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Disappointing effort from one of the UKs premier military historians
on 16 May 2011
I approached this volume excitedly having devoured Keegan's single volume account of the First World War and found it to be the best work of its type. I have to say I was disappointed by this work. I admire the ambition of trying to address such a complex and sprawling subject as the American Civil War in a single volume; you would expect it therefore to be more of a precis, with a shrewd economy of words applied. What I found was frequent repetition of the same analytical arguments, often on the same page. The North had numerical superiority; control of the rivers was key to controlling the war; the South was desperate for recogntion/intervention by the Great Powers of Europe who demanded its cotton. If I read these conclusions once I read them a thousand times!
In the pen picture and analysis of the key figures McClellan comes out of it better than one would expect considering he was a spineless ditherer. Lee is somehow regarded as a good tactician but not a good strategist; interesting considering he held off a vastly superior political, economic and especially military force for over four years. I could go on...and often do, but my biggest disappointment was that this consideration didn't capture the soul of the conflict. Maybe you need to be American to truly do the subject justice. If you're looking for a well written, meticulously researched and painstakingly accurate review of the American Civil War, go for the three volume masterpiece by Shelby Foote.