Monday, May 22, 2006

Jacobson: "For Cause & For Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin"

Both participants and later historians have penned military histories covering all or some segment of John Bell Hood's disastrous 1864 Tennessee campaign. For example, various incarnations of Union General Jacob D. Cox's history of Franklin and Nashville have appeared. Thomas Hay's Hood's Tennessee Campaign was probably the first attempt at an objective campaign history (I need to get a copy of that one someday). In 1983, historian James L. McDonough published Five Tragic Hours: The Battle of Franklin. Despite its flaws, Wiley Sword's The Confederacy's Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville (originally published as Embrace an Angry Wind) is widely considered--by me as well--to be the best modern overall history of the campaign.

In the present, Eric A. Jacobson is making his own imprint on the literature. For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair At Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin (by Eric Jacobson and Richard Rupp, O'More Publishing: Franklin, TN. Footnotes, OB, bibliography, photos, 7 maps, pp. 519) concentrates on arguably the two most important days of the campaign. These two days, the last 48 hours of November 1864, saw the seemingly inexplicable lost opportunity at Spring Hill and the tragic bloodbath at Franklin a day later. Prior to this, Jacobson recounts the initial maneuverings of both armies as they struggled with distances, logistical problems, and weather.

The author's study of the "Spring Hill Affair" almost stands on its own as a worthy book-length exercise. This evenhanded examination of this event is the best written, most clearly organized, and most judicously analyzed account that I've read thus far. Jacobson lays out the available evidence in all its many contradictions and avoids pinning the blame on any single person for the sake of creating a narrative villain. The author uncovered no convincing evidence of drunkenness, drug-induced decisionmaking impairment, or of Ben Cheatham experiencing sensual pleasures with Jessie Peters when he should have been smashing Yankees. Of course, even though there was certainly plenty of blame to go around, it is recognized that Hood as overall commander must bear the ultimate responsibility for the aborted advance.

Another positive point deserving mention is the author's original research into the order of battle for both sides. Jacobson discovered several units not present in the OB of previous studies. For Cause & For Country now boasts the most complete OB to date for Spring Hill and Franklin.

On several levels, Mr. Jacobson is a very good writer of non-fiction military history. He approaches the source material with an open mind, and I give him high marks for style, clarity, and organization.

The Confederate infantry assaults are covered in minute tactical detail and reader is guided seamlessly through these tragic events. However, this does lead me to one of my few criticisms of the book. Federal unit positions and movements at Franklin are depicted in the text at a regimental scale (a welcome attention to detail at a level of completeness you won't find anywhere else), while those of the Confederates are predominately at brigade level or above. Whether this was driven by the comparative availability of source material or by conscious decision, I cannot say. Granted, by this stage of the war, many of the brigades in the Army of Tennessee were smaller than a large Union regiment, but I still would like to have seen more regimental-level detail for the Confederate side.

My most significant complaint is with the maps. There simply weren't enough for a study of this level of complexity and small unit scale. The two regimental-level maps showing the placement of Union regiments inside Franklin's main defensive line are very good, but Confederate battlefield positions are limited to a single map showing the placement of each division prior to the first assault. For the Battle of Franklin, no maps trace the maneuvers of either side at any scale, an unfortunate omission. Readers would also have benefitted from a map of cavalry operations during the initial stages of the campaign. On the other hand, it is a tribute to the descriptive skills of the writer that I never felt lost on the battlefield.

For Cause & For Country is certainly deserving of a wide readership. General readers unfamiliar with the campaign will be treated to a highly complex but skillfully organized, easy-to-follow campaign narrative written in stirring fashion. Specialists will appreciate the most detailed treatment yet of the Spring Hill/Franklin battles and will revel in the author's discovery of new source material and his thorough reexamination of previously available evidence. The book is awash with fresh interpretations of controversies old and new. Highly recommended.

(NOTE: To read a transcript of a recent Q&A session conducted by this reviewer with the author, that also includes issues not raised in the review, click here.)

2 comments:

  1. Great review Drew, and closely mirrors my own thoughts. Since I'm in the middle of writing a review of the book myself, I found it intriguing that our thoughts on it are so similar. The book, IMO, is the best out there on Spring Hill/Franklin (and that includes Sword's). And I also had a slight problem with a lack of maps. Anyway, great review, and very nice blog.

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  2. Thanks, Joe. I'll look forward to reading your review at CWI. The book is the best thing I've read about Spring Hill and Franklin, too. It deserves promotion and I hope a lot of people get to read it and digest it.

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