A well-written, well-argued story of the Civil War in the West. McDonough (History/Auburn Univ.; The Limits of Glory, 1991) continues to explore underexamined aspects of the Civil War, this time the western theater, often thought of as a sidelight to the real scrap in the East. In McDonough's view, the western engagements were crucial in sealing the fate of the Confederacy. He sets the stage for his account of the Kentucky battles by outlining the Confederacy's perilous state in the spring of 1862. The fall in February of the Tennessee river forts Henry and Donelson effectively split the South geographically and led to the abandonment a week later of Nashville, the first Southern capital to capitulate. On April 6, federal and Confederate armies clashed at Shiloh Church with horrific loss of life. Claimed as a victory by the Southern commanding general, the battle failed to halt the federal advance and led to the removal of P.G.T. Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter and Bull Run, as commander of Confederate forces in the West. He was replaced by the scruffy Braxton Bragg, whose record at Shiloh was itself ambiguous. On April 7, the Union Navy captured Island No. 10 on the Mississippi, which paved the way for the fall 17 days later of New Orleans. The South still had an opportunity to snatch victory at a clash in central Kentucky at a small town called Perryville, where in October 22,000 federals fought 17,000 Confederates. Forced to retreat, Bragg had to give up his dream of retaking Kentucky. The war would drag on for 30 more months, but McDonough shows that Southern defeat was increasingly inevitable. As studies of the Civil War become more narrow in focus, it's refreshing to find a volume that has some sweep to it, using the war in and around Kentucky to encapsulate the entire conflict in the West.
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