Winning and Losing in the Civil War: Essays and Stories / Leadership and Command in the American Civil War

Article excerpt

Winning and Losing in the Civil War: Essays and Stories. By Albert Castel. University of South Carolina Press, 1996. 216 Pages. $29.95.

Leadership and Command in the American Civil War. Edited by Steven E. Woodworth. Savas Woodburg Publishers (1475 S. Bascom Ave., Suite 204, Campbell, CA 95008), 1996. 248 Pages. $24.95. Reviewed by Dr. Charles E. White, Infantry Branch Historian.

After 132 years, the Civil War remains the most fascinating subject in American history. And it is books like these two that continue to make it such an interesting field of study.

In Winning and Losing in the Civil War: Essays and Stories, Albert Castel looks back 40 years and reflects on his role as a historian and the state of Civil War scholarship in general. Castel is one of our finest Civil War historians, winner of the 1992 Lincoln Prize for Decision in the West, a challenging study of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. In this collection of essays, Castel reexamines his own writings on the Civil War, as well as the reasons Americans continue to rehash, reenact, and reassess that war. He also provides some excellent advice on the future of Civil War studies, particularly for those who feel that nothing new or original can be said of the epic story of the American people.

Castel's book contains 14 essays and stories grouped into four parts headed: The Probable versus the Inevitable, Setting the Record Straight, How the Civil War Was Fought, and Of Women and War. All but two of these writings have appeared in print before, but this does not detract from the quality of the book. Indeed, many of them are difficult to obtain in their original form, and Castel's reevaluation of his previous works clearly adds another dimension to his scholarship. As he writes in his preface and acknowledgments, these essays and stories "represent most of the best that I have been able to do during four decades of writing articles about America's favorite war."

His discerning eye seems to miss nothing, and his incisive mind addresses virtually every aspect of Civil War history, including many of the "might-have-beens" that have captivated both scholars and buffs for decades. Additionally, within each chapter is a bibliography of Civil War and U.S. historiography that demonstrates the breadth and depth of the author.

Castel is certainly not timid toward his subjects. He asks some challenging questions and presents some interesting answers. For example, was Dr. Mary E. Walker-the first and only woman awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor-a Samaritan or a charlatan? Were Quantrill's men "Bushwhackers" or legitimate partisans? Was there really a "massacre" at Fort Pillow? In other articles, Castel defends the honor and reputation of Robert E. Lee, discusses Gone With the Wind as history, details the amorous adventures of a Union officer during the Civil War, and analyzes the way the war was actually fought on the battlefield. …