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Monday, September 24, 2018

Book News - Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed

Though the Confederate Army of Tennessee had moments of success in the early stages of several battles and won a decisive (albeit pyrrhic) victory at Chickamauga, it is generally considered a dysfunctional mess than never lived up to its potential. Opinions regarding just what went wrong with the army have been offered in numerous books and articles over the years. Comparing the Army of the Tennessee to the Confederacy's most successful field army rather than some kind of unattainable standard, Richard McMurry's Two Great Rebel Armies: An Essay in Confederate Military History (1989) remains one of the more interesting contributions to the conversation. Recognizing that the Army of Tennessee's problems went far deeper than the series of men at the top, the book convincingly examined the internal and external factors that together help explain Confederate failure in the West while also plausibly arguing why the Army of Northern Virginia proved to be a better army than the Army of Tennessee.

Also from UNC Press, Larry Daniel's upcoming Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed (May 2019) will also move beyond leadership questions. "Surpassing previous work that has focused on questions of command structure and the force's fate on the fields of battle, Daniel provides the clearest view to date of the army's inner workings, from top-level command and unit cohesion to the varied experiences of common soldiers and their connections to the home front. Drawing from his mastery of the relevant sources, Daniel's book is a thought-provoking reassessment of an army's fate, with important implications for Civil War history and military history writ large."

The author of well-received Stones River and Shiloh campaign histories, a study of the Army of the Cumberland (the Army of Tennessee's main antagonist), and a detailed examination of soldier life in the Army of Tennessee, Daniel is as well versed as anyone on the subject of the inner workings of the Confederacy's principal western army and its direct predecessors. Also informing Conquered, his book Cannoneers in Gray: The Field Artillery of the Army of Tennessee (rev. 2005) pointed toward a forced reliance on obsolete guns (in comparison to the Army of Northern Virginia) as having a significant negative impact on the army's effectiveness, particularly its offensive punch. Given the author's demonstrated knowledge and expertise, Conquered will join the list of my most highly anticipated titles of next year.


  1. Drew: This looks promising given Larry's background and prior work. Is this his first UNC book? You make an interesting point about artillery. One partially balancing fact is that, to a lesser degree, the A of T's opponents also suffered from "step child" status when it came to artillery, at least for the first 2 years of the war. This resulted in a wider array of calibers and types than their favored cousin in Virginia (including some 6 lb. "rifles") and a greater presence of 4-gun batteries. It seems that by the latter part of 1863 the federal armies in the western theater were probably widening the distance. One big difference aside from ordnance was the failure to develop strong gunners. For example, when Stephen D. Lee went west he left the artillery ranks. I also hope that the book will go beyond training most of the cross hairs on Bragg and address Davis's role as well as that of guys like Polk and Hardee, who probably would have been exiled by Lee. There were also a fair number of division commanders who likely would not have made the cut in ANV.

    1. John,
      "Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee" was with UNC.

      Skimming back over my little review of the artillery book, it was pretty striking that even in 1863 (if accurate) 85% of the AoT guns were either 6 lb smoothbores of 12 lb howitzers. Yikes.

    2. I hadn't taken a look at it (it's buried in my disorganized, over-sized library) but that's an awful lot of what Henry Hunt would label "junk" for that stage of the war - significant deficiencies in range and hitting power. The problems on the Union were far fewer by that point - even though there still were circumstances that could not be found in the A of the P. For example, the 1st Minnesota light did not ditch their fairly useless 6 lb. "James" rifles until spring 1864 when they were exchanged for 3" ordnance rifles.

    3. Yes. It limits nearly your entire artillery arm to extreme short-range anti-personnel fire. A massive handicap.

  2. "Recognizing that the Army of Tennessee's problems went far deeper than the series of men at the top"

    So what you're saying is not only did the patient have brain cancer, but he also had heart disease, arthritis, cirrhosis, kidney failure, and gout?


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