America’s Civil War – Brian Holden Reid

Subtitled “The Operational Battlefield 1861-1863”, this book was something of a disappointment.  I was expecting something more in-depth about the movement of armies or units – in military parlance, Operational is the level between Tactics and Strategy.

Instead this is just a high level history of the first two-thirds of the war, and is the center of a proposed three book set.  Not having read his first, and the last being unwritten, this left something to be desired.  As a devotee of the American Civil War, most general texts just don’t have enough meat in them to satisfy.  SInce this book doesn’t even reach the end, so much the worse.

The book does a fine job of detailing the overall campaigns.  I did get a bit weary of the reflexive defense of Lee in particular from ‘critics’ on his aggressiveness and the cost in casualties.  To aid in this he takes the line of trying to counter other ‘critics’ that say that the quest for a decisive battle in this war was mistaken.  This is hard to do, due to the facts that there were no decisive battles in the war in the classic sense.  This reduces to saying that everyone who fought in the war just stunk, and a good general would have done better.

Now if the book had really worked at this and made a good case, I might have enjoyed it more.  As it is, there isn’t enough space for a defense or to make a case, so it plays out as just an assertion without facts to back it up.  It probably would have been better to just leave it all out entirely.

As an overview, I guess I can recommend it, but I would get the first volume on the Origins and read it.  If you are looking for depth, though, you might want to go elsewhere.  Foote’s Civil War is still my recommendation, since it give you both depth and overview in a very readable format.  It is a classic, even at 50+ years.

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