Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review “Civil War Command and Strategy” Archer Jones

In “Civil War Command and Strategy” Archer Jones does an excellent job of painting the “big picture” of strategy in the Civil War. Jones examines the command systems and leadership of both armies and describes the various strategies that leaders used on both sides to attempt success.

There is much interesting discussion about concentration in space, and concentration in time. The author provides solid examples of how each side used these types of strategies while adjusting and evolving as the war progressed. The South for example leaned toward concentrations in space early in the war as Davis assembled large numbers in an attempt to secure his entire front. Lincoln, on the other hand seemed to lean towards concentrations in time attempting to coordinate much more difficult simultaneous advances of his inactive generals. While difficult to achieve, these concentrations in time eventually favored the larger army of the North. The Civil War was evolutionary in these concepts because of the modern technology that the commanders had available to execute these movements such as the steamboat, the telegraph, and especially the railroad.  Civil War commanders, in their use of these types of logistics, eventually revolutionized warfare, but they dragged traditional warfare into this evolutionary process. 

Traditional Napoleonic turning movements were at the heart of military doctrine during the Civil War. Jones provides excellent diagrams and examples that help one to easily visualize the intent and evolution of these movements. It is especially interesting to see his examples of the use of the movements through much of our history, even to the Gulf War, making the point that although warfare has certainly evolved considerably since the days of Napoleon, some good ideas are never out of date.

The use of raids, normally tied to Mosby and others from both sides, is an interesting and important portion of the author’s work. Defining key major actions of the war, such as Lee’s movement towards Antietam and Gettysburg as “raids”, really puts this key component of strategy in perspective. While on a grand scale--these were simply raids into enemy territory. The Confederacy was the first to use raids, but both sides perfected this strategy as Sherman’s march to the sea capped the war off.

During the Civil War, both sides eventually had effective command structures, although there was much growing pain such as the “kaleidoscopic” changes in command, never overcome in the Confederate Western Department, and eventually overcome in the Federal Eastern Department. Still, according to the author the ultimate overall field commanders, Lee and Grant “worked in great harmony” with their Presidents. Davis had the advantage here however because he found his General early on, while Lincoln’s quest took some time. In the end though, Lincoln’s General with his tenacity and ample resources would balance and ultimately outweigh the others on the playing field.