America 1865-1900

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The Journal of American History

December 2012

the number and quality of the officers in each regiment. He also underlines the critical role that black guards and garrison soldiers performed in military campaigns. Finally, he points to the important role locally recruited black soldiers played in many small-scale, irregular conflicts that occurred away from the Union front lines. Although these operations lacked public recognition and military acclaim, they significantly undermined the economic life of the Confederacy. Freedom by the Sword is well illustrated and it has a useful bibliography. Dobak has made extensive use of personal papers and military records to document his work. One important strength of his writing is the way he integrates official military reports and personal recollections in his narrative. At times the episodic structure of the book prevents the author from sustaining a systematic discussion of important issues—for example, the impact of community and family life on the soldiers’ motivation and combat operational performance, and the impact of abolitionist ideology on operational strategy. Critics could also debate Dobak’s decision to reject memoirs as research sources. These criticisms aside, Freedom by the Sword must take its place as a work of considerable scholarship. Walking in the footsteps of Dudley T. Cornish, Dobak has produced a comprehensive, well-researched, and insightful operational history of black soldiers’ role in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Keith P. Wilson Monash University Melbourne, Australia doi: 10.1093/jahist/jas409

The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi. By Earl J. Hess. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. xviii, 392 pp. $40.00.) The Civil War was fought in the East but won in the West, so the story goes, and no one tells it better than Earl J. Hess. His latest achievement, The Civil War in the West, lays out what many scholars in recent decades have come to believe: “the Union won and the Confederacy lost the Civil War largely due to

what each side did, or failed to do, in the West” ( p. 307). While scholars may take issue with some of his conclusions, they would be hard pressed to challenge the primacy of the West in Union victory. The war in the West took place over a rugged terrain that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Ohio River and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River. The region contained the Confederate heartland, which boasted a maze of railroads, major river cities, and vast resources. If Confederates failed to understand that losing the region would give them little hope of success, Northerners were keenly aware of how vital the region and its resources were to keeping the Confederacy alive. Winning in the West came from the Federals’ ability to overcome geographic obstacles and seize resources beneficial to the Confederate army. It was not so much about conquering the people as it was about conquering the geography and the economy of the region. Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Nashville, New Orleans, and Memphis were more important because of where they were located and what they contained than for the number of Southerners who resided there. As much as the Federal victories in Tennessee at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and at Shiloh weakened Southern morale and led to Confederate conscription, relinquishing major cities, rivers, railroads, and terrain to Union occupiers was more decisive in undermining the Confederacy. It did not help that the Confederate high command contributed to their own defeat. Hess argues that poor use of resources, poor management at high levels, and the failure to accord the West the strategic importance it deserved accounted for the Confederate loss. Conversely, Federals adapted to the terrain by incorporating new technology (steam power) to use rivers and rails more effectively as military avenues to keep armies supplied. He also...
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