Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Victor, Not a Butcher

I'm reading Bonekemper's A Victor, Not a Butcher. It's ostensibly an apologist's book about Grant's generalship, but it turns out that it debunks the myth in it's title very effectively.

I like to read books about the Civil War that have an opinionated point of view. Sure, if you are going to study the battle of Gettysburg seriously, you must read Pfanz and Coddington, and the rest of that ilk, books that are at least attempts at describing what went on without injecting the author's opinion, and mostly are great attempts at that. We need to establish what probably happened before we begin speculating.

But look at great books like Carhart's Lost Triumph, or Troy Hartman's Cemetery Hill: The general plan was unchanged, or good opinionated first person accounts like E Porter Alexander's. It's easy to argue with the conclusions drawn in books like these, and that's the joy of it. This battle is so complex that the scholarship continues to evolve even now.

Bonekemper uses the facts, mostly casualty figures, to make some surprising comparisons that show that Grant was not an unskilled squanderer of troops, but instead arguably the most skillful general in the ACW at maneuver warfare (see the Vicksburg campaign).

I'm halfway through, Vicksburg has surrendered to Grant, and this is a very good book. Bonekemper quotes some smart people like Ed Bearss, who said: "The oft told story that Grant was a heedless, conscienceless butcherer devoid of the skills associated with history's great captains is shown by the Vicksburg campaign to be a shallow canard.". Grant won the Vicksburg campaign by defeating his enemy in detail through  aggressive maneuver, abandoning his supply lines, shrewd risk taking, and relentless focus on his objective. All things usually attributed to his nemesis Robert E. Lee. I recommend this book.

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