Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Civil War: Some Random Observations from Quarantine

 

With more time on my hands, I’ve taken the time to re-introduce myself to the American Civil War in both fiction and non-fiction. Not the happiest subject, I admit, but one that, at least for me, is endlessly fascinating and reminds me that things could be far worse.

On the non-fiction side, I’m halfway through the first volume of Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the war. Yes, he was a man of the south (Mississippi), and the southern view of the war permeates his history. But his history falls far short of southern hagiography, and he writes like a dream. You’ve got to love studying the war to read these books, but they reward the reader’s diligence. Next up, I’m going to re-read Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, which I consider the best book on the subject.

From the fictional side of things, I’m re-reading the best piece of Civil War fiction: The Black Flower, Howard Bahr’s harrowing story of the Battle of Franklin, told through the eyes of an ordinary Confederate infantry soldier. I’ve never read anything, including Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, that communicates the horror of a direct charge across open terrain into the face of an entrenched enemy. As with Foote, the writing is superb.

Finally, I’ve been doing some reading about General George H. Thomas, a Union general who never lost a battle. Unlike Sherman and Grant, he never lived to write his memoirs, and being a fundamentally modest man, he probably never would. He is thus less well known and his role was greatly diminished by both Sherman and Grant. Yet here was a general loved by his troops, cautious in their use, and who saved the Union army at the Battle of Chickamauga (being known thereafter as the Rock of Chickamauga). As the rest of the Union army fled in panicked retreat, he held firm and fought the Confederates to a stand-still. He also executed perhaps the most brilliant battle plan in the entire Civil War at the Battle of Nashville, where, with minimal casualties, he effectively destroyed an entire Confederate army.

With live in a troubled time, but not the worst of times, and it’s good to be reminded of that.

Any other suggestions for my Civil War reading?

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thomas is an interesting case. Sherman selected the troops for the March to the Sea. He sent the others back to be commanded by Thomas. This included cavalry units who were essentially stripped of horses. As Hood drew closer to Nashville, Thomas got the forces under his control into the best condition he could. Grant was impatient for Thomas to attack. A sudden ice storm delayed Thomas, and Grant dispatched another general to take command.

    The replacement never got there. Thomas finally moved, and annihilated the Army of Tennessee. He really was the Union’s great unsung hero.

    • #1
    • April 4, 2020, at 5:28 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  2. Locke On Member

    Dig out some old Bruce Catton works. A Northern stylist to match Foote, though I also admire the latter.

    • #2
    • April 4, 2020, at 5:36 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Thomas is an interesting case. Sherman selected the troops for the March to the Sea. He sent the others back to be commanded by Thomas. This included cavalry units who were essentially stripped of horses. As Hood drew closer to Nashville, Thomas got the forces under his control into the best condition he could. Grant was impatient for Thomas to attack. A sudden ice storm delayed Thomas, and Grant dispatched another general to take command.

    The replacement never got there. Thomas finally moved, and annihilated the Army of Tennessee. He really was the Union’s great unsung hero.

    As I understand it, a War Department officer saw the telegram relieving Thomas of command and didn’t send it. After the victory, the officer told Stanton what he’d done and suggested that he should probably be court-martialed. Stanton told him that they’d need to court martial him as well.

    One of the best failures to follow an order in history.

     

    • #3
    • April 4, 2020, at 6:13 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  4. philo Member

    I try to read at least one Grant/Civil War book a year. I am currently reading Campaigning with Grant by General Horace Porter (1897). It is a nice contrast to the last one I read: Three Years with Grant by Sylvanus Cadwallader, a journalist. The latter was not published until 1955 but I believe he wrote most of it in the early 1890s. (I like old books and thoroughly enjoyed several Catton volumes as recommended above.) Both are good but the latter devolved (at points) into too much of a self-as-hero narrative…some of it too much to be believed.

    • #4
    • April 4, 2020, at 6:58 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. Michael Minnott Member
    Michael Minnott Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I definitely need to read more about General Thomas.

    • #5
    • April 4, 2020, at 10:30 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. Vince Guerra Member

    Locke On (View Comment):

    Dig out some old Bruce Catton works. A Northern stylist to match Foote, though I also admire the latter.

    I second the Bruce Catton recommendation. If you have Shelby Foote, and Catton’s trilogy The Centennial History of the Civil War, you pretty much have everything you need. 

    Other books I love: April 1865, Company Aytche, The Killer Angels, A Stillness at Appomattox. 

    You might be interested in a series I’ve been running on my website. I’m using YouTube video links to create an eight week course on American history with an emphasis on military history. Week two was dedicated to the Civil War.

    http://vinceguerra.com/2020/03/25/home-history-lessons-week-2-the-american-civil-war/

    • #6
    • April 4, 2020, at 11:15 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Vince Guerra (View Comment):

    Locke On (View Comment):

    Dig out some old Bruce Catton works. A Northern stylist to match Foote, though I also admire the latter.

    I second the Bruce Catton recommendation. If you have Shelby Foote, and Catton’s trilogy The Centennial History of the Civil War, you pretty much have everything you need.

    Other books I love: April 1865, Company Aytche, The Killer Angels, A Stillness at Appomattox.

    You might be interested in a series I’ve been running on my website. I’m using YouTube video links to create an eight week course on American history with an emphasis on military history. Week two was dedicated to the Civil War.

    http://vinceguerra.com/2020/03/25/home-history-lessons-week-2-the-american-civil-war/

    Thanks, Vince. I’ll check it out. And I’ll do it in spite of your hatred of my beloved, and increasingly hapless, Broncos.

    • #7
    • April 5, 2020, at 10:06 AM PDT
    • Like
    • This comment has been edited.
  8. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’ll second (third?) the recommendation of The Killer Angels. If you haven’t already “met” him in your reading, it will introduce you to Joshua Chamberlain, one of the most interesting and heroic people in the Civil War (IMHO). Soul of the Lion is a biography of General Chamberlain, truly an officer, gentleman, and scholar.

    About 25 years ago, I read a lot of Civil War history and visited battlefields throughout the country. Amazing personalities abound as well as incredible heroism and suffering. I still have the books on my shelves, but I’m not at home now and can’t give you a list off the top of my head.

     

    • #8
    • April 5, 2020, at 3:06 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    Locke On (View Comment):

    Dig out some old Bruce Catton works. A Northern stylist to match Foote, though I also admire the latter.

    Bruce Catton has two great series that seem to have been forgotten. One is his three volume biography of Grant and the other is his three volume history of the war, I have both sets in my library.

    • #9
    • April 5, 2020, at 3:08 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    I would also strongly recommend Liddell Hart’s biography of Sherman. I have a small library on Sherman alone.

    https://www.amazon.com/Sherman-Soldier-Realist-American/dp/B07YPLX4L7/

    Liddell Hart considers Sherman the first modern General. Especially the use of the railroads and telegraph.

    • #10
    • April 5, 2020, at 3:12 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. philo Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment): One is his three volume biography of Grant

    Well, technically only two of the three. (See Lewis, Lloyd.) But both sets are great great works. 

    • #11
    • April 5, 2020, at 3:14 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Vince Guerra (View Comment):
    Other books I love: April 1865

    That was a fascinating book. Like most Americans I learned in school that the Civil War ended when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, The End. Yet of course in reality Lee only surrendered the army under his command, there were still other Confederate armies in the field and an open question whether they would try to fight on. A protracted guerrilla war, while probably hopeless, could have made reconciliation after the war much more prolonged, bloody, and bitter.

    • #12
    • April 5, 2020, at 4:22 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I enjoyed Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War by Jeff Shaara. As you can tell from the title it’s not technically about the Civil War, but it does feature the early careers of Lee, Grant, and others who cut their teeth as young officers in the Mexican War.

    • #13
    • April 5, 2020, at 4:28 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    philo (View Comment):

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment): One is his three volume biography of Grant

    Well, technically only two of the three. (See Lewis, Lloyd.) But both sets are great great works.

    “Captain Sam Grant, Grant Moves South and Stillness at Appomattox.”

    • #14
    • April 5, 2020, at 5:03 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Vince Guerra (View Comment):
    Other books I love: April 1865

    That was a fascinating book. Like most Americans I learned in school that the Civil War ended when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, The End. Yet of course in reality Lee only surrendered the army under his command, there were still other Confederate armies in the field and an open question whether they would try to fight on. A protracted guerrilla war, while probably hopeless, could have made reconciliation after the war much more prolonged, bloody, and bitter.

    Which Sherman negotiated with Joe Johnston. Sherman knew nothing of the assassination of Lincoln and he tried to arrange terms suggested by Lincoln a week before. Stanton was enraged by Sherman’s attempt to negotiate surrender, accusing him in the newspapers of treason. Fortunately, Sherman’s terms held and he never forgave Stanton. Joe Johnston had been Sherman’s opponent most of the war except when he was relieved for not stopping Sherman’s march. He was reappointed when Davis realized his other generals did worse.

    Johnston described Sherman’s army as “The greatest army since Julius Caesar.” He served as a pallbearer when Sherman died and he died a month later.

    • #15
    • April 5, 2020, at 5:09 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. philo Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    philo (View Comment):

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment): One is his three volume biography of Grant

    Well, technically only two of the three. (See Lewis, Lloyd.) But both sets are great great works.

    “Captain Sam Grant, Grant Moves South and Stillness at Appomattox.”

    I would have said Captain Sam Grant by Lloyd Lewis followed by Grant Moves South and Grant Takes Command by Bruce Catton was the Grant specific trilogy. The other Catton Trilogy is the Army of the Potomac series (Mr. Lincoln’s Army, Glory Road, and A Stillness at Appomattox). The best thing to do is read all six.

    • #16
    • April 5, 2020, at 5:15 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. philo Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Vince Guerra (View Comment):
    Other books I love: April 1865

    That was a fascinating book. Like most Americans I learned in school that the Civil War ended when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, The End. Yet of course in reality Lee only surrendered the army under his command, there were still other Confederate armies in the field and an open question whether they would try to fight on. A protracted guerrilla war, while probably hopeless, could have made reconciliation after the war much more prolonged, bloody, and bitter.

    Which Sherman negotiated with Joe Johnston. Sherman knew nothing of the assassination of Lincoln and he tried to arrange terms suggested by Lincoln a week before. Stanton was enraged by Sherman’s attempt to negotiate surrender, accusing him in the newspapers of treason. Fortunately, Sherman’s terms held and he never forgave Stanton. Joe Johnston had been Sherman’s opponent most of the war except when he was relieved for not stopping Sherman’s march. He was reappointed when Davis realized his other generals did worse.

    Johnston described Sherman’s army as “The greatest army since Julius Caesar.” He served as a pallbearer when Sherman died and he died a month later.

    And this led to one of the great scenes in American history…see the reference and details in this post.

     

     

    • #17
    • April 5, 2020, at 5:23 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):
    Johnston described Sherman’s army as “The greatest army since Julius Caesar.”

    He was specifically describing Sherman’s march through the Carolinas in winter, with flooded rivers and roads of mud. Sherman’s army threw up bridges across the rivers and corduroyed the roads, all while making 20+ miles a day.

    Another book with an excellent profile of Sherman is Victor Davis Hanson’s The Soul of Battle, which also covers Epaminondas and Patton.

    • #18
    • April 5, 2020, at 6:05 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  19. Vince Guerra Member

    tabula rasa (View Comment):
    And I’ll do it in spite of your hatred of my beloved, and increasingly hapless, Broncos.

    Your Broncos have had plenty of success in my lifetime. Let us have a few years. 

    • #19
    • April 5, 2020, at 6:38 PM PDT
    • Like
  20. The Cloaked Gaijin Member

    Michael Minnott (View Comment):

    I definitely need to read more about General Thomas.

    The Union general was born in Newsoms, Virginia, which essentially just north of North Carolina, not exactly the part which became West Virginia, although I think North Carolina might have had a few rebellious places in the mountains too.

    From wikipedia: “His Northern-born wife probably helped influence his decision. In response, his family turned his picture against the wall, destroyed his letters, and never spoke to him again. (During the economic hard times in the South after the war, Thomas sent some money to his sisters, who angrily refused to accept it, declaring they had no brother.) … his former student and fellow Virginian, Confederate Col. J.E.B. Stuart, wrote to his wife, ‘Old George H. Thomas is in command of the cavalry of the enemy. I would like to hang, hang him as a traitor to his native state. … George Thomas, his sisters, and his widowed mother were forced to flee from their home and hide in the nearby woods during Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion.'”

    Confederate General John Bell Hood whose army he destroyed at Nashville was another one of his former West Point students.

    George Henry Thomas. I bet his name would be more memorable, if his three names weren’t so common and ordinary.

     

    • #20
    • April 5, 2020, at 8:21 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Cloaked Gaijin (View Comment):
    George Henry Thomas. I bet his name would be more memorable, if his three names weren’t so common and ordinary.

    He needs a memorable nickname. Thomas Jonathan Jackson is set of common names too, but everyone remembers “Stonewall” Jackson.

    tabula rasa: being known thereafter as the Rock of Chickamauga

    Problem here is no link back to his name. How about George “The Rock” Thomas?

    • #21
    • April 5, 2020, at 11:48 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. MISTER BITCOIN Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Vince Guerra (View Comment):
    Other books I love: April 1865

    That was a fascinating book. Like most Americans I learned in school that the Civil War ended when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, The End. Yet of course in reality Lee only surrendered the army under his command, there were still other Confederate armies in the field and an open question whether they would try to fight on. A protracted guerrilla war, while probably hopeless, could have made reconciliation after the war much more prolonged, bloody, and bitter.

    Which Sherman negotiated with Joe Johnston. Sherman knew nothing of the assassination of Lincoln and he tried to arrange terms suggested by Lincoln a week before. Stanton was enraged by Sherman’s attempt to negotiate surrender, accusing him in the newspapers of treason. Fortunately, Sherman’s terms held and he never forgave Stanton. Joe Johnston had been Sherman’s opponent most of the war except when he was relieved for not stopping Sherman’s march. He was reappointed when Davis realized his other generals did worse.

    Johnston described Sherman’s army as “The greatest army since Julius Caesar.” He served as a pallbearer when Sherman died and he died a month later.

     

    Sherman saved the election of 1864 for Lincoln.

    He also destroyed the myth of southern honor.

     

    • #22
    • April 6, 2020, at 1:40 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. MISTER BITCOIN Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    I would also strongly recommend Liddell Hart’s biography of Sherman. I have a small library on Sherman alone.

    https://www.amazon.com/Sherman-Soldier-Realist-American/dp/B07YPLX4L7/

    Liddell Hart considers Sherman the first modern General. Especially the use of the railroads and telegraph.

    Sherman’s philosphy was don’t kill the fish, instead drain water out of the fish tank

     

    • #23
    • April 6, 2020, at 1:45 AM PDT
    • Like
  24. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    philo (View Comment):

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    philo (View Comment):

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment): One is his three volume biography of Grant

    Well, technically only two of the three. (See Lewis, Lloyd.) But both sets are great great works.

    “Captain Sam Grant, Grant Moves South and Stillness at Appomattox.”

    I would have said Captain Sam Grant by Lloyd Lewis followed by Grant Moves South and Grant Takes Command by Bruce Catton was the Grant specific trilogy. The other Catton Trilogy is the Army of the Potomac series (Mr. Lincoln’s Army, Glory Road, and A Stillness at Appomattox). The best thing to do is read all six.

    All these years and I did not realize that Catton was not the author of that one. Thanks.

    • #24
    • April 6, 2020, at 2:19 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    philo (View Comment):

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    philo (View Comment):

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment): One is his three volume biography of Grant

    Well, technically only two of the three. (See Lewis, Lloyd.) But both sets are great great works.

    “Captain Sam Grant, Grant Moves South and Stillness at Appomattox.”

    I would have said Captain Sam Grant by Lloyd Lewis followed by Grant Moves South and Grant Takes Command by Bruce Catton was the Grant specific trilogy. The other Catton Trilogy is the Army of the Potomac series (Mr. Lincoln’s Army, Glory Road, and A Stillness at Appomattox). The best thing to do is read all six.

    All these years and I did not realize that Catton was not the author of that one. Thanks. Too many years since I read them. I had a Civil War thing in college and that was about 1958.

    • #25
    • April 6, 2020, at 2:20 PM PDT
    • 2 likes