The American Civil War: A Military History

The American Civil War: A Military History

by John Keegan


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307274939
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/07/2010
Series: Vintage Civil War Library Series
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 323,471
Product dimensions: 7.22(w) x 11.70(h) x 0.87(d)

About the Author

John Keegan was for many years senior lecturer in military history at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and has been a fellow at Princeton University and a visiting professor of history at Vassar College. He is the author of twenty books, including the acclaimed The Face of Battle and The Second World War. He lived in Wiltshire, England until his death in 2012.

Read an Excerpt

North and South Divide

AMERICA IS DIFFERENT. Today, when American "exceptionalism," as it is called, has become the subject of academic study, the United States, except in wealth and military power, is less exceptional than it was in the years when it was to be reached only by sailing ship across the Atlantic. Then, before American culture had been universalised by Hollywood, the technology of television, and the international music industry, America really was a different place and society from the Old World, which had given it birth. Europeans who made the voyage noted differences of every sort, not only political and economic, but human and social as well. Americans were bigger than Europeans—even their slaves were bigger than their African forebears—thanks to the superabundance of food that American farms produced. American parents allowed their children a freedom not known in Europe; they shrank from punishing their sons and daughters in the ways European fathers and mothers did. Ulysses S. Grant, the future general in chief of the Union armies and president of the United States, recalled in his memoirs that there was "never any scolding or punishment by my parents, no objection to rational enjoyments such as fishing, going to the creek a mile away to swim in summer, taking a horse and visiting my grandparents in the adjoining county, fifteen miles off, skating on the ice in winter, taking a horse and sleigh when there was snow on the ground." It was a description of childhood as experienced in most prosperous country-dwelling families of the period. The Grants were modestly well-to-do, Jesse Grant, the future president's father, having a tanning business and also working an extensive property of arable land and forest. But then most established American families, and the Grants had come to the New World in 1630, were prosperous. It was prosperity that underlay their easy way with their offspring, since they were not obliged to please neighbours by constraining their children. The children of the prosperous were nevertheless well-behaved because they were schooled and churchgoing. The two went together, though not in lockstep. Lincoln was a notably indulgent father though he was not a doctrinal Christian. Churchgoing America, overwhelmingly Protestant before 1850, needed to read the Bible, and north of the Mason-Dixon line, which informally divided North from South, four-fifths of Americans could read and write. Almost all American children in the North, and effectively all in New England, went to school, a far higher proportion than in Europe, where literacy even in Britain, France, and Germany lay around two-thirds. America was also becoming college-going, with the seats of higher education, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, the College of William and Mary, established and flourishing. America could afford to fund and run colleges because it was already visibly richer than Europe, rich agriculturally, though it was not yet a food-exporting economy, and increasingly rich industrially. It was a newspaper country with a vast newspaper-reading public and a large number of local and some widely distributed city newspapers. Its medical profession was large and skilful, and the inventiveness and mechanical aptitude of its population was remarked upon by all visitors. So too was the vibrant and passionate nature of its politics. America was already a country of ideas and movements, highly conscious of its birth in freedom and its legacy of revolution; anti-imperialism had been its founding principle. During the decades before the Civil War, America was experiencing an industrial boom and its own distinctive industrial revolution. England's industrial revolution had taken its impetus from the development of steam power, fuelled by the island's abundant deposits of coal and directed to the exploitation of its large deposits of metal ores. Early-nineteenth-century America was also beginning to dig coal and iron ore, of which its soil contained enormous quantities, but at the outset it was two other sources of power which drove its proliferating factories and workshops: waterpower and wood. The rivers of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania were harnessed to turn waterwheels and its extensive forests to supply timber for burning. In Europe the days were long gone when forests could be cut down to supply heat. The Continent, outside Scandinavia and the Russian interior, was highly deforested. In America, trees were still an encumbrance which had to be felled to provide land for farming, but which also, when sawn, provided the raw material for every sort of building and manufactured item. America needed deforestation if its soils were to be farmed in the future, and in that process industrialisation and land clearing went hand in hand. During the 1830s and later, New York City consumed several million loads of wood every year, cut and stripped from Maine and New Jersey. It was only gradually that mines were dug and extended, originally by immigrants from the English coalfields and Welsh valleys, but by 1860 production in the Pennsylvanian anthracite fields had increased fortyfold in thirty years. By that date a distinctive economic geography of the United States could be discerned, with expanding industrial regions centred on New York and Philadelphia, exploited coalfields in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Allegheny region of the Appalachians, a developing industrial region around Pittsburgh, and a thriving textile and engineering zone in southern New England. In the North the proportion of farmworkers in the labour force had fallen below 40 percent, while it remained above 80 percent in the South. An economic map would show that there was no industrial centre south of a line drawn from St. Louis to Louisville to Baltimore; in the South nine-tenths of the population lived in the countryside, but in the North only a quarter. Timber also provided the steam power for paddleboats, which by 1850 were to be seen on every navigable waterway, and the railway locomotives, which were becoming familiar on the tracks which were stretching out to link all the more important cities to one another and to the seaboard ports. By 1850 there were 9,000 miles of track in the United States; by 1860, 30,000. Rivers and then canals had been the means of transportation and distribution in the early stages of the boom. Canal boats and river steamers were rapidly overtaken in importance by the railroad. By 1850, America had surpassed Britain, home of the railroad revolution, in miles of operating track; indeed, American track mileage exceeded that of the rest of the world put together.

The United States was still an industrial client of Europe, particularly Britain, from which most manufactured goods came, but that was due to Britain's head start in the industrial revolution. By the end of the century this would no longer be the case. In the meantime, America was ceasing to be a predominately rural country and becoming an urban one. At the outbreak of the Civil War, America had more country-dwellers than town-dwellers, many more in the South, but the trend was for town-dwellers to outnumber country-dwellers. Cities were being founded at a breakneck rate and growing at exponential speed. The old cities of colonial settlement, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, retained their importance, but new cities were appearing and expanding, particularly beyond the Appalachian chain and even beyond the Mississippi; for a time Cincinnati promised to be the most important of the new metropolises, but it was rapidly overtaken by Chicago, which grew from a population of 5,000 in 1840 to 109,000 in 1860. It might be said that Chicago was only keeping pace with the United States itself, whose population increased from 5,306,000 in 1800 to 23,192,000 in 1850. Part of the increase came from migration, though the decades of mass immigration lay in the future; most of it was the result of a high birthrate. The astonishing productivity of the United States furnished work for all who chose to stay in the towns, while the abundant availability of land for settlement in the new states beyond the Appalachians and the Mississippi attracted would-be farmers, or employed farmers seeking better land, in large numbers. In whichever direction a visitor to the United States looked, the country was growing.

It was not that America was giving up the land. On the contrary: in the twenty years before 1860 enormous areas of the subcontinent were put under the plough; but the work was done by internal migrants who abandoned their homes on the thin, worked-out soils of New England, Virginia, and the Carolinas to trek westward into the new land in and beyond the Mississippi and Missouri valleys. Federal land policy encouraged the migrants. In 1800 public land was sold at $2 an acre, with a quarter to be paid down and four years to pay off the residue. By 1820 the price had gone down to $1.25 an acre. Land was sold in subdivisions of a section of 640 acres. By 1832 the government accepted bids for a quarter of a quarter section, 40 acres. In 1862 Congress passed the Homestead Act, which allowed a settler free possession of 160 acres if farmed for five years. The legislation effectively transferred eighty million acres of public land into private hands, and accommodated half a million people. American land policy was the making of such states as Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the Middle West proper. As settlement moved on to the more distant lands of the prairies in Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, the first comers got the best of the deal. The prairies were settled during an uncharacteristic era of moist climate, which conferred bountiful crops on the hardworking. By the twentieth century, desiccation had set in and many farms joined the dust bowl.

Settlement was not exclusively by free men. Cotton profits pulled plantation owners westward into new lands during the period 1830–50, particularly onto the dark, rich soils of the "black belt" of Alabama and Mississippi, but even as far away as the river lands of Texas. It is calculated that 800,000 slaves were moved, by their owners, from the Atlantic coast farther inland between 1800 and 1860.

America was growing not only in population but also in wealth. Not yet an exporting country, except of cotton, its enormous internal market consumed all that could be produced. The whole of America was industrialising in the 1850s, particularly those parts settled since the eighteenth century: New England, Pennsylvania, New York, and some of Virginia. The industrialisation had its centre in Connecticut, which had both excellent river and canal connections with other parts of the region, and plentiful waterpower to drive factory machinery. Even as a pre-industrial economy, America wanted and bought the output of New England's workshops and factories, which worked by methods that would be copied all over the world. It was in Connecticut that what came to be called "the American system of manufacture" first established itself. The American system also became known as the "system of interchangeable parts," which is exactly descriptive. A well-educated and well-trained workforce learnt to make parts in metal or wood to such narrow tolerances that one manufactured item could be assembled from a random selection of parts. The American army's rifle, the Springfield, was such a product. It so impressed British visitors to the Springfield armoury that the British government bought the appropriate machinery to equip its armoury at Enfield for the Crimean War. When in 1861 the American government was gripped by demand for large quantities of rifles, the Enfield armoury supplied much of the need. Because the Springfield and Enfield products were manufactured in almost the same calibre, the Enfield being slightly larger, American cartridges fitted both quite satisfactorily, so well in fact that Union soldiers did not differentiate between Springfields and Enfields. Many good republicans thus went into battle with a weapon which bore the letters VR under a crown on the plate of the lock. The "system of interchangeable parts" also enabled the manufacture and assembly of clocks, watches, household and agricultural machinery, and the increasing number of labour-saving devices which American inventiveness brought to the world. America was chronically short of labour, both in town and country, so that any device that could multiply the work of a pair of hands was rapidly adopted. The sewing machine, which allowed housewives to dress themselves and their families at home or the local dressmaker to set up as a businesswoman, was widely adopted across America as soon as it was perfected. American farmers meanwhile were buying reaping machines, binders, and seed drills which could perform the tasks for which labour was lacking. The most significant element of mechanisation antedated the nineteenth century. It was the invention by Eli Whitney in 1793 of the cotton gin, a machine that separated the cotton fibre from the seed on which it grew, the boll. The gin revolutionised cotton production. A process which required a slave's hard labour for an hour to produce a pound of cotton could be completed by the machine in a few minutes. Little was turned into manufactured goods in the South, which, having sent raw cotton north to be spun, then had to buy it back as woven cloth or finished apparel.

The South's dependence on the industrial resources of the North underlay a visible social split. The South remained, as the North had been in the eighteenth century, agrarian and rural, with most Southerners living on the land and working as subsistence farmers, raising corn, hogs, and root crops, most of which they consumed themselves or sold locally, while the Northerners began during the nineteenth century to migrate from the land to towns in which they found wage-paying work. The readiness during the war of the two sides to fraternise at times of truce, formal and informal, and the willingness of both to be taken prisoner dispose of the idea that North and South were markedly different societies; despite the war, Americans remained American. Accent apart, and many Northerners complained they could hardly understand the way Southerners spoke, the soldiers of the two sides resembled each other much more than they differed. Both, in overwhelming majority, were country boys, in their twenties, farmers' sons who had left their land to join the army. Nevertheless, North and South were different, and the differences showed in the character of the armies.

Southerners were almost without exception small-town boys, or the sons of small farmers. Only a minority were slave owners. Of the South's white population of five million, only 48,000 were identified as planters, that is, men owning more than twenty slaves. Only 3,000 owned more than a hundred slaves, only 11 more than five hundred, truly staggering wealth in times when a fit, young field hand cost a thousand dollars. The white-pillared mansion, surrounded by shade trees and at a distance from the cabins of the field hands, existed, but more substantially in the imagination of outsiders than in reality. Of the four million slaves in the South, half belonged to men who owned fewer than twenty. Most owned only one or two and used them to work subsistence farms on which they raised corn—maize, to Europeans—and pigs. Most Southerners were hand-to-mouth farmers who owned no slaves at all.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

List of Maps vii

Introduction xi

1 North and South Divide 3

2 Will There Be a War? 24

3 Improvised Armies 38

4 Running the War 58

5 The Military Geography of the Civil War 67

6 The Life of the Soldier 74

7 Plans 82

8 McClellan Takes Command 113

9 The War in Middle America 153

10 Lee's War in the East, Grant's War in the West 163

11 Chancellorsville and Gettysburg 179

12 Vicksburg 204

13 Cutting the Chattanooga-Atlanta Link 221

14 The Overland Campaign and the Fall of Richmond 237

15 Breaking into the South 259

16 The Battle off Cherbourg and the Civil War at Sea 280

17 Black Soldiers 289

18 The Home Fronts 302

19 Walt Whitman and Wounds 313

20 Civil War Generalship 321

21 Civil War Battle 333

22 Could the South Have Survived? 344

23 The End of the War 348

Notes 367

Bibliography 371

Acknowledgements 375

Index 377

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The American Civil War: A Military History 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
Jobob More than 1 year ago
I'm a big fan of John Keegan but must say this is not his best work. It almost reads in places as though different graduate students were doing his research and then he didn't edit out the duplications. In chapter after chapter the same comments will be made about the various historic personages and events. The positive side of this book is getting a Civil War history from Keegan's perspective -- both a respected military historian, and one from outside the US who can spot parallels to non-American events (for example the Crimean War) which rarely appear in American authored histories. Interestingly, and perhaps controversially, Keegan essentially boils things down to no decisive battles and much less good generalship than a typical Shelby Foote or Freeman book when describe. He sees Lee as a good Grand Tactician who could not push the strategic towards an attempt at victory, and Grant as the best of the bunch (not many arguments there). If you have the time, the book is worth a read. But I wouldn't drop everything to pick this one up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the writing in this book to be somewhat below the standard of Mr. Keegan's other works. There were several repetitive passages which gave me the impression that it may have been patched together from other essays or talks which he may have given. However, Mr. Keegan's insights to the mood of the country at this time in history, and his respect for the hardships experienced by the citizens and armies of both sides gives this book a different slant from the usual Civil War book. For those interested in the Civil War, I think it worth reading.
Cellulloid_Fiend More than 1 year ago
I am a devotee of Keegan, and remain so after reading his Civil War opus, but this book is not good, I might even say it's bad. I am supremely disappointed, as are many other readers I see. The book is difficult to get through, the facts difficult to absorb. It reads like one long run-on sentence, or at best one long paragraph without line breaks. He took on too much. He decided to cover the entire political, economic and military factors of the Civil War, which would really have required at least two volumes -if not three or four- to be done properly. He made no such mistake with his World War II (a MUST buy for fans of Keegan), which hit a few salient points on politics and economy but focused on the military aspect and was a great success. The Civil War, on the other hand, is a tangled mess from beginning to end. Consider that there are some who would argue, with good reason, that the Civil War is a more complex and abstract conflict for the historian even than WWII. I would agree. Nonetheless Keegan tried to take it on in one shot, and failed. Perhaps I should give points for trying, but I'm still aching from the $35.00 paid for this book! Ouch. He starts too early time-wise, and the opening fifty pages drag on interminably. He jumps around chronologically, something which can be necessary in the study of parallel events in history, but with a abstruseness that surprises me, and may in fact just be poor judgment or research. The chapters are flat out hard to read and his writing is run-on and almost frantic in places, and yet somehow manages to move through the history with truly glacial speed. Identical word pairings and turns of phrase are to be found at times on the same page or within 1-2 pages of each other, evidence of poor editing. There are in places entire points which are completely re-outlined or explained in a later chapter as if they had never been brought up before, rather than mentioned in brief in order to refresh the reader's memory. More points taken off for editing, or lack thereof. I have to say I felt as if this were hashed together in far too short a time, and edited by the barest of guidelines. Perhaps the publisher was pressing Mr Keegan to get this book done in time for the 2009 xmas market, a none too unlikely possibility. Overall this book is a failure in my judgment. The Civil War is not only a tricky history lesson but also an extremely popular one; the necessity to write brilliantly and, perhaps more importantly, choose expertly what to leave out, is crucial in order to compete with the entire shelves worth of Civil War books at Barnes and Noble and other stores. If this were a senior thesis, and not the work of perhaps THE master of modern military history writing, I would still give it a C- at best. For now, stick with Catton or Foote for your Civil War reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a well written and researched book, but adds nothing to the vast writings about the civil war. There is nothing new or provocative here, and for most readers there are far better reads about this very well trod piece of our history.It doesn't compare to McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom", a much better read all around!
timspalding on LibraryThing 2 days ago
I loved this book for the same reasons some others hated it. It's not a narrative history of the war, but a work of analytical history. Events are often described and there's a very rough chronological motion, but most chapters are thematic and Keegan's interests are broader¿and, to this reviewer, more interesting¿than a straightforward "who did what, when?" The result lacks the novelistic qualities some seek, but it also answers questions narrative histories may not address, or realize are even important. Why was it so bloody? What was Civil War battle really like? Did the South have a chance? How did the enlistment of black soldiers affect the war effort? Who were the best¿and worse¿commanders? Etc. Also appreciated was its non-American take on the effort. Although I suspect Americans will buy more copies, Keegan writes with an ostensibly British audience, and takes care to put the Civil War in its global context. It turns out, of course, the war as "exceptional" in various way. But it's demonstrated, not assumed.If you read one book about the Civil War, don't make it this one. The book practically presumes you've read another. But this would make a nice number two or three.
cyderry on LibraryThing 2 days ago
In the past 18 months I have ready numerous books on the Civil War - mainly non-military - so I picked up this book to fill in all those blanks that were still empty. A few facts I hadn't gathered from other books were:1. recent developments of the time in food preservation, especially canning led to the Union soldiers being best fed military force on record up to that point in time.2. Southern strategy was to deny access to union invaders. This was a major difficulty with such a large perimeter to defend.3. At Antietam, McClellan did not use all the forces at his disposal. He also lacked the killer instinct and refused to augment hatreds by confiscating property, living off the land, or freeing slaves.4. inadequacy of the southern railroads with their non-strategic routes hampered the Union efforts after their invasion5. The battle at Gettysburg is believed by many to be the turning point of the war. What is not surprising is that "both sides at Gettysburg were animated by belief in the justice of their cause and fought with greater determination because of that."6. 10,000 battles took place during the ACW between 1861 and 1865 = 7 per day on average.7. It is much easier to understand battles with great maps to illustrate - this book had them.History also seems to conclude that with more talented leaders on the Union side the war would have progressed differently - ending sooner and with fewer casualties. It is also perceived "indecisiveness of battles is one of the great mysteries of the war." However, the most interesting point made in this book, for me, is the identification of the South's greatest ally and the North's greatest opponent -" the geography of the war". "The obstacles which most hampered the North's armies in their pursuit of victory were terrain and landscape, the enormous distances to be traversed, the multiplicity of waterways to be crossed, the impenetrability of forests, the contour of mountain ranges."Lastly, I surprised to read that Karl Marx studied the American War and yet as much as he urged and suggested that the ACW would lead to socialism the author concludes that "American socialism was stillborn on the battlefields of Shiloh and Gettysburg."
jcbrunner on LibraryThing 6 days ago
John Keegan authored wonderful books. For at least a decade now, the quality of his books has been slipping. The motivation to write the books has been more commercial than getting a message across. This book reads like the publishers pestered the author until he took pen in hand and wrote something for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. While the most egregious errors which plagued the hardback edition have been cleaned up for the paperback, the target audience of the book remains unclear. It reads like a student report, summarizing the readings for a professor who is well aware of the facts. Somebody totally ignorant about the American Civil War will not understand Keegan's approach as the narrative is confined between two parts of analytical summaries.A further quirk is Keegan's approach of trying to explain the Civil War with references to the Second World War (who is the Civil War's Patton etc.) with a weird back and forth switch between English and American protagonists (Thus, it would have been more helpful and pertinent to compare Lincoln and FDR instead of Churchill who faced a very different task.). Grant and Jackson are the two who Keegan finds the most inspiring. He does not tend to be particularly fond of Robert E. Lee but rather prone to Virginia (snubbing in particular North Carolina - falsely claiming that it was only invaded in 1864 - poor Burnside! - and not mentioning the contribution of North Carolina to Pickett's charge at Gettysburg).While the book is not totally bad and is quite readable for Civil War buffs, it is not recommended for beginners. Booksellers who currently promote this book do their customers a disservice. McPherson, Foote or Catton remain better introductions.
rivkat on LibraryThing 6 days ago
I love Keegan¿s books, but Homer nodded. This book lacks solid organization and numerous times repeats the same facts, sometimes mere pages apart. Keegan does manage to convey the geographic facts of the war¿it was so different in part because a lot of the time the combatants had no good idea of the territory they were fighting over. He also spends time on the unexpected brutality of the war, how it was a switch from the European practice of decisive battles and a foretaste of WWI in which victory went to the side that could take the most punishment over time, and how soldiers invented and reinvented entrenchment, which protected them in the short term but extended the horror of war in the long term. Sadly, I can¿t recommend it.
wildbill on LibraryThing 6 days ago
The American Civil War: A Military History by John Keegan.One word, Disappointed!!This book did not get very good reviews and I should have paid attention to them and passed on it. John Keegan did not live up to his reputation as an excellent military historian with his work here. I felt that with the materials available to me in my modest library and the local university library I could have written as good a book on the topic as this one.There were too many mistakes in the book. The mistakes were in the details such as the age of Winfield Scott when the war started, he was 75 not 85. I did not keep a list but errors like this appeared throughout the book. If you have any knowledge of the topic these mistakes are very irritating and damaging to the credibility of the author. The battle narratives were cursory and left out many facts I had read elsewhere that I felt should have been included. The one thing I did like was the author's frequent use of Grant's memoirs as one of his sources. I have always felt this was an excellent book that contained a wealth of unbiased information.The analysis was very thin. Keegan concludes that the South could not have won the war because of its lack of resources. This is not a new idea. He also concludes that socialism never developed in the United States because of the experiences of the men who fought the war. I don't see this as a significant issue and I would disagree with the author. The author analogizes the effect of the Civil War and WWI on the participants and attributes some characteristics of the Gilded Age to the violence experienced by the soldiers of the Civil War.These insights are not sufficient to justify the time, trouble of reading the book not to mention the cost. I simply cannot recommend this book. If you want to read a one volume history of the era try Battle Cry of Freedom. It is well written and much more informative.
cgodsil on LibraryThing 6 days ago
I did not find this up to the standard of Keegan's earlier books. The prose tends to awkwardness.The book reads more like an analysis of the war than a history, there is no sense of movement.The comments about non-military matters lack conviction, for example, the suggestionthe the Civil War was was responsible for the weakness of U.S. socialism. Or the effecton southern women!It seems very strange for a military historian to castigate Marx for his "grisly fascination"with war.
port22 on LibraryThing 6 days ago
A book about the Civil War is rarely the first to introduce its reader into that subject. John Keegan is well know British military historian, research into the nature of battle makes his "The American Civil War" a valuable contribution to the body of work written on that topic.What I found new and interesting is his analysis of the conditions in the North and the South before the hostilities begin. From a population of 5 million, 48 thousand owned more than 20 slaves, 3000 thousand owned more than 100 and only 11 owned more than 500. Slave ownership was glamorized and an aspiration for the mass of poor farmers, this was their motivation to enlist and fight to protect that institution, a "rich man's war, but poor man's fight". There were areas in the South where slaves outnumbered the white population, slavery was the institution that guaranteed social control. 20% of the white population of the South was illiterate, 95% literate in New England. The South carried through the blockade as an underdeveloped society that survived on the margins. In the war of attrition the South was doomed after 1862.In the beginning of the war both governments believed that one single great battle will deliver the victory. This perception originated in the Napoleonic wars in Europe. Both sides were aiming at an American Austerlitz. A decisive victory proved to be elusive. Even spectacular victories didn't destroy the enemy. The geography of the South, with no single industrial center, meant no single target could end the war.The enormous casualties are one supreme mystery of the Civil War. Why were soldiers not unnerved by the massive deaths of their comrades -- a reaction of extreme fear known in other 18 century armies panique-terreur. One explanation is that probably soldiers had no fear to surrender to their English speaking inhabitants of the other side.The Civil War remains the only large-scale war fought between the citizens of the same democratic state. It was the most important ideological war in history.
RGKronschnabel on LibraryThing 6 days ago
Very insightful. From the point of view of a European Military Historian. Covers everthing from Sherman's hieght to Whitman's Poetry to how the Civil War prevented American from turning Socialist.
Illiniguy71 on LibraryThing 6 days ago
This book has some important insights and sagacious characterizations, but the factual errors make it unreliable. The introduction and first two chapters are especially error-filled. For all his talk of the importance of geography for understanding the war, he makes many geographical errors--at one point apparently confusing the Tennessee River with the Ohio. Then there is the repetition, the self-contradiction and the opaque writing. The book reads as if Knopf simply printed the manuscript as received from the author without bothering to edit it for factual accuracy or for readability.The author is an Englishmen. One would expect his factual knowledge of America to be limited. Shame on his publisher for not doing a proper job of editing!
GeoKaras on LibraryThing 6 days ago
Though interesting, the general reader should not rely on this book for an understanding of the war. There are numerous factual errors, and some downright strange interpretations. For example, I have never read any other author who regards Sickles' deployment of the IIIrd Corps forward of Cemetery Ridge as any thing but a tactical blunder. Keegan refers to it as "creative disobedience" which delayed Longstreet's attack on the Union left. This overlooks the fact that the left of the Union line would have been much stronger if Sickles had done as he was told and been on the ridge, rather than being in disorderly retreat as a result of deploying in a salient, where he faced Longstreet unsupported. Similar odd comments abound.
glauver More than 1 year ago
John Keegan set himself a monumental task in this, his last book, published in 2009 when he was 75 years old. I just didn't find the new insights that one expects from Keegan at his best. Perhaps he should have written a series of essays on the leaders; Lincoln and Davis, Grant and Lee, Sherman and Joe Johnston. He might also have tried examining a few key campaigns such as Forts Henry and Donaldson, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Atlanta. Another problem with the book is that Keegan repeated himself, sometimes in the space of only a page or two. I noticed that, as the book went on, his writing seemed to deteriorate. An alert editor should have either corrected the repetitions or confronted him with those lapses. I suspect age and/or health issues were affecting his work. I give The American Civil War only two stars.
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