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Saturday, March 26, 2016

“Battles and Leaders of the Civil War”, by Ned Bradford


640 pages, Plume, ISBN-13: 978-0452010048

Nothing like a little truth in advertising, eh? In his seminal work Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Ned Bradford compiled a compendium of battle studies and reports was written by military commanders of all levels: Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and many others besides, right down to lieutenants commanding companies for points of clarification on minor skirmishes or segments of the battlefield. The accounts were set down when the war was still fresh in their memories, yet when enough time had passed for reflection, and the fact that several viewpoints (some conflicting, naturally) are given for each major battle and campaign adds immeasurably to the value of this work. Of course, recent scholarship has eclipsed and corrected many of these accounts (the book was first published in 1956), you get the immediacy and vigor of the post-war controversies and the finger-pointing.

Battles and Leaders was for a long time the principle source for the early critical historians of the war, such as John Codman Ropes, W. Henderson (the pre-eminent biographer of Stonewall Jackson), as well as the generals themselves who wanted to cross-check their accounts. This was the case until well after the release of the Official Records some ten years later. There were inevitable lapses of style and critical ability in the original multi-volume edition; these, for the most part, have been weeded out from this accessible one-volume version. The great part about this book for me is that one can get the flavor of the passions still raging, even though the writers attempted a detached and clinical tone for credibility’s sake. Johnson and Buell made a concerted effort to elicit a well-rounded picture for battles and episodes which were the subject of intense debate. If you have any interest in the Civil War, and lack the time to sift through the voluminous post-war memoirs of the commanders, you'll want to keep Battles and Leaders handy.


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