on 3 August 2014
This book is poorly written as a full military history of the American Civil War. It is written more like a collection of essays that are not expected to be read in succession. The reason I write this is that the narration is constantly repeating itself, there are sections where you think you have started at the wrong place only to find that sentences are almost repeated word for word on a previous page! I have read several of John Keegan's books and have a lot of time for them. However, I would avoid this one and go for one of the many other books on the subject.
One final point is that there is a section or two towards the end, regarding African Americans and women in the Civil War that some might feel a bit controversial. Perhaps I was finding fault in a book that I had not particularly enjoyed reading but when I got to these passages I did feel a bit uncomfortable about the, I felt, derogatory language that was used.
on 8 February 2016
This is, alas, a shoddy piece of work. Quite how some reviewers consider it well researched is beyond my comprehension. I found 61 examples of factual errors and/or dubious conclusions. How many more there may be, which escaped my attention, is anyone's guess. I certainly could not bring myself to read this book a second time to discover any more errors that might be lurking within its covers.
Having spent over 50 years reading about the American Civil War and having accumulated a collection of some 550 volumes on the subject, I am steeped in the minutiae of the conflict. Sir John Keegan evidently was not.
If one is going to make a sweeping generalisation it is particularly incumbent on an historian to make sure it is well founded. So, to proclaim that "All Civil War artillery was muzzle-loading", when it is well-documented that some breech-loading types were used, is foolhardy, to say the least. A number of British manufactured Armstrongs and Whitworths were deployed, some at the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg.
When it comes to the U. S. Navy we are informed that "Long ago its ships had been at the forefront of the builder’s craft. At the outbreak of conflict, however, the survivors were all antiquated. None had been launched later than 1822". However, it is not difficult to identify 14 vessels which were commissioned between that date and the outbreak of the War. Just some diligent examination of the available records is required.
Some further examples:-
"Together they formed the Ninth Corps, almost completely composed of black soldiers …". Not true. Only one of the Ninth Corps' four divisions was composed of black soldiers.
With reference to General William T. Sherman it is stated "He was sometimes mistaken for a young junior officer, since he stood less than five feet, six inches tall …". Contemporary accounts describe him as having "a tall gaunt form" and "his large frame, tall, gaunt form". His own wife in 1862 refers to him as being "more wrinkled than most men of 60". He was, in fact, 42! The numerous extant photographic images of Sherman all show how far his appearance was from that of a "young junior officer".
It is claimed that in July 1864 the Confederate General Jubal Early "proceeded to invest the defences of Washington". For obvious reasons, Washington D.C. was the most heavily fortified place in America. It was surrounded by dozens of forts and entrenchments, mounting many heavy pieces of artillery. By his own account, Early had about 8600 men with him, totally insufficient to conduct a siege of such a place. The only chance was a "coup de main" and the arrival of the Union 6th Corps ruled that out. Early retreated in short order.
"Meanwhile Grant, who had now captured Chattanooga, was preparing to fight at Chickamauga, to which Lincoln and Halleck ordered Burnside to detach troops in order to support Rosecrans …". Grant did not capture Chattanooga and he never prepared to, and did not, fight at Chickamauga. He arrived at Chattanooga on October 23rd 1863. Union forces had occupied the town on September 9th 1863. By the time Grant reached there, Rosecrans had been relieved of his command and left.
"Thomas came to be rated by Ulysses S. Grant as one of the few indispensable generals of the Union Army". This is completely untrue. Grant ordered Halleck to draft an order relieving Thomas of his command in December 1864 because he considered Thomas unduly slow in attacking Hood’s Army of Tennessee at Nashville. He then changed his mind but, when Thomas still did not attack, he gave General John A. Logan orders to proceed to Nashville to take command of Thomas’s army. Before Logan could reach Nashville, Grant changed tack again and decided to go to Nashville himself to supervise operations. Before he could get further than Washington D. C. Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland smashed Hood’s forces. Grant returned to the Army of the Potomac.
However, his dissatisfaction with Thomas continued. He countermanded Thomas’s orders for his army to go into winter quarters and effectively broke it up. The 23rd Corps was sent to reinforce Sherman at Goldsboro and other divisions were sent to assist Canby against Mobile. The massive Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Cumberland, under General James H. Wilson, was detached to conduct operations aimed at Tuscaloosa and Selma. Grant informed Thomas that Wilson was to be afforded ‘all the latitude of an independent commander.’ Grant telegraphed to Sherman that Thomas was "too ponderous in his preparations and equipments to move through a country rapidly enough to live off it". Thomas was sidelined.
In relation to the Vicksburg campaign, it is asserted that Confederate General Pemberton "had 30,000 troops to Grant’s 10,000" after Grant crossed the Mississippi below Vicksburg. However, in his memoirs Grant wrote "Early on the morning of 30th of April McClernand’s corps and one division of McPherson’s corps were speedily landed. … I had … in all not more than twenty thousand men with me to commence the campaign with. … On the 7th of May I was further reinforced by Sherman with two divisions of his, the 15th corps. My total force was then about thirty-three thousand men".
According to Keegan, when "Fitz-John Porter’s fleet" passed below Vicksburg "One gunboat was sunk but three got through". General Fitz-John Porter was once an infantry corps commander in McClellan's Army of the Potomac. The gunboat flotilla at Vicksburg was, in fact, commanded by Rear-Admiral David Dixon Porter. There were 7 gunboats in the flotilla. None of them were sunk in the operation.
And so the litany of mistakes goes on and on, with poor geographical appreciation, chronological inaccuracies, weapons incorrectly identified in photographs and so on and so forth.
I bought this book in the hope that it would provide fresh insights from a renowned military historian hailing from outside the U.S., without any of the "baggage" that often tends to attach to native authors. I was left bitterly disappointed and disillusioned.