Monday, January 11, 2021

Booknotes: Civil War Supply and Strategy

New Arrival:
Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies by Earl J. Hess (LSU Press, 2020).

Alas, we've come to the final LSU release of 2020, one that was also one of my most highly anticipated titles of last year. The holiday season was an epic disaster for the USPS in terms of on-time deliveries, but this one, along with the rest of my media packages, had an obstacle free journey (sort of like every offense facing Bo Pelini's defense this season). In 2017's excellent Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation, Earl Hess made it clear that his appraisal of Civil War logistics would fill two volumes, one covering transportation and the other supply (his belief being that no single volume could adequately address both facets). So we now have the completed set in Civil War Supply and Strategy: Feeding Men and Moving Armies.

From the description: Hess's book "stands as a sweeping examination of the decisive link between the distribution of provisions to soldiers and the strategic movement of armies during the Civil War. Award-winning historian Earl J. 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.

As one might have supposed, much of the above is presented using case studies of specific campaigns and operations, mostly western ones. Additionally, one chapter addresses the Trans-Mississippi and a pair of chapters (the volume's final two) discuss the supplying of the two principal eastern armies. The author also frames his overall analysis in terms of logistical theaters that ran north to south (as opposed to the east-west orientation of the principal military theaters). More from the description: "The Union army developed a powerful logistical capability that enabled it to penetrate deep into Confederate territory and exert control over select regions of the South. 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."

According to Hess, "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." I'm looking forward to delving into it.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent book. If you're into that kind of thing. Which I am...


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