Shades of Blue and Gray: An Introductory Military History of the Civil War, by Herman Hattaway, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 295 pages, $29.95.
No book answers a question that is not asked. Herman Hattaway obviously has benefited from his recent stint as a visiting professor at the U.S. Military Academy, where soldiers and cadets often ask different questions of history than do their civilian counterparts. Armed with many of these questions, Hattaway has revisited the Civil War literature of recent decades in the hope that his thoughts might give others “a good grounding” in fundamental Civil War military history.
The resulting book appears simple, but actually is a complex synthesis of the war’s military aspects and their relationship to “technological and managerial realities.” In the end, technology did not give either the Union or Confederate military a great enough advantage to ensure victory. Battles still came down to armies facing each other with similar weaponry: both armies armed their soldiers mostly with Springfield .58-caliber rifles and used the same types of artillery. When Union and Confederate units moved, they both did so in accordance with the system in Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics.
The difference between the enemy militaries, then, lay elsewhere: the quality of leadership. The Confederacy initially did better than the Union in identifying able officers and promoting them to high levels of command, but the situation soon was reversed. According to Hattaway, the Confederacy’s “real flaw was that few of the officers who served in department commands were fit for their jobs,” and there was no higher authority to assure that “coordination and interdepartmental cooperation were achieved.”
Lieutenant General Stonewall Jackson is considered a “master of strategy,” although in today’s military terminology he would more likely be described as “a master of the operational art.” The same would be true of Major General William T. Sherman in his Atlanta Campaign. President Abraham Lincoln had a true intuitive feel for strategy. Early in the war, he decided that the strength of the Union lay in its greater numbers and that destroying Lee’s army, not capturing Richmond, should be his objective. “Fight him when opportunity offers,” Lincoln urged Major General Joseph Hooker. “If he stays where he is, fret him and fret him.” Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant understood this kind of strategy, and he emerges as “the war’s greatest general,” whereas Lee is described as an “extremely able commander.”
Every Civil War enthusiast has a favorite general, so not all of the judgments presented here will satisfy every reader, but those fascinated by battles and campaigns or loyal to various personalities will find this a worthwhile book. Easy to read and reflective of recent scholarship, it is a good reference work, dealing not only with command, strategy, and tactics, but also with the emergence of modern military professionalism, the nature and structure of the U.S. Army in earlier wars, officer procurement, and the U.S. military establishment in the late 19th century.