Books by Stephen W. Sears

Released: April 25, 2017

"A staggering work of research by a masterly historian."
From "Old Fuss and Feathers" Winfield Scott to Ulysses S. Grant, the succession of Northern generals during the Civil War receives a thorough scouring in this massive, elegant study. Read full book review >
GETTYSBURG by Stephen W. Sears
Released: June 30, 2003

"A fine study, detailed and challenging, that complements such popular accounts of the battle as Bruce Catton's Glory Road and Shelby Foote's The Stars in Their Courses."
An accomplished historian of the Civil War (Controversies and Commanders, 1999, etc.) offers a blow-by-blow account of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg and its effects on the course of the conflict. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 25, 1999

Ten essays by an eminent Civil War historian profile the Army of the Potomac and its feisty generals, enmeshed in passionate criticisms of one another during a depressing period of successive defeats at the hands of wily Robert E. Lee. Sears (Chancellorsville, 1996, etc.) spins an accessible narrative as he draws close-up portraits of the succession of less-than- perfect generals who led the Union Army until the coming of Grant. George McClellan, not a favorite of the author's, is depicted as a pompous, self-promoting egoist whose distaste for combat (and the resultant overdrawn alibis) tried President Lincoln's patience, though Sears admits McClellan was a good organizer, capable quarter-master, and popular figure with his men. Detailing the near-constant in-fighting among the generals, the author describes behavior that would astound a modern officer, including finger pointing, expressed criticism of fellow officers, and constant breaking of the chain of command to complain to the president. McClellan's critics ran the risk of court-martial and suffered threats from Secretary of War Stanton; "political" generals, like Tammany hack Dan Sickles, short on military skill but long on connections, received high commands and were responsible for the loss of many lives; an outstanding general like "Fighting Joe" Hooker, hampered by a dubious personal life, was smeared as overambitious. Partisan politics between the radical Republicans and conservative Democrats grew increasingly petty and bitter, skewing justice in cases like the court-martial of General Fitz John Porter. McClellan's personal dislike of John Pope, whom he failed to reinforce at the battle of Second Bull Run, may well have led to the Union's defeat there. The combination of military losses and incompetent leadership destroyed the morale of the army, and desertions grew alarmingly. Sears's devastating account leaves no doubt that Grant was desperately needed. A well-researched, well-told, readable addition to Civil War history that explores the characters of famous officers and chronicles some little-known events. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1996

By a master storyteller and leading Civil War historian, the story of Lee's greatest victory, gained in four days of fighting in May 1863. Sears (Landscape Turned Red, 1983, etc.) draws fresh life from combatants' eyewitness accounts, in diaries, memoirs, letters, and regimental histories. He traces the origins of the battle of Chancellorsville to a cabal of Union officers that forced the loser of Fredericksburg, Ambrose Burnside, to resign as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Sears credits Burnside's successor, ``Fighting Joe'' Hooker, with transforming a poorly supplied and ill-paid army marked by low morale and poor discipline into a tougher, more professional army within two months. Hooker promised President Lincoln that his newly shaped-up army would attack Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia soon and end the war. Sears finds Hooker's plans to attack Lee in Virginia sound in concept but poor in execution. Lee, with only half the number of Union troops, violated an old military axiom by splitting his army, using Stonewall Jackson to move a strong assault force around enemy lines to strike the Union's sleepy right flank. Jackson's surprise assault was the key to a brilliant but costly victory; in the confusion Jackson was mortally wounded by his own troops. Sears argues that incompetent corps commanders let Hooker down by failing to execute orders properly, and that Hooker was also compromised by poor intelligence and by a cavalry general who failed in his mission to cut off Lee's supply train. Lee's tactics finally forced the Union troops to abandon the field. Sears believes that, ironically, Lee's victory at Chancellorsville emboldened him to invade Pennsylvania, which resulted in his bloody defeat at Gettysburg. Another definitive book by the skilled Sears—a must for Civil War students and buffs. (16 b&w photos, not seen) (History Book Club main selection) Read full book review >
Released: July 21, 1993

An important addition to the growing number of diaries, memoirs, and other primary source materials on the Civil War made accessible to the nonspecialist reader. Sears (To the Gates of Richmond, 1992, etc.) has skillfully edited 19 pocket diaries that the ``good soldier Haydon,'' a 27- year-old lawyer from Decatur, Michigan, painstakingly wrote, transcribed, and sent home to his father from 1861 to 1864. Haydon was a college graduate who read The Atlantic and quoted scraps of poetry to combat the boredom of army life, but the real value of his daybooks is historical and emotional rather than literary. Rising from sergeant to lieutenant colonel, Haydon saw action at or on the edges of both Bull Run battles and at Fredericksburg, more seriously during the ``Seven Days'' on the Peninsula. In 1863, he joined Grant at Vicksburg and was badly wounded leading an assault at Jackson, Mississippi. Unless you're a memoir-gourmet, Haydon's diaries aren't easy reading: Descriptions of the weather and of the awful, inadequate food become repetitious. Nonetheless, there's scarcely a day's entry that doesn't contain some stirring observation or moving reflection, all conveying a genuine mid- Victorian sensibility preserved amid unparalleled carnage. Haydon was obsessed with doing his duty, not only for the Union but in order to be seen as dutiful. (At one point, he writes that there's so much false illness that ``good soldiers sometimes suffer much pain and inconvenience rather than incur the suspicion of shirking duty.'') Readers who would otherwise wonder at troops like those who pinned their names to their coats for the purpose of identifying their corpses as they prepared to run into the cannon's mouth at Cold Harbor will here receive the authentic feel of the era's moral imperative. Survivor of many battles but weakened by his wounds, Haydon died of pneumonia in 1864, while on furlough. In this book of his own making, aided by Sears's introduction and deft chapter transitions, he at last receives his true memorial. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 8, 1992

In George B. McClellan (1988) and his work editing the papers of the Union general, Sears established himself as the critical but indispensable authority on flawed ``Little Mac.'' Now, in a stirring prequel to Landscape Turned Red (1983), his superb account of the Battle of Antietam, the author reaffirms his mastery of historical narrative. In March 1862, the egotistical but timorous McClellan was prodded by Lincoln into finally launching the first major offensive by the Army of the Potomac. Instead of marching directly overland from Washington, McClellan used Federal sea power to advance on Richmond by way of the peninsula between the York and James Rivers. The ``Grand Campaign,'' however, soon belied its creator's Napoleonic pretensions by becoming a three-and-a-half-month nightmare of feints and pitched battles, ultimately engaging up to a combined quarter-million men on both sides and leaving one of every four men dead, wounded, or missing. Using hundreds of eyewitness accounts, Sears demonstrates how the most creative use of military technology (ironclad warships, 200-pounder rifled cannon, battlefield telegraph, and aerial reconnaissance) existed side by side with the most appalling mismanagement (Stonewall Jackson's uncharacteristic lethargy; McClellan's mistaken belief that the numerically inferior rebels possessed a two-to-one manpower advantage; out-of-sync attacks by both Confederate and Union generals). Above all, though, Sears casts the campaign as a clash of wits and wills between McClellan—whom he accuses of losing ``the courage to command''—and Robert E. Lee—who, upon succeeding the wounded Joseph E. Johnson as head of the Army of Northern Virginia, seized the initiative, repulsed the assault in the series of ``Seven Days'' battles, and began his long journey into legend. An authoritative, ironic, and stirring addition to Civil War annals. (Two 16-page b&w photo inserts.) Read full book review >