Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Booknotes: Decisions at Stones River

New Arrival:
Decisions at Stones River: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle
  by Matt Spruill & Lee Spruill (Univ of Tenn Pr, 2018).

With a number of recent publications under their belt that are styled after the classic War College battlefield guides, the Spruills have become well-recognized figures in the tour book genre. With others, they've now embarked on a distinctive new UT Press series called Command Decisions in America’s Civil War. Four titles have already been formally announced with more on the way and Decisions at Stones River: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle is the first book in the series.

Decisions at Stones River "introduces readers to critical decisions made by Confederate and Union commanders. Matt Spruill and Lee Spruill examine the decisions that shaped the way the campaign and battle unfolded. Rather than offering a history of the Battle of Stones River, the Spruills focus on the critical decisions, those decisions that had a major impact on both Federal and Confederate forces in shaping the progression of the battle as we know it today. This account is designed to present the reader with a coherent and manageable blueprint of the battle’s development. Exploring and studying the critical decisions allows the reader to progress from an understanding of “what happened” to “why events happened” as they did."

Basically, the book examines at length a number of crossroads moments in the battle (in this case, sixteen) and discusses three, and sometimes just two, command decision options. From there, the historical choice is revealed and then analyzed in its substance and impact. In support are a large number of photographs and detailed original maps. Comprising a bit more than a third of the volume is a battlefield tour arranged in the familiar fashion mentioned earlier but centrally linked to the command decision themes of the book. Haven't had the chance to delve into it yet, but the series looks very promising as a fresh approach to battle study.


  1. Drew: This appears to be a series with good promise. I got the Gettysburg book some years back and conclude that it was probably a stand-alone. Good to see that I was wrong. The challenge will be finding enough battles with sufficient difference-making "decisions" and true options.

    1. Since the publisher is the same, it's kind of strange that the GB book isn't considered Vol. 1. I guess so much time has passed since publication that it didn't feel right to fold the older book officially into the series.

      To keep the number assigned in each book so high, I agree that the decision points probably vary somewhat significantly in their momentousness.

  2. Very pleased to see Stones River get some more love. Have always thought it was a vastly understudied battle that is open to a tad broader interpretation as to it's importance and outcome.


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