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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War by Thomas Buell

Good, thought provoking

In The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War, Buell analyzes three Confederate and three Union generals with six very different leadership styles.

Buell gives a title to each of the six different men and they are:

The Yeoman: Ulysses S. Grant
The Aristocrat: Robert E. Lee
The Knight-Errant: John Bell Hood
The Roman: George H. Thomas
The Cavalier: John B . Gordon
The Puritan: Francis C. Barlow

Buell researched this book heavily, including delving into the National Archives to the point that he actually found boxes of papers from the Civil War that had not even been opened since they were packaged and delivered after the war, a fact that I find amazing given the vast number of books written on the war every year.

Buell is quite clear in his book that Robert E. Lee was vastly overrated and quite possibly incompetent (he never says it outright but he infers it). I agree that Lee has been overrated by some, but his incompetence is refuted, in my mind, by his track record against a much larger, better equipped army over the course of the war. To his credit, Buell does not lay the blame for the vast number of casualties in the Seven Days Battles in the Peninsular Campaign on Lee - which I consider fair considering that he was forced to take charge during the battles due to the wounding of Confederate General Joseph Johnston. Lee can't really take the blame for a situation he did not create.

Buell also is extremely critical of Grant, sometimes in a contradictory manner. At the beginning of the book he is critical of Grant's strategy as unimaginative at the end of the war (press Lee constantly, despite the constant casualties since Lee could not replace his casualties and Grant could easily replace his own - it quickly became a numbers game and denied Lee his famed mobility) and then, towards the end of the book he praises it.

General George H. Thomas
"The Rock of Chickamauga"
Buell's favorite is obviously Thomas, a brilliant organizer who built the army that literally simultaneously destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee (under Thomas) and was the core of Sherman's famous March to the Sea through Georgia. However, he was ultimately relieved of command by Grant for being too deliberate - a conclusion that I share with Grant. Buell, however, believes that it was an unjust firing. Grant believed that action was often more important than preparation - sometimes true, sometimes not, but Thomas never seemed to be prepared enough...

Although I disagreed with many of his conclusions, I did enjoy Buell's book. It was informative and well-written.

Reviewed in 2004.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

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