Friday, September 9, 2016

Booknotes: A Savage War

New Arrival:
A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War
by Williamson Murray and Wayne Wei-Siang Hsieh (Princeton Univ Pr, 2016).

As a matter of course, every book traversing well traveled ground covering a big subject vows to deliver new views and fresh ideas, but they all too often fail to deliver on these promises. Nevertheless, I get a positive vibe from A Savage War and am greatly looking forward to reading it. The description is fairly shy about disclosing how the book breaks from convention. Some excerpts: "Murray and Hsieh paint indelible portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and other major figures whose leadership, judgment, and personal character played such decisive roles in the fate of a nation.", "(t)hey show how this new way of waging war was made possible by the powerful historical forces unleashed by the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution.", and "(t)hey also examine how the Army of the Potomac, the Army of Northern Virginia, and the other major armies developed entirely different cultures that influenced the war's outcome." The title seems to suggest the authors are not as convinced as Mark Neely and others have been regarding self-imposed limitations on the war's destructiveness. The talking points sheet that accompanied the review copy indicates that Murray and Hsieh are in the "first modern war" camp and the differing field army culture element mentioned above will be a major theme. They also appear to join the consensus in decrying Lee's lack of strategic understanding (a misguided reading of Lee's responsibilities, in my opinion) and praising Grant's.

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