Monday, November 9, 2015

Engineering Victory... didn't we just...? yes, we did.

It's very common for books and movies to share titles with previous releases but you don't see it too much in Civil War non-fiction, especially two books sharing some common subject matter and published barely a year apart (thank heavens for subtitles). Justin Solonick's Engineering Victory: The Union Siege of Vicksburg was one of 2015's best books and in Spring '16 we'll see Engineering Victory: How Technology Won the Civil War from Thomas Army. Granted, it's an appealing play on words but someone at Johns Hopkins should have donned the creative hat and come up with something else. Title oddity aside, the book sounds intriguing.

Civil War authors continue to be very fond of reducing Union victory to one overarching factor of some kind, be it Lincoln's leadership, Grant's generalship, the navy, or the Irish Brigade, but Army "identifies strength in engineering―not superior military strategy or industrial advantage―as the critical determining factor in the war’s outcome."
"Army finds that Union soldiers were able to apply scientific ingenuity and innovation to complex problems in a way that Confederate soldiers simply could not match. Skilled Free State engineers who were trained during the antebellum period benefited from basic educational reforms, the spread of informal educational practices, and a culture that encouraged learning and innovation. During the war, their rapid construction and repair of roads, railways, and bridges allowed Northern troops to pass quickly through the forbidding terrain of the South as retreating and maneuvering Confederates struggled to cut supply lines and stop the Yankees from pressing any advantage. By presenting detailed case studies from both theaters of the war, Army clearly demonstrates how the soldiers’ education, training, and talents spelled the difference between success and failure, victory and defeat. He also reveals massive logistical operations as critical in determining the war’s outcome."
Swap "in a way" with "on a scale" in that first sentence and there isn't much that I would disagree with in the description and one certainly doesn't have to share Army's view of military engineering's primacy over all suggested factors underlying Union victory and Confederate defeat to appreciate its importance.


  1. John FoskettNovember 09, 2015

    Drew: I occasionally get the sense that some publishers/advisers/editors persuade authors to "juice up" the thesis for marketability. You need to lure the buyers in (especially at the going prices academic presses charge these days) and nothing will do that better than "new" versions of old history or "discovery" of the "thing" that really altered the outcome of the war. Pure speculation, of course.

    1. Hi John,
      I frequently get that sense but I sort of expect it at this point and make allowances. My bigger beef is with readers who latch on to that one thing the promotional copy touts and dismiss the book entirely before even looking at it or refuse to credit the author with some valuable insights because they can't get past their disagreement with the ultimate conclusion.

    2. John FoskettNovember 10, 2015

      We are in "agreeance". Too many readers don't get past the marketing-enhanced spin to dive into what the author is saying in when the entire content is considered.


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