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"Watching the ANV die, one General at a time." Topic


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998 hits since 22 Dec 2016
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Trajanus22 Dec 2016 3:19 a.m. PST

I've been reading Stephen Sears abridged version of the famous "Lee's Lieutenants", by Douglas Southall Freeman, which I can thoroughly recommend.

Still a hefty 816 pages even when reduced down from the original three volumes written in the early 1940's. I understand that the reduction was made primarily around the background and pre-war life of the Brigade, Divisional and Corps commanders concerned, so the military history of the ANV is given prominence in strict chronology of its campaigns.

Apart from a good guide to who was where and when and a rolling summary of the actions fought, the most interesting aspect of the book is a continuing commentary of the promotions, demotions and dismissals that took place, on an ongoing basis. Particularly when set against the losses that caused them to happen.

We all know that general officers were killed and disabled in the Civil War at quite a rate but the book also highlights the ridiculous number of field officers who were killed in every action and how over time, this made promotion to Brigade command and above, more and more difficult to make, as the numbers of suitable candidates dropped off.

The other thing that really jumps out at you is what a disaster 1863 was.

The ANV starts the year facing off against the AoP across the Rappahannock, barely able to feed itself and at the end of an impossibly inadequate railway system that delivers totally inadequate supplies.

Hooker crosses the river, is defeated at Chancellorsville, where the ANV loses Jackson and a bunch of other commanders, not to mention a load Colonels. They drive the AoP back over the Rappahannock with only the total captured and MOA separating the casualty numbers in their favour on the combined butcher's bill and where are they? Facing off against the AoP across the Rappahannock, barely able to feed themselves and at the end of an impossibly inadequate railway system that delivers totally inadequate supplies!

Lee invades the North. Gettysburg is a failure, another 20,000 odd casualties, even worse losses in Generals and unspeakable losses in Colonels. He is forced to retreat and where does he end up? Facing off against the AoP across the Rappahannock barely able to feed the army and at the end of an impossibly inadequate railway system that delivers totally inadequate supplies!

From there on, as we know, it's all downhill and you are left watching the Confederacy die, one Brigade/Division/ Corps commander at a time!

Overall, taking into account the narrative of events in 1862 and 1864/5 as well, this is a great book at demonstrating the unrelenting grind of the war and the ever uphill struggle the Confederacy faced, even when they appeared to be "winning".

Of course in the process there is an inevitable "here we go again" feel to the seemingly endless round of death and disablement in the text but it really punches home the futility of it all and provides a lot of insight to the four years of struggle that I've not felt elsewhere.

A bit short on laughs but well worth getting a copy!

vtsaogames22 Dec 2016 5:30 a.m. PST

Are there a lot of maps or is this a candidate for Kindle? I'm never pleased by the way maps look in Kindle. Text is fine.

Trajanus22 Dec 2016 5:39 a.m. PST

Maps? Around fifty, so pretty light out of 816 pages. All sketch style in black and white.

Can't see a Kindle edition listed but the edition I have is $27.37 USD in paperback on Amazon at the moment.

Personal logo John the Greater Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2016 6:19 a.m. PST

I second the motion recommending the book. I have the unabridged version (yes, I have read the whole thing) and it really justifies the subtitle "A Study in Command."

In addition to the sheer number of command positions Lee had to fill, he had to take into account which state his nominees came from as the states were very aware if anyone was getting to be over represented. That often meant Lee had to appoint less qualified officers simply because they came from a particular state.

Oh Bugger Inactive Member22 Dec 2016 6:46 a.m. PST

A very well written and interesting post Trajanus it makes me want to get the book.

Trajanus22 Dec 2016 7:44 a.m. PST

General Officer appointments have always been a minefield.

Wellington had similar problems in Spain where he had to juggle political interference and the strict seniority of the Army List to get round incompetent but ranking officers, who he wanted rid of.

Bill N22 Dec 2016 7:56 a.m. PST

I am pleased to see Freeman's work getting a new life. I have the three volume set so it is unlikely I will be buying the abridged version. It has been my hope that others would step up and write something similar on the other armies of the ACW.

You mention how the ANV used up its supply of generals and colonels. That has been one of my knocks on Jackson. If you only look at commanders of Jackson's division you have Winder and Starke killed, Taliaferro wounded and transferred, Jones wounded and relieved, Grigsby resigned and Colston relieved during a 12 month period.

vtsaogames22 Dec 2016 8:08 a.m. PST

Found a Kindle edition for $29.14 USD. But may get the paperback because Kindle maps suck.

Trajanus22 Dec 2016 8:54 a.m. PST

Bill N,

Certainly looks like a bit of "curse" theme with Jackson's old outfit doesn't it?

Sears himself is bringing out "Lincoln's Lieutenants" in the early part of the New Year, featuring the Army of the Potomac, which I believe is taking a similar approach to this abridged version of Freeman's work.

inverugie22 Dec 2016 9:38 a.m. PST

Having read and enjoyed a number of Stephen Sears' 'own titles', this is one I haven't heard of previously (in either form), but something to look out for the next time I'm at B&N.

raylev322 Dec 2016 12:55 p.m. PST

I read the 3-volume set during a one year deployment in the late 80s…well written and enjoyed it. My big take away, at that time, was the politics and pissing contests these generals got into. I realized that the A-type personalities that make it to general officer level get their because of experience, capability, and huge egos. And that success at a lower level does not mean success in higher command.

donlowry22 Dec 2016 2:16 p.m. PST

I have the 3-volume set and read it a long time ago. I highly recommend it and see no glaring reason to condense it. Just about everything you ever wanted to know about the Army of Northern Virginia. Partisan, of course, but that's to be expected.

Trajanus22 Dec 2016 3:57 p.m. PST

I assume the three volume set is no longer in print?

Having read the condensed version I don't think I have the endurance to go back and do it again just wondering, that's all.

BTW: I didn't find it that partisan, given it was all about one organisation and its leader. I don't think it's up there with the 'Lee walked on water' views of somethings I've read, that's for sure.

There again I've always thought Sears keeps a balanced view on Lee's strengths and weaknesses so perhaps some of the original was distilled out. Without reading both I can't say.

Regarding the ANV itself credit where it's due, although it didn't remain 100% solid until the end and it eventually came to a level of desperation, it still takes some understanding from this distance how it held together in the post Gettysburg to Appomattox period.

donlowry23 Dec 2016 10:33 a.m. PST

I assume the three volume set is no longer in print?

Apparently still in print. Amazon has several editions, hardbound and paperback, new and used.

Trajanus23 Dec 2016 1:14 p.m. PST

Not sure "used" are still in print but new sets, which presumably are, at around $300 USD they can keep! :o)

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