Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Booknotes: Conquered

New Arrival:
Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed by Larry J. Daniel (UNC Press, 2019).

The two classic studies of the Confederacy's star-crossed Army of Tennessee are Stanley F. Horn's The Army of Tennessee (1941) and the two-volume history (Army of the Heartland: The Army of Tennessee, 1861-1862 and Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865) from Thomas L. Connelly. Almost fifty years on from the 1971 publication of Autumn of Glory, it is time for another in-depth study utilizing the vast source material made available since that time as well as new modes of thinking about Civil War armies.

The reasons why the Army of Tennessee failed to win key campaigns and battles (save its pyrrhic victory at Chickamauga), despite having solid lower-ranking leadership and excellent human material in the ranks, have been debated even since the war ended. Most, including Connelly, primarily attribute the string of defeats, many of which came after almost breathtaking initial tactical successes on the battlefield, to the army's extreme level of high command dysfunction. Many other human, structural, material, political, and geographical factors have also been cited over the years. Books directly addressing this topic include Richard McMurry's fascinating 1989 comparative study Two Great Rebel Armies and more recently Andrew Haughton's 2000 study Training, Tactics and Leadership in the Confederate Army of Tennessee: Seeds of Failure took a stab at it. I'm not familiar with Haughton's book. Years ago I was going to try to borrow a copy through interlibrary loan but never got around to it.

According to the preface of his new book Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed, author Larry Daniel rejected repeating Connelly's chronological narrative format in favor of something closer related to Joseph Glatthaar's "war-and-society" approach, albeit without the latter's rich host of quantitative elements. As one might expect going in, Daniel finds many diverse factors behind the Army of Tennessee's overall "failure" and concludes in parallel fashion that the reasons why it took so long for Union armies to conclusively defeat it were similarly multi-factorial in nature.

From the description: "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." Can't wait to delve in.

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