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A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861-1865 / Edition 1

A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861-1865 / Edition 1

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by Russell F. Weigley

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ISBN-10: 0253337380

ISBN-13: 9780253337382

Pub. Date: 06/28/2000

Publisher: Indiana University Press

A Great Civil War is a major new interpretation of the events which continue to dominate the American imagination and identity nearly 150 years after the war’s end. In personal as well as historical terms, more even than the war for independence, the Civil War has been the defining experience of American democracy.

A lifelong student of both strategy and


A Great Civil War is a major new interpretation of the events which continue to dominate the American imagination and identity nearly 150 years after the war’s end. In personal as well as historical terms, more even than the war for independence, the Civil War has been the defining experience of American democracy.

A lifelong student of both strategy and tactics, Weigley also brings to his account a deep understanding of the importance of individuals from generals to captains to privates. He can put the reader on the battlefield as well as anyone who has ever written about war. All of the important engagements are covered, and he does it countless times in A Great Civil War. From Fort Sumter to the early clashes in the West and border states to the naval encounters in the East and on through the great and horrible battles whose names resound in American history—Shiloh, Corinth, Bull Run, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Antietam, Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Appomattox. A brilliant narrator of battle action and historical events, Weigley is never content merely to tell a good story. Every student of war will find new insights and interpretations at the strategic and the tactical level. There are firm judgments throughout of the leaders on both sides of the conflict.

A Great Civil War also analyzes the politics of both sides in relationship to battlefield situations. Weigley is unique in his ability to put all of the pieces on the board at once; the reader understands as never before how war and politics (and individuals) interacted to produce the infinitely complex story which is the Civil War.

As with any major work, there are themes and subtexts, explicit and implicit:

Both sides began the war with strategic and tactical concepts based on Napoleon which were already obsolete because of changes in technology—and both sides struggled throughout the war to develop new strategic and tactical procedures.

The Civil War was great not only in the massiveness of the slaughter and destruction. It was, for all its horror, a war about values—democracy and the freeing of the slaves—that was worth the effort.

The South, despite its powerful defense, was ultimately ambivalent about leaving the Union and gave up more easily than might have been expected.

Finally, there is an intimacy, a sense of personal urgency, in Weigley’s grand account. He is connected by blood as well as profession. Jacob Weigley, the author’s great grandfather, visited Gettysburg soon after the battle and wrote about it to his brother Francis, who was serving with the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry; Francis later died in a Confederate prison camp. Then and now the Weigleys live in Pennsylvania, and the war and its lessons remain part of the family’s living memory, as it is also the nation’s.

Product Details

Indiana University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.84(d)

Table of Contents

List of Maps
Note on Style
To the Gettysburg Address
Nineteenth-Century Americans at War
Why Did They Fight?
Chapter One. From Secession to War
The Forts at Charleston
The Anomalous Southern Nation
The South Begins to Mobilize
Fort Sumter: The Crisis Approaches
Fort Sumter: The Bombardment
Militant America
Chapter Two. The Battle Lines Form
Napoleonic War
War in a New Style
Washington Rescued
Contentious Missouri: A Failure for Both Sides
Neutralist Kentucky
Western Virginia: Secession within Secession
Mobilizing the Union
First Bull Run
Chapter Three. Groping for Strategy and Purpose
The Union: War Aims at Military Frustration
The Confederacy: Recruitment, finance, Blockade, and War Production
The Invincible United States Navy
The Trent Affair and a Paper Tiger
The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War
Lincoln and the Purpose of the War
McClellan and the Purpose of the War
Chapter Four. Bloodshed and Indecision
An Unhappy New Year
Mill Springs
A Western Strategy Takes Shape
Pea Ridge: The Great Battle of the Trans-Mississippi
The Far West
Forts Henry and Donelson
Western Drumbeat: New Madrid, Island No. 10, The Locomotive General, Corinth, New Orleans
Conscription in the South
The Potomac Front
Battle of Ironclads
McClellan Launches the Peninsula Campaign
Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign
The Climax on the Peninsula: The Seven Days
Chapter Five. The Confederacy Takes the Initiative
Cedar Mountain and Second Bull Run
Lee’s First Strategic Offensive: The Maryland Campaign
Confederate Riposte in the West: Iuka and Corinth
Confederate Offensive in the West: The Kentucky Campaign
Lee versus McClellan—For the Last Time
Chapter Six. Of Liberty and War
The End of Slavery: The Sea Islands
The End of Slavery: Congressional Action
The End of Slavery: The President
Liberty Imperiled in the Name of Liberty
The End of Slavery: Arming African Americans
Chapter Seven. Armies and Societies
Fredericksburg, the Mississippi River Campaign, and Stones River
Lincoln and the Republican Party
Congress Refashions the Union
The Union Pays for Its War
Dissent in War: The Opposition in the North
Inside the Confederacy
Charleston Harbor and Chancellorsville
Chapter Eight. Three Seasons of Battle
Paying the Toll of War: The Military Draft in the North
The March to Gettysburg
Gettysburg: The Battle
Gettysburg: The Assessment
Vicksburg: Preparations
Vicksburg: Grant’s Great Campaign of Maneuver Warfare
The Trans-Mississippi
Chapter Nine. On the Horizon, the Postwar World
Assuring Freedom
The Burden of Race
From Battlefield to Polling Place (I)
The Beginnings of Reconstruction
The Union: The War, the Economy, and the Society
The Confederacy: Accelerating Breakdown
Chapter Ten. Traditional Politics and Modern War
Lincoln Renominated
The Union Army Retained
The Generalship of U.S. Grant
The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor
The Race to Petersburg
The Siege of Petersburg: The First Phase
C.S.S. Alabama
A Catalog of Union Frustration: Red River, Bermuda Hundred, and Washington
The Politics of Military Deadlock
Chapter Eleven. Suspense and Resolution
Chattanooga to Atlanta
Battling for Atlanta
Mobile Bay
Sheridan’s Valley Campaign
From Battlefield to Polling Place (II)
Chapter Twelve. The Relentless War
Sheridan’s War against the Enemy’s Economy
Sheridan’s War against the Enemy’s Economy and Morale
The Death Throes of the Confederacy
The End of Slavery: The Constitutional Assurance
Chapter Thirteen. The Fires Die
Franklin and Nashville
The Campaign of the Carolinas
The Petersburg Campaign: Summer 1865 - Spring 1865
To Appomattox
Richmond and Reunion
Durham Station
The Terrible Assassination, and the Terrible War
The Sudden Death of the Confederacy

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A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861-1865 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To anyone familiar with the distinguished career and military scholarship of Professor Russell F. Weigley, his long-awaited study of the Americna Civil War must come as a great disappointment. The book lacks the in-depth analysis of strategy, tactics and personality that made the author's, 'Eisenhower's Lieutenants' so impressive, and his, 'The American Way of War,' so important. Here, Weigley has one main thesis: that Civil War generals lacked adequate strategic and operational concepts to effectively organize and fight their armies. He then repeats this argument throughtout the text, using specific battles to illustrate his point. It is a good point, but it does not carry a six hundred page opus. To make matters worse, Weigley's discussion of the battles is sometimes sketchy at best -- for example, he discusses the Battle of Fredericksburg in less than a paragraph on page 194! Yet there is a lenghty discussion of the firing on Fort Sumpter from pages 16 to 23 that adds nothing to his overall thesis. In fact, the text tends to ramble at times, and one wonders if a more effective editor could not have improved it. (Note, also, the omission of an author's page at the beginning of the book to list all of Weigley's other works. This is a glaring and unforunate oversight by the publisher.) Weigley is surprisigly good, however, on the Union goals in the war, particularly on the place of abolition and emancipation in Union strategy. In fact, Weigley is most impressive away from the battlefield, in his discusison of the war aims of the combatants and the societal constraints on the Union and Confederate armies. Not surprisingly, of course, Weigley is excellent and illumminating in his discussion of the Civil War in the context of nineteenth century warfare. Also excellent are the endnotes, maps and annotated bibliography. In sum, 'A Great Civil War,' is a good study of the United States Civil War, but it is not the great book one might have expected it to be. It is original in part and derivitive in part, more an extended personal essay (in a moving aside, Weigley shares his family's personal roots in the Union Army) than a serious scholarly study. While it does not supplant or replace earlier studies such as 'Battle Cry of Freedom,' by James M. McPherson, or 'How the North Won,' by Hattaway and Jones, it does provide an informed and graceful companion to them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A Great Civil War makes a strong case that the Civil War was a necessary tragedy. This gracefully written historical narrative effortlessly spans the range of Civil War scholarship. The focus shifts smoothly from vivid personal details to battlefield tactics, and from campaign strategies (or, all too often, the lack of them) to the intimate connection of warfare, policy, and politics. Amongst his always illuminating battle narratives, the author intersperses short essays on such subjects as the design of ever more lethal weapons, the era¿s formative military myths, and how the demands of full-scale war centralized the nation¿s banking system and greatly enhanced the power of the federal government. This book¿s greatest contribution may be the author¿s willingness to make clear judgments based on balanced discussions of conflicting views. For example, Weigley presents a compelling argument that the Confederacy failed in large part because it could never overcome a basic ambivalence in its purpose: the incompatible goals of continuing slavery and the Southern lifestyle within a Union most Southern leaders believed in and complete severance from that Union. This ambivalence helps explain both why fighting ended so quickly after formal military defeat and why many Civil War issues remain unresolved. A parallel theme Weigley develops is the Northern shift from fighting for Victorian ideals of duty and honor to fighting to advance the moral cause of liberation. With eye-opening clarity, he demonstrates that as popular support for the war and the Republican Party waned, Lincoln and others changed their rhetorical and moral focus from restoration of the Union to the elimination of slavery. Thus, slavery became a moral motive for the North to continue waging war in large part because of political expediency. On a subject he has explored elsewhere, the author notes that each war develops its own momentum that reshapes the political purposes that began it. Thus, the Civil War, for the North, began as an effort to restore the constitutional union of the American Revolution but ended as a revolutionary struggle to uproot slavery and, along with it, the foundations of Southern life. The author implies an ambivalence toward emancipation that in some ways mirrors the South¿s ambivalence toward its cause. He finds in the North¿s eventual dedication to the elimination of slavery little concern for the practical matter of how the liberated slaves and their descendants would participate in America¿s democratic experiment -- a singularly important Civil War legacy. The few flaws are minor: the book has too few maps, and none that sufficiently covers the classic Johnston-Sherman duel from Chattanooga to Atlanta; the maps and text occasionally differ in the spelling of place and road names; the important Richmond and Danville Railroad is unidentified on the second map although listed in the legend; the typo 'throught' escaped spell-checking software and proof-reading; and the index, though useful, omits occurrences of repeated names, locations, and topics. This superb -- and superbly readable -- work is at one level a model of the virtues of the narrative form backed by solid scholarship. At another, subtler level, it is a deeply principled call to re-examine our national myths and bring the lessons we learn to bear on this nation¿s many unresolved social and institutional struggles.