help

Book Review: Jefferson Davis and His Generals – The Failure of Confederate Command in the West

Share

STEVEN E. WOODWORTH. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. 1990. Pp. xv, 380. $16.95.
JeffersonDavisandHisGenerals

Partners in Command

Much has been written about the political and military genius of Abraham Lincoln and the successful leader he grew to be while Commander in Chief of a fractured union.  But as the country divided and civil war became a reality, a new leader was called upon to assume the role of Commander in Chief for the Confederacy, the seasoned Jefferson Davis.  At the precipice of war, betting men looking at the comparative qualifications of the two presidents could easily have predicted that Davis would outshine Lincoln. What kind of leader did Davis prove to be and how did he recruit and manage those men who would become members of his high command? What kind of generals were they and how did their personalities and actions impact the outcome of the war?

Steven E. Woodworth’s monograph answers those questions and others through examination of Jefferson Davis’ handling of the generals who defended the newly formed Confederacy in the Western theater of the American Civil War. Against a chronology of key events, each commander is introduced with information essential to understanding the skills they brought to war. Woodworth gives us their respective birthplaces, education, military and political experience, and reasons for consideration as senior leaders. Their performances in command roles are examined along with their interactions with Davis. There is brilliance to be sure from both Davis and some of his generals. But there is also incompetence, jealousy, loss of nerve, and even a propensity toward sabotage of brother commanders. Varying degrees of analysis are given to among others: Leonidas Polk, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Albert Sidney Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Early Van Dorn, John C. Breckenridge, Edmund K. Smith, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Patrick R. Cleburne, Sterling Price, William J. Hardee, John C. Pemberton, Joseph E. Johnston, Benjamin F. Cheatham, James A. Seddon, Daniel H. Hill, James Longstreet, Gideon J. Pillow, David Twiggs, and John Bell Hood. Woodworth pulls no punches.

Woodworth concludes that Davis was highly trained, skilled from a breadth of experience in the militarily and in politics, and eminently qualified to assume the role of Commander in Chief of the Confederacy. He was also flawed. His imperfections are revealed as the war in the West is traced from beginning to end. Davis is shown to be incapable of judging objectively the performances of personal friends. He both trusts and delegates too much to his leaders. This trait worked to the detriment of some of the most exceptional men like Albert Sidney Johnston, who accomplished miracles in the defense of western borders despite unanswered requests to fill and equip his ranks. It also left incompetents like Leonidas Polk in power, impairing more talented men like Braxton Bragg. Davis becomes consumed by the war emotionally and physically. In the end, failure in the West is seen to have contributed significantly to the failure of the Confederacy. Woodworth posits that the faults of Davis himself, stemming from a deep-seated insecurity, are contributory to this failure.
SWoodworth
Woodworth brings to the work the credentials of a seasoned historian. He holds history degrees from Southern Illinois University (B.A. 1982) and Rice University, where he received a Ph.D. in 1987. At the time of the book’s publication, he taught history at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. He now teaches U.S. history, Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Old South at Texas Christian University. He also teaches military history at the American Military University. He is a prolific and award winning author.
Woodworth provides an insightful contribution to our understanding of the Civil War by revealing the best and the worst of the Confederacy’s senior military leadership in the West.
Particularly helpful to an understanding of the challenges faced by Davis’ high command is Woodworth’s campaign analysis. Also exemplary is the concise summary he provides of key points at the end of each chapter. This important study in leadership fills a gap and stands equal to and complementary of the T. Harry William classic,  Lincoln and His Generals. It is both highly readable and academically rich.

international

The Philippine War, 1899-1902

Share

Brian McAllister Linn. The Philippine War, 1899-1902. Reprint. University Press of Kansas, 2000.

Brian Linn recounts the military operations that took place between the opening months of 1899 and July 1902 in what some of his reviewers have labeled as the “definite study” of the Philippine War. Ultimately, his goal is to set the record straight on the myths surrounding the conflict and recount its history as the complex and challenging event it was. Written from the American perspective, he concludes that the war was nothing less than the most successful counterinsurgency campaign in U.S. history.

He sets out to write a narrative history of the conflict but admits to encountering challenges because the war varied so greatly in the different locations in which it took place. The geographical expanse of the Philippines thus becomes a part of the story of the war itself. These challenges lead Linn to organize the book around two broad themes. The first section describes conventional military operations on the island of Luzon that took place in 1899. The second focuses on operations in other parts of the archipelago which can be categorized as guerrilla warfare and pacification activities.

While the book’s focus is on United States military activities, Linn provides excellent historical background on the Philippine leadership cadre as well. He makes specific mention of the need for a study that more comprehensively represents the Filipino perspective of the conflict. Linn is blatantly honest about the strengths and the foibles of both the United States military and the Philippine Army of Liberation. He captures the intra-service rivalries and associated squabbles and maneuvering for notice and promotion among officers on both sides. He also describes the performance of America’s volunteer citizen-soldiers, who distinguished themselves by behaving with aggressiveness, courage, and élan, and yet were at times difficult to restrain.

Linn captures well instances of the fog of war and its impact on both sides. He provides a fascinating description of the recruitment, training, transport, and sustaining of volunteer American troops engaged in the conflict. His review of the Battle of Manila reveals superior preparation and discipline among American troops and yet the recklessness of officers who ordered repeated frontal attacks over open ground against armed fortifications. He notes that most of these attacks were successful due primarily to insurgents shooting high. Linn points out that this gave the Filipinos the impression of American invincibility, increasing the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that at times caused native soldiers to flee.

Emilio Aguinaldo

Linn arrives at several important conclusions. First he refutes the clichés so often attributed to the Philippine War. He posits that while the U.S. military was victorious, this occurred as a result of the ineptitude of the independence movement and its “titular leader,” Aguinaldo, as opposed to the prowess of the Americans. Some guerrilla leaders showed brilliance at the small unit level but there was never a successful prolonged defense of any area or recovery of any areas once lost. Rebels also failed to effectively win the broad support of the populace. American forces struggled with a number of problems including maintenance of forces levels, diseases, and logistics.

Americans did have clear advantages in weaponry and this added to their effectiveness. The Krag rifle, armed gunboats, and field artillery were all contributory to American success. The U.S Navy was also a key contributor to the win providing not only transport of men and matériels but also blockade functions and support for amphibious operations. Linn also points to the role of civic action or social reform as a crucial component of the American victory.

Because of the unique nature of this conflict, and its counter insurgency flavor, Linn suggests that it has much to offer readers of both civilian and military cadres. I agree. The book’s notes section is impressive as is the bibliography. The book has received the following honors: Army Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List, Air Force Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List, Winner of the Society for Military History Distinguished Book Award, Selection of the History Book Club.

At the time of the book’s publication, Brian Linn was professor of history at Texas A & M University, a post he has held since 1998. He received a B.A. with High Honors from the University of Hawaii, and M.A. and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. He has also taught history at Old Dominion University and the University of Nebraska as a visiting professor. He is widely published and the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships.

Overall, Linn’s work is an important contribution to U.S. military scholarship.

address