With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North. By Carol Reardon. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0807835609. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 224. $30.
This was a surprising little volume that I really enjoyed. In my scholarship of the Civil War, I have expanded my fairly extensive library of campaign and battle narratives with new books on strategy, tactics, and the operational art of the Civil War battlefield.
Prof. Reardon has written a sharp and incisive book, not for the novice military historian or student of the Civil War, but for the more experienced military historian (Grouchy-type, 1 each) that examines a fundamental question about Union leadership (and I think by extension, Confederate leadership as well)- How did Civil War officers, some professional soldiers, but many of them politicians or just plain shopkeepers or farmers before April 1861, teach themselves and their subordinates the art of war?
Although this would seem to be a pretty basic question, as the essays in this book point out, there are no straightforward answers. The title may suggest that many generals turned to French military theorist Antoine-Henri Jomini, since Clausewitz was, sadly, not yet known to American readers, but that would be a gross oversimplification. As the essays point out, there were many competing theories of war and many different texts about drill, marching, formation, artillery use and field fortifications.
About the only volume every Civil War officer could reference was Hardee's Tactics, published by the War Department shortly before the war began by a soon-to-be Confederate general under the stewardship of...Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War. But this was primarily a drill manual, which described how to maneuver troops around a battlefield, not necessarily how to FIGHT a battle which combined large numbers of infantry, cavalry, and artillery.
As Reardon goes on to describe, although many of the general officers were West Point graduates and had combat service in the Mexican War, the concept of commanding massive armies of 60,000..70,000...or even 100,000 men was simply incomprehensible for pre-Civil War U.S. Army officers on either side, many of whom never commanded anything larger than a regiment before Fort Sumter.
Therefore, Reardon logically concludes that this lack of experience in command, staff, operational art, and strategy kept the Union from creating a coherent plan to use their superior material might to defeat the Confederacy until late 1863/early 1864..nearly 2 years and hundreds of thousands of casualties into the conflict.
In addition, Reardon also looks at the human side of war, examining the effect of combat stress on participants and how that factored into leadership on the battlefield.
For the experienced scholar of the war, the military strategist or analyst, or the student of military strategy and thought, this is a really great book. If the casual Civil War reader wants a challenge, it provides plenty of thought.