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 History
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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.

About the Author

Steven E. Woodworth is an assistant professor of history at Texas Christian University. He is a two-time winner of the prestigious Fletcher Pratt Award, for his books Davis and Lee at War and Jefferson Davis and His Generals, both published by Kansas.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series