Monday, December 07, 2009

New in Spring 2010---Strategic Command and Control in the Eastern Theatre

Civil War In The East 1861-1865: A Strategic Assessment, Brooks D. Simpson, Greenwood Publishing Group, December 2009, 200 pages, bibliography, index, $49.95.

For all the literature about Civil War military operations and leadership, precious little has been written about strategy, particularly in what has become known as the eastern theater. Yet it is in this theater where the interaction of geography and logistics, politics and public opinion, battle front and home front, and the conduct of military operations and civil-military relations, can be highlighted in sharp relief. With opposing capitals barely a hundred miles apart and with the Chesapeake Bay/tidewater area offering Union general the same sorts of opportunities sought by Confederate leaders in the Shenandoah Valley, geography shaped military operations in fundamental ways: the very rivers that obstructed Union overland advances offered them the chance to outflank Confederate prepared positions. If the proximity of the enemy capital proved too tempting to pass up, generals on each side were aware that a major mishap could lead to an enemy parade down the streets of their own capital city. Presidents, politicians, and the press peeked over the shoulders of military commanders, some of who were not reluctant to engage in their own intrigues as they promoted their own fortunes.

This work does not rest upon new primary sources or an extensive rummaging through the mountains of material already available. It depends instead upon taking a fresh look at what's already out there, seeing what others may have overlooked, and offering a more integrated interpretation of military operations that shows how politics, public perception, geography, and logistics shaped the course of military operations in the East. For the eastern theater was indeed a theater of decision (and indecision), precisely because people believed that it was: the presence of the capitals raised the stakes of victory and defeat; at a time when people viewed war in terms of decisive battles, the anticipation of victory followed by disappointment and persistent strategic stalemate. At a time when the telling and retelling of the military narrative approaches Norse saga, it's essential to question conventional wisdom, especially when it's no wisdom at all, without giving way to pure contrarianism

Brooks Simpson is Professor of History at Arizona State University and the author of six books on the Civil War, including Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868; America's Civil War; and The Political Education of Henry Adams.

Text and Image Source: Greenwood Publishing

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