Thursday, December 20, 2018

Booknotes: Preparing for Disunion

New Arrival:
Preparing for Disunion: West Point Commandants and the Training of Civil War Leaders by Allen H. Mesch (McFarland, 2018).

Though I'm certainly not privy to the inner workings of West Point, it might be a reasonable guess to suggest that antebellum commandants had more opportunities to personally shape the education and training of the U.S. Army's professional elite than the institution heads of following eras. If that's indeed true, it would make Allen Mesch's Preparing for Disunion: West Point Commandants and the Training of Civil War Leaders even more illuminating to read and contemplate.

From the description: "Between 1817 and 1864, sixteen officers were assigned as Commandants of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy. They played an important role in training the officers who would serve on both sides of the Civil War. Historians criticize the program as antiquated for its time: A course in Napoleonic strategy and tactics that did not account for rifled weapons or the particularities of terrain. Yet these commandants made changes to the program, developed new textbooks and instructed cadets who became field generals. The biographies of the commandants are presented along with their contributions to the Academy, notable graduates and other military service."

In case you're wondering, the sixteen officers that held the post over that time are George W. Gardiner, John Bliss, John R. Bell, William J. Worth, Ethan A. Hitchcock, John Fowle, Charles F. Smith, John A. Thomas, Bradford R. Alden, Robert S. Garnett, William H.T. Walker, William J. Hardee, John F. Reynolds, Christopher C. Augur, Kenner Garrard, and Henry B. Clitz.

In addition to exploring the common duties of the West Point commandant during the early to mid 19th century period under consideration and presenting biographical sketches and a direct contributions discussion for each officer listed above, the book is packed with lists, charts, and tables. The appendix section goes into some depth on the antebellum graduating classes, with particular attention paid to those officers that would serve in the Civil War. Looks interesting.


  1. Mesch's bio of C.F. Smith was fairly well done. This looks like an interesting topic, although the brief description makes it appear that the book is organized in an unfocused way.

    1. It's very much organized like a reference book.


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