America’s Civil War: The Operational Battlefield, 1861-1863


This is one of the reasons my fiction intake has gone down drastically.

The book is by Brian Holden-Reid and┬ásets out to be an operational study of the first half of the American Civil War. At the center of his attention is the belief by some ACW historians that it was impossible to have a war winning battle, and that the defender had an unbeatable advantage. So, the author takes us on his tour of the war’s events, forking off every so often to address why he thinks that pair of positions is wrong.

This extract is a useful snapshot:

In a welcome corrective to so much somber hand wringing, Paddy Griffith raises questions about the pervasive power of the defense in the Civil War. Although he concedes the defensive power of artillery and the omnipotence of entrenchments, he shows that shock action did succeed. Moreover, Griffith questions whether rifle-musket fire was that potent beyond Napoleonic ranges; the artillery was the main killer at longer ranges. One could advance a further argument, namely that the fault was not merely tactical; operational deficiencies also played a major role in numerous campaigns.

This is from page 258. In the notes (number 45 on page 264), the author says:

I do not always agree with the details of Griffith’s interpretation and its belligerent tone does not aid persuasiveness, but it is certainly stimulating.

Interesting. As an aside, Earl J HessThe Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat, which I read immediately before this book, is more wholeheartedly supportive of Paddy Griffith’s theory, but is delivered in more measured tones.

So far as Mr Reid’s work is concerned, I would not fault the history – how dare I – though the author’s treatment of Robert Lee may be indicative of, at least, sympathy for the fabled icon of the South. I wasn’t entirely convinced by his arguments on the operational possibilities that the respective armies missed, but it was noticeable that although I have read many histories of the war, this content was neither stale nor routine.

So, it fairly zipped along for most of the time, and gave me food for thought. You cannot ask for much more than that.

Not for novices to the period, but a useful addition to the body of writing on that climactic struggle.