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Book review: Edward Hagerman. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare

17 Jun

2343989Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988.

In The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare author, historian and York University professor Edward Hagerman provides new insight into: 1) The importance of field fortification in the tactical evolution of trench warfare, and: 2) The development of field transportation and supply to move and maneuver Civil War armies in the field.[1] Through the effective use of select battle strategies and tactics from both the Union and Confederate armies Hagerman’s The American Civil War succeeds in detailing the importance of his two central theses and aforementioned contributions from the early stages of the war in 1861 through its end in 1865.

Logistics and organizational capabilities are at the heart of Hagerman’s argument directing the reader to surmise that the army which most effectively mastered these challenges had won the war.  The author does an admirable job in underscoring the capabilities of the generals in utilizing logistics and organizational structure: “Sherman left a heritage of successful experimentation in logistical organization for the strategic offensive in mid-nineteenth-century; warfare; a heritage at the historical roots of modern warfare.” [2] Hagerman’s importance of mastering the mobility component of logistics and organization was the genesis for ultimate union victory late in the war: “…Sherman and Grant exploited diversion, dispersion, and surprise to pursue successfully a modern total-war strategy of exhaustion against the enemy’s resources, communications, and will. The vehicle that made it possible was the Union development of field transportation and supply organization.” [3]  Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s challenges began in 1861, early in the war: “The logistical problems that brought Lee’s army to a halt had begun when the Confederates prepared for the Maryland campaign with an improvised and inferior procurement policy.” [4] These failures created economic hardships for the confederacy that were only overcome by “massive voluntary contributions” from its citizenry. [5]

Transportation and supply as a part of an operational logistics plan was vital to any success that the Union and Confederate armies would have: “A statistical analysis of Civil War field supply and transportation also suggests what experience  would verify: that the early Napoleonic mode of logistical thinking placed too much emphasis on foraging for American conditions.” [6] In many areas the countryside was inadequate to offer subsistence for large armies. The more effective the generals were at these logistical matters the more capably their troops were able to fight. Supply was equally as critical to armies of the North and South alike: “Supplying a mass army was a new American experience. Inadequately trained, understaffed, and poorly organized, the supply departments were as raw as the troops in the field.” [7]

Trench warfare is also at the very heart of The American Civil War. Developed and utilized by the Union and the Confederacy in both attacking and as well as in defense, the North and South learned valuable lessons by necessity.  Antietam produced the war’s most devastating loss of life and limb due to the lack of trench utilization: “The lessons of Antietam were certainly against the continuing use of open infantry assault tactics. The battle produced the worst single day’s slaughter of the Civil War.” [8]

Hagerman’s bibliography is quite in-depth and includes primary research from sources as diverse as the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office, military treatises, manuals and regulations, and published personal papers, diaries and memoirs. From secondary sources the author has utilized various theses, articles, and a range of books on the subject.

Hagerman’s work in The American Civil War offers a unique and fresh departure from the extensive range of published history covering the Civil War. Hagerman’s contribution offers additional explanations for a Union victory and the Confederate loss making it a significant addition to the literature on the Civil War.

Author Edward Hagerman is currently an Associate Professor of History at York University in Toronto, Canada and earned his Ph.D. from Duke University. His other published works include The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea as well as various journal articles in the Journal of Southern History. His Ph.D. work at Duke University undoubtedly advanced his interest in the history of the Civil War culminating in his research and writing of The American Civil War.

Bibliography

Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988.


[1] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988.), xvii.

[2] Ibid., 292.

[3] Ibid., 293.

[4] Ibid., 118.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 44.

[7] Ibid., 45

[8] Ibid., 56.

 

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