The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War

by Thomas B. Buell; New York, Random House, 1997


This is a conscious attempt at revising popular ideas about popular generals. Its eight stories center on military personalities, are well told and hold one's interest throughout (depending on how much criticism of Grant, Lee, and Hood one can handle). Unfortunately, the scope is too restricted and concedes much ground to the current primitivism that equates the Civil War with the quantity and quality of its battles. Although Buell is good at including points of logistics, planning, technology and tactics in his material, strategy suffers and virtue still seems to boil down to who charged the hardest after organizing the bestest.

The CSA generals' scope for organizing, planning, preparing, etc., was so much more constricted than their USA counterparts, that many historians erroneously limit the scope of their narratives to cramped CSA dimensions (in order to get apples = apples). Although Buell fights this poisoned historiography in his own way, by contending the North had great generals even on mere battlefield terms, he fails to break out of the rhetorical master trap of battle-management = generalship.

By the way, Buell's ideal appears to be the methodical Thomas. He sees McClellan as a kind of brilliant forerunner to Thomas, but one without (cliche alert!) the same "fire in the belly." The idea that the Administration might be slapping asbestos on belly-fires is almost completely outside the scope of this volume, although it was certainly on Thomas' mind. Consider Thomas' response to being sounded for Meade's job:

"The pressure always brought to bear against the commander of the Army of the Potomac would destroy me in a week without having advanced the cause in the least."

Amen, Thomas. An entertaining read, worthwhile for Buell's audacity, insight, and style nevertheless.

p.s. There are no clues in the book as to the author's possible relationship to Don Carlos Buell.

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(c) 1998 The McClellan Society