Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Book News: Civil War Supply and Strategy

In recognition of the impossibility of fitting anything approaching a comprehensive examination of the topic inside a single book of standard size, historian Earl Hess instead decided to focus on transportation issues for his fine 2017 study Civil War Logistics. What I didn't realize at the time (though I should have expected it!) was that Hess himself was close to finishing a companion work on supply. Going even further, the upcoming Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies (LSU Press, 2020) promises readers "a sweeping examination of the decisive link between the distribution of provisions to soldiers and the strategic movement of armies during the Civil War." In it, Hess "reveals how that dynamic served as the key to success, especially for the Union army as it undertook bold offensives striking far behind Confederate lines. How generals and their subordinates organized military resources to provide food for both men and animals under their command, he argues, proved essential to Union victory." No one can argue with that.

More from the description: "Logistics and supply empowered Union offensive strategy but limited it as well; heavily dependent on supply lines, road systems, preexisting railroad lines, and natural waterways, Union strategy worked far better in the more developed Upper South. Union commanders encountered unique problems in the Deep South, where needed infrastructure was more scarce. While the Mississippi River allowed Northern armies to access the region along a narrow corridor and capture key cities and towns along its banks, the dearth of rail lines nearly stymied William T. Sherman’s advance to Atlanta. In other parts of the Deep South, the Union army relied on massive strategic raids to destroy resources and propel its military might into the heart of the Confederacy."

As hinted at above, it appears the book will employ the concept of logistical theaters to illustrate the various ways Union forces were able to meet the most difficult geographical challenges. "As Hess’s study shows, from the perspective of maintaining food supply and moving armies, there existed two main theaters of operation, north and south, that proved just as important as the three conventional eastern, western, and Trans-Mississippi theaters. Indeed, the conflict in the Upper South proved so different from that in the Deep South that the ability of Federal officials to negotiate the logistical complications associated with army mobility played a crucial role in determining the outcome of the war." Look for it in October.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds pretty interesting. The more I learn about the Civil War the more I realize how much of it was dependent was defined by the limits of the logistical capabilities of both sides.

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