men and leaders of the Union Army of the Tennessee (named after the river not the state). While the Army of the Potomac was kept in check by Robert E. Lee, the men of the Army of the Tennessee criss-crossed the Confederate States from Fort Donelson to Pittsburgh Landing to Corinth to Vicksburg to Meridian to Chattanooga to Atlanta to Savannah to Columbia and finally to Washington DC. They defeated their opponents, because the Confederacy never reached a coherent decision about its defensive priorities. In defending everything, it defended nothing. The politcial priorities of the two contestants meant that the Union A team fought against the Confederate C team. The importance of the Army of the Tennessee shrank after its high tide at Vicksburg. Never a large force to begin with, its two to three corps were absorbed into Grant's and then Sherman's group of armies.

Woodworth's claim of "nothing but victory" is exaggerated as the Army of Tennessee witnessed a number of near disasters (Belmont, Ft Donelson, Shiloh) and setbacks (Chickasaw Bayou, Resaca, Kennesaw) distinguished from defeat only by the ineptitude of the Confederate leadership and Grant's unwillingness to quit.

Woodworth is soft on Grant and his boys and harsh about others (McClernand, Rosecrans, Thomas). Compare Woodworth's treatment of McPherson's hesitation in the Atlanta campaign and Rosecrans' caution at Corinth. Grant is a master strategist but a lousy tactician. If Grant had positioned himself at his weakest general's command post, he might have averted many mishaps and limited his casualties. Instead, he stayed with his favorites which further reduced the communication flow with the outsiders (McClernand, Rosecrans, Thomas) who then did not meet Grant's expectations, triggering the next round of alienation.

Overall, a magnificent book which gives voice both to the commanders and the common man. The book could be even better if it included more than a single map. A scarcity of maps seems to be a Woodworth trademark. ( )
1 vote jcbrunner | May 31, 2008 |
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In this first full consideration of the remarkable Union army that effectively won the Civil War, historian Steven Woodworth tells the engrossing story of its victory by drawing on letters, diaries, and newspaper accounts of the time. The Army of the Tennessee operated in the Mississippi River Valley through the first half of the Civil War, winning major victories at the Confederate strongholds of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg. The army was created at Cairo, Illinois, in the summer of 1861 and took shape under the firm hand of Ulysses S. Grant, who molded it into a hard-hitting, self-reliant fighting machine. Woodworth takes us to its winter 1863 encampment in the Louisiana swamps, where the soldiers suffered disease, hardship, and thousands of deaths. And we see how the force emerged from that experience even tougher and more aggressive than before. With the decisive victory at Vicksburg, the Army of the Tennessee had taken control of the Mississippi away from the Confederates and could swing east to aid other Union troops in a grand rolling up of Rebel defenses. It did so with a confidence born of repeated success, even against numerical odds, leading one of its soldiers to remark that he and his comrades expected “nothing but victory.” The Army of the Tennessee contributed to the Union triumph at Chattanooga in the fall of 1863 and then became part of William Tecumseh Sherman’s combined force in the following summer’s march to Atlanta. In the complicated maneuvering of that campaign, Sherman referred to the army as his whiplash and used it whenever fast marching and arduous fighting were especially needed. Just outside Atlanta, it absorbed the Confederacy’s heaviest counterblow and experienced its hardest single day of combat. Thereafter, it continued as part of Sherman’s corps in his March to the Sea and his campaign through the Carolinas. The story of this army is one of perseverance in the face of difficulty, courage amid severe trials, resolute lessons in fighting taught by equally courageous foes, and the determination of a generation of young men to see a righteous cause all the way through to victory. Nothing but Victoryis an important addition to the literature of the Civil War.

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