Bookly Things

I don’t think I’m going to quite match last month’s total of 19, but I should finish one or two more books this month to reach 17 or 18. Respectable enough. Ah, for the lost opportunities of January.

The only book I’ve read recently that was new to me was Dixie Betrayed by David Eicher, and, as its subtitle states, it is a look at why Mr Eicher believes the South really lost the Civil War. In brief, his idea is that it was because the South could not agree politically on the prosecution of the war and this resulted in tensions between the states and the central government that doomed the South’s war effort. While I do agree with him that the ability of the South’s generals and enlisted soldiers has been overblown in much of the writing about the history of the Civil War, and the North’s numerical advantage in both men and materiel, while significant, was not solely decisive, I think placing all one’s eggs in one basket, however sound, is foolish. Further, there were similar political difficulties in the North during the conflict and the shuffling of generals around the North took place on a par with what was done in the South. Arguably, the South was able to find their ablest generals more quickly than the North did and still this did ultimately avail them. It would be more accurate to say that the South was beaten for a variety of factors, economic, numeric, tactical, strategic and political. One may certainly argue about the relative importance of each and there are good cases to be made all the way around, but to cleave to one reason to the exclusion of the others is foolish.

The book itself, while covering the entirety of the war with commendable thoroughness and speed (Sumter to Appomattox in under 300 pages), is difficult to read in places. Eicher is not a great writer and his phrasing is sometimes infelicitous. Moreover, he cannot decide whether he is writing a scholarly work with a scholarly tone or a popular history with asides from the author to make his text friendly and the result is a feeling of it being off-key. His portraits of the participants in the Southern political dramas are well-done, but he spends too much time quoting directly from first-sources when it isn’t necessary. Over all, I’d rate the book as being fair-to-middlin’ and worth a look for the serious and casual student of the Civil War, though probably a bit much to take for anyone who doesn’t read in the field frequently.

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