Civil War Generals in Defeat
Edited by Steven E. Woodworth
Commanders who serve on the losing side of a battle, campaign, or war are often harshly viewed by posterity. Labeled as mere "losers," they go unrecognized for their very real abilities and achievements in other engagements. The writers in this volume challenge such simplistic notions.
By looking more closely at Civil War generals who have borne the stigma of failure, these authors reject the reductionist view that significant defeats were due simply to poor generalship. Analyzing men who might be considered "capable failures"—officers of high pre-war reputation, some with distinguished records in the Civil War—they examine the various reasons these men suffered defeat, whether flaws of character, errors of judgment, lack of preparation, or circumstance beyond their control.
“These well-written essays present a carefully considered review of senior leadership during the Civil War.”
“This collection is refreshing and well written. Readers will not entirely agree with each of the authors' conclusions, but they will find it an insightful and worthwhile study of the losing side of war.”
—Civil War HistorySee all reviews...
“Woodworth’s edition renders a very thorough, engaging, and challenging chronicle to the Civil War literature. Each essay in this volume offers a fresh perspective on an old problem: how to explain the defeats of generals who held such high promise in their nations’ eyes.”
—Florida Historical Quarterly
“This book about Civil War generals that historians have called losers is clearly a winner. The authors persuasively argue that winning or losing a battle should not simplistically be attributed solely to a general's talents or weaknesses. Will stimulate spirited discussion among professional historians and amateurs alike—as only good history can.”
—John F. Marszalek, author of Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order
“A needed corrective to the facile ‘what fools they were’ school of military history, this book examines why some of the most capable commanders of the war failed the ‘test of merit’—battlefield success. Sometimes controversial but unfailingly interesting.”
—Mark Grimsley, author of The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861–1865See fewer reviews...
These seven case studies consider Confederate and Union generals evenhandedly. They show how Albert Sidney Johnston failed in the face of extreme conditions and inadequate support; how Joe Hooker and John C. Pemberton were outmatched in confrontations with Lee and Grant; how George B. McClellan in the Peninsula Campaign and Don Carlos Buell at Chattanooga faced political as well as military complications; and how Joseph E. Johnston failed to adapt to challenges in Virginia. An additional chapter looks at generals from both sides at the Battle of Gettysburg, showing how failure to adjust to circumstances can thwart even the most seasoned leader's expectations.
"There is far more to be learned in trying to understand how and why a general fell short," observes Steven Woodworth, "than there is in multiplying denunciations of his alleged stupidity." Civil War Generals in Defeat successfully addresses that need. It is a provocative book that seeks not to rehabilitate reputations but to enlarge our understanding of the nature and limitations of military command.