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Monday, November 23, 2015

GREAT GAMBLES of the CIVIL WAR by Philip Katcher

  Disappointing Collection

Originally Published in 1996.
Re-Issue Published by Castle Books in 2003.

Great Gambles of the Civil War focuses on those moments when a general took a risk to give himself an advantage.  One could argue that all of war is a risk, including every battle and every maneuver but Author Philip Katcher has limited his book to just thirteen events. Some are battles, some are campaigns but all demonstrate risk. Philip Katcher has written numerous books on the Civil War so this has all the hallmarks of being a great book.

While there is no doubt that Katcher knows his stuff, most of these thirteen stories are just not interesting, or at least not told in an interesting manner. It's not that the stories aren't fact-filled, it's just that some are paced so poorly ("Mulligan Defends Lexington" comes to mind - it just drug on and on and almost made me quit the book entirely) that the story itself is lost in the telling. I think Shelby Foote demonstrated in his own histories of the Civil War that the stories crackle and shine if told well.
The CSS Arkansas. Drawing by R.G. Skerrett

It's not that there are no good stories in the collection. I especially enjoyed "Brown Takes the CSS Arkansas to Vicksburg" - it was paced well and had the feel of a grand adventure.  Sadly, too many of these stories felt like a tedious lecture rather than tales of "great gambles."

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: Great Gambles of the Civil War

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