Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Woodworth & Grear, eds.: "THE TENNESSEE CAMPAIGN OF 1864"

[The Tennessee Campaign of 1864 edited by Steven E. Woodworth and Charles D. Grear (Southern Illinois University Press, 2016). Hardcover, maps, photos, notes, index. 278 pp. ISBN:978-0-8093-3452-0. $34.50]

The Tennessee Campaign of 1864 is the fifth volume in SIU Press's Civil War Campaigns of the Heartland series, an excellent and steadily expanding western theater complement to the venerable, but exclusively eastern theater, Military Campaigns of the Civil War series from UNC Press and long time editor Gary Gallagher (recently joined by Caroline Janney). Like the latest volume from its eastern cousin, The Tennessee Campaign of 1864 also explores more than earlier series titles avenues of scholarly inquiry beyond the battlefield.

The first chapter is one of the book's most tantalizing offerings, a newly discovered portion of General Patrick Cleburne's campaign diary edited by Lee White. While the diary fragment covers a relatively uneventful early phase of the 1864 Tennessee Campaign (September 28 - October 16) when General John Bell Hood's advancing army was still in Georgia, it does provide insights into Cleburne's thoughts and state of mind, rare as they are for any Civil War period given the scarcity of the Irish Confederate's surviving personal writings.

The November 30, 1864 Battle of Franklin would become synonymous with mass Civil War slaughter in relatively confined spaces and two essays address its character and consequences. Andrew Bledsoe describes how the battle gutted the officer corps of the Army of Tennessee, citing factors like the late afternoon timing of the attack (which forced officers to more conspicuously expose themselves in order to be seen by their own men and to effectively exert command during winter twilight) for the unusually devastating leadership losses. Many Civil War battle histories detail killing on an individual basis, but Jonathan Steplyk shrewdly uses Dave Grossmen's influential study On Killing to further explore the psychology of taking life on the battlefield and examine factors that either facilitate or inhibit killing acts, things like the evolutionary chase instinct, the emotional release of being able to fire at an enemy without greatly exposing oneself, and instinctively choosing to club rather than stab enemies as a more psychologically acceptable compromise measure in the struggle to overcome deeply ingrained cultural prohibitions on killing fellow human beings.

Two writers focus on Union army commander George Thomas at Nashville. Brooks Simpson's chapter emphasizes poor communication (between Thomas and Grant, as well as middleman Halleck) as one of the root causes of the rocky relationship between Grant and Thomas, with the inherent limitations and pitfalls of the technology of the period accorded its own fair share of the blame. Paul Schmelzer compares the generalship of Grant and Thomas using the dictums of eminent war theorist Carl von Clausewitz. Taking a dogmatic approach to Clausewitz's definition of military "genius" and his fierce focus on campaign strategy's subservience to political policy and aims, Schmelzer inevitably finds that Grant shines and Thomas fades. It's too bad no essay in the anthology specifically addresses Hood's generalship during the campaign, especially given the volume of negative Hood mythology that persists in the face of evidence to the contrary. A large body of Hood papers has also been recently rediscovered and published, a circumstance that should spark a fresh reappraisal of the general.

Four essays in the volume are battle treatments. Stewart Bennett's full account of the small but bloody Battle of Allatoona Pass is excellent, the fight itself serving as a microcosm of the Army of Tennessee's oft repeated Civil War experience of a hard-punching rank and file that could not overcome poor planning and coordination on their own side and, on the other, rugged terrain defended by an equally tenacious opponent. John Lundberg's Spring Hill essay eschews the common tendency to assign inordinate blame to any one individual, instead finding plenty of it to spread around to the likes of army commander Hood and subordinates Frank Cheatham, John Brown, and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Perhaps more controversially, and frankly less persuasively, Lundberg does not believe that even a best case scenario resulting in the destruction of Schofield at Spring Hill would have greatly altered the final result of the campaign. D.L. Turner and Scott Stabler write about the diversionary attack by two USCT brigades manning the Union left at Nashville, the importance of which stems not from the meager tactical results but rather the broad change in perception of the fighting abilities of black troops that the action prompted. Another Nashville contribution was authored by Steven Woodworth, who describes in the book the assaults conducted by A.J. Smith's corps of three divisions of Army of the Tennessee veterans. Woodworth perceptively traces much of their effectiveness to confident veteran status gained through a history of western victories that were achieved without the accompaniment of the crippling casualties so commonly suffered by brother formations. The essay also notes the command's unusually high level of offensive field artillery coordination and effectiveness at Nashville as another key to success.

The Tennessee Campaign was also hard on civilians and John Gaines's chapter looks at the urban civilian experiences of the Franklin and Nashville battles. While property destruction and the local struggle to deal with overwhelming numbers of battle wounded and dead are appropriately placed front and center, Gaines also reminds us that many civilians gained financially from the sudden presence of the armies, trading goods with the soldiers at windfall prices. Charles Grear examines how Texas civilians and soldiers reacted to the campaign, which began with a brief upswing in morale but ended with disillusionment and desertion after twin defeats at Franklin and Nashville. But military defeat was not the sole factor involved in Texans dropping out of the war in sharply increased numbers during the winter of 1864-65. Grear also cites gross inequities in furlough awards (to the special detriment of Trans-Mississippi soldiers) as a major source of dissatisfaction among Texans.

The final two chapters, from Tim Smith and Jennifer Murray, examine battlefield preservation at Franklin and Nashville, two sites with national park potential that did not benefit from the so-called "golden era" of 1890s government interest and funding efforts. The authors examine the long history at both places of modest incremental preservation and lost opportunity. Smith and Murray properly credit local groups as instrumental forces in saving and/or rehabilitating limited parcels of hallowed ground.

The Tennessee Campaign of 1864 is another fine addition to the Civil War Campaigns of the Heartland series, with material even the most diehard students of the campaign can freshly appreciate. With twelve more titles in the planning stages, one earnestly hopes that the positive momentum will continue.

More CWBA reviews of SIUP titles:
* Engineering Victory: The Union Siege of Vicksburg
* The Vicksburg Campaign, March 29-May 18, 1863
* Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege
* The Prairie Boys Go to War: The Fifth Illinois Cavalry, 1861-1865
* The Chattanooga Campaign
* Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs
* An Illustrated Guide to Virginia's Confederate Monuments
* The Notorious "Bull" Nelson: Murdered Civil War General
* The Chickamauga Campaign
* Chicago's Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War
* The Shiloh Campaign


  1. Hello Drew
    Thanks for the review. I really think this series is well done. I've not purchased my copy of this yet. You mentioned that there were 12 other volumes in the planning stage. Is this mentioned in the book?

    I know in the earlier volumes, there was a list of expected titles. I think they planned 4-5 volumes for both Vicksburg/Georgia Campaign. I know only one Vicksburg volume has been published. This would seem to leave 3-4 other subjects? Kentucky Campaign, Stones River, Bentonville, ?

    Don H.

    1. Hi Don,
      Yes, the list of the 12 upcoming titles is in the back. I believe it is unchanged from the one in the Chattanooga volume. For me, Iuka & Corinth and the 1862 KY Campaign volumes are the two most highly anticipated. In addition to those, there are 4 more Vicksburg and 5 Atlanta books plus Henry & Donelson.


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