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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What They Didn't Teach You About the Civil War by Mike Wright

Entertaining but too many errors.

Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877)
Mike Wright is a television writer. In fact, he writes a pretty entertaining book as well. But, his lack of training as a historian shows in What They Didn't Teach You About the Civil War. 

 Some of the facts things he writes about were not taught to you because they just are not facts. In other cases, they are factual, but not truthful For example, the fact about Robert E. Lee not owning any slaves at the time of the Civil War (p. 23) is technically true - but ignores the fact that his wife owned the slaves and they freed them in 1862 (not "long before the Civil War" as the book asserts) because of a requirement of her father's will).

Wright makes the comment that the Confederacy only had one good general (Lee) on page 40. Perhaps Wright meant to clarify his point and say that Lee was the Confederacy's only good commanding general because one cannot say that Stonewall Jackson was a bad general (Lee called him his "right arm"). Or Longstreet (despite Wright's derision of his abilities on page 40). Or Stuart. Or Forrest. Even some of the Confederacy's fair to middling generals, such as Beauregard or J. Johnston or even Hood compare relatively well to the average Union general (can you imagine if John Bell Hood with his attack at all times philosophy would have done in place of McClellan in the Peninsula Campaign or at Antietam?).

On page 39 Wright makes a gigantic mistake. He claims that on May 3, 1861 the U.S. Congress declared war on the Confederacy (it was the other way around - the Confederacy declared war on the U.S.). The Union never declared war because you can only declare war on a country and the Union argued that the Confederacy was NOT a country - it was a rebellion.

Benjamin Butler (1818-1893)
Good points:

-Wright totally nails the personality and career of McClellan.

-The book is full of fun quotes, stories and facts. His story of the attempt to rid Nashville of its prostitutes by shipping them out to Louisville and Cincinnati was my favorite.

-He includes some nice small biographies of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Benjamin Butler.

To sum up, a number of errors combine to make this book less than trustworthy, even though it is quite fun.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on July 13, 2011.

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