Late next month ABC-Clio will publish The Civil War in the East: Struggle, Stalemate, and Victory. It’s a concise treatment of the Eastern Theater; it examines how both sides sought decisive victory, only to be thwarted a number of times, until Ulysses S. Grant took over in 1864 and effectively nullified Robert E. Lee’s ability to counter Union triumphs in the West at tremendous cost. The text explores the interplay of politics, public opinion, and operational planning and outcomes, suggesting ways in which we might want to look at these issues in the future.
Is the book a “definitive” treatment? No. It is a suggestive discussion. For example, I’m not sure how people who hold strong views on George B. McClellan will feel about a book that treats Little Mac with understanding but not love. Nor do I know how people who hold in high esteem Abraham Lincoln’s abilities as a commander-in-chief will say about my view of the sixteenth president’s handling of various matters. And, finally, as the book emphasizes stalemate and indecisiveness, I wonder how people who embrace battle-centered narratives of this conflict, especially Gettysburg, will react to what I have to say about the impact of all those dramatic battles in 1862 and 1863.
Those people who have been following this book carefully know that I decided to take my time revising an initial manuscript as I encountered other books on Civil War strategy, including volumes by Donald Stoker, Brian Holden Reid, and John Keegan. Of these three authors, only Holden Reid really engaged my thinking; Keegan was so filled with flaws that it was hard to gain much from it, while Stoker’s book appeared after I had set forth my argument and it did nothing to change it. Those people who will like the work most, I suspect, will be fans of the scholarship of the late Joseph Harsh and Ethan Rafuse (Ethan and I clearly hold similar views on a number of themes). Ethan read over the manuscript and was of great help in that regard.
The book has undergone some transformations during this process, as you can see from earlier renderings of the cover and title. I encountered so many definitions of “strategy” in recent literature that I decided to deprive reviewers of an opportunity to pick away at the subtitle as a way to avoid engaging the arguments present in the book. The year span faded away (thankfully), and my middle initial has now materialized. I wish to point out that I did not select the cover art, which features Major General Grant looking rather spiffy in a rather colorful uniform (a map of Gettysburg appears behind the title). Sometimes I have been very involved in these discussions, but not this time.
One word of warning: if you are looking for detailed play-by-play descriptions of battles, you won’t find them here. That’s in large part because you can find them elsewhere. I decided to try to pack in a lot of ideas that would serve to spur further discussion. We have a lot of books out there on various battles, but I don’t think we have spent enough time thinking and rethinking about various matters, and in our determination to find out exactly what happened at a specific point in time on a specific battlefield, we have cast aside looking at large, more fundamental issues. I’m hoping this volume is a small step in that direction. I don’t expect everyone to agree with it, but I’ll be interested to see the type of engagement with it.