A SAVAGE WAR by Williamson Murray
Kirkus Star


A Military History of the Civil War
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A genuinely fresh, persuasive perspective on the Civil War.

Murray (Emeritus, History/Ohio State Univ.; War, Strategy, and Military Effectiveness, 2011, etc.) and Hsieh (History/U.S. Naval Academy; West Pointers and the Civil War, 2009, etc.) see the war as the first to combine the fervent nationalism of the French Revolution and the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution. Vast armies, fighting on a continental scale, had made their appearance near the beginning of the 19th century. But as Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia showed, the infrastructure to support them over those distances was yet to be created. By the time the Union and Confederacy squared off, the railroad, steamship, and telegraph set the table for a new kind of war. The ability of a few leaders—notably, Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman—to grasp the new paradigm led to the Union victory. The authors give the major battles the proper consideration, but this is not a blow-by-blow account; many lesser engagements go unmentioned. The authors argue that the western theater was of more importance than the more famous battles in the east. For one thing, that was where Grant established the reputation that eventually brought him to command. More importantly, it was where the war on the South’s economy took shape, culminating in Sherman’s March to the Sea. The authors pull no punches in their evaluations of the leaders on both sides. Even the much-admired Lee is faulted for his conviction that one decisive battle could end the war. The likes of McClellan and Bragg come off far worse. The authors also make useful analogies to the whole history of war, from ancient Greece to the 21st century, and quotes from the memoirs of Grant, Sherman, and others give the participants’ perspectives, although a few quotes and anecdotes are recycled too often.

A book that will make even readers with a strong knowledge of the war think about how it was fought and why it ended as it did. A winner for Civil War history buffs.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-691-16940-8
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2016


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