Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Booknotes: The Commanders

New Arrival:
The Commanders: Civil War Generals Who Shaped the American West
by Robert M. Utley (Univ of Okla Press, 2018).

Robert Utley's The Commanders "examines the careers of seven military leaders who served as major generals for the Union in the Civil War, then as brigadier generals in command of the U.S. Army’s western departments. By examining both periods in their careers, Utley makes a unique contribution in delineating these commanders’ strengths and weaknesses." The seven officers under primary consideration in the study are Christopher Augur, George Crook, O.O. Howard, Nelson Miles, E.O.C. Ord, John Pope, and Alfred Terry.

Utley finds that all seven were "critical in the expansion of federal control in the West. The commanders effected the final subjugation of American Indian tribal groups, exercising direct oversight of troops in the field as they fought the wars that would bring Indians under military and government control." More from the description: "After introducing readers to postwar army doctrine, organization, and administration, Utley takes each general in turn, describing his background, personality, eccentricities, and command style and presenting the rudiments of the campaigns he prosecuted.

In addition to comparing levels of success, the study examines the different ways the western generals exercised command. "Crook embodied the ideal field general, personally leading his troops in their operations, though with varying success. Christopher C. Augur and John Pope, in contrast, preferred to command from their desks in department headquarters, an approach that led both of them to victory on the battlefield. And Miles, while perhaps the frontier army’s most detestable officer, was also its most successful in the field."

The role played by the U.S. Army in post-Civil War western progress and expansion is a major theme. "Rounding out the book with an objective comparison of all eight (ed. seven?) generals’ performance records, Utley offers keen insights into their influence on the U.S. military as an institution and on the development of the American West."

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