Friday, September 15, 2017

Booknotes: Civil War Logistics

New Arrival:
Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation by Earl J. Hess (LSU Press, 2017).

I post a review of an Earl Hess book and within days his next one arrives in the mail. That's a pattern I can live with. His latest book Civil War Logistics analyzes the various means of military transportation used during the war. Early chapters cover the history of military logistics and introduce the quartermaster departments of the Union and Confederate armies. Subsequent chapters look at the rail, river, and littoral transportation networks, along with the armies's use of wagons, pack trains, and foot power. Another chapter is devoted to large-scale troop transfers. The final sections examine the targeting by both sides of enemy steamships, coastal vessels, railroads, and wagon trains, as well as their means of defense.

From the description: "Civil War Logistics offers the first comprehensive analysis of this vital process. Utilizing an enormous array of reports, dispatches, and personal accounts by quartermasters involved in transporting war materials, Hess reveals how each conveyance system operated as well as the degree to which both armies accomplished their logistical goals."

More: "According to Hess, Union logistical efforts proved far more successful than Confederate attempts to move and supply its fighting forces, due mainly to the North’s superior administrative management and willingness to seize transportation resources when needed. As the war went on, the Union’s protean system grew in complexity, size, and efficiency, while that of the Confederates steadily declined in size and effectiveness until it hardly met the needs of its army. Indeed, Hess concludes that in its use of all types of military transportation, the Federal government far surpassed its opponent and thus laid the foundation for Union victory in the Civil War."

Of course, that's a general conclusion that won't surprise anyone. I don't know yet if Hess will argue in the book that logistical superiority was the single-most important factor in Union military victory, giving it a primacy similar to what Thomas Army recently claimed for Union engineering technology and prowess, but both certainly went hand in hand.

7 comments:

  1. I would consider "Hagerman" as fairly comprehensive, so interested to see what Hess adds. I also think Van Creveld "Supplying War" is a good overview (though Euro-centric) and also interested in how Hess (or a reader) places ACW logistics within Van Creveld's general history.

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    1. It seems that Hess's topic is narrower than Hagerman's, focusing on transportation. Hagerman covered a broad range of topics and his work is now three decades old.

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    2. It seems that way, John. You could make an argument that the book is mistitled, as "logistics" is far more than just transportation. Then again, since I haven't started reading it, maybe the book is more than transportation, too.

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  2. The adage that amateurs study tactics and professionals study logistics remains as true as ever.

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  3. Hess seems to really be cranking out books in recent years.

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  4. I agree with Josh's comment though Hess seems to maintain a higher standard than other less-than-stellar authors who do "paint by the numbers" books. Maybe it's because Hess has accumulated and carefully cataloged a wealth of material over the years so he doesn't start from scratch with each book?

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    1. He's mentioned before that he works on many projects concurrently.

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