The American Civil War

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The American Civil War. By Terry L. Jones. (New York and other cities: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, c. 2010. Pp. xxii, 729. Paper, $71.56, ISBN 978-0-07-302204-8.)

Terry L. Jones has provided another valuable resource in the crowded field of Civil War textbooks. A cursory examination of current books in the field uncovered at least a dozen, all paperback, all published by well-known trade presses. Although one might question why McGraw-Hill would publish a competitor to its popular Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (4th ed., 2010) by James M. McPherson, that is not the question for this review.

Jones states that his "blending of intimate story-telling, recent scholarship, and special topics provides a fresh new look at the Civil War that students will appreciate" (p. xviii). Given the luxury of having over six hundred pages to describe and analyze the war, he achieves his first three goals. But as far as giving "a flesh new look" to the Civil War, that can only be true if the reader is unaware of any Civil War scholarship over the past thirty years (which will most likely be the case for his intended audience, undergraduates). Most of Jones's arguments would be accepted by scholars and teachers of the Civil War, though he does go out on a limb in his last chapter when he tackles some big issues. For example, he poses questions such as, could the South have won? Did insufficient nationalistic zeal cripple the Confederacy? Was guerrilla warfare a viable option for the South? In each case he sets up the argument, then takes it apart, piece by piece. Guerrilla warfare, Jones concludes, was not a good option for the South because it "devastated entire regions and broke down morale" (p. 669). "Rather than blaming the Confederates' defeat on a lack of nationalism," Jones maintains that southern whites became "more determined to fight" and to support the Confederate government as the war wore on, not less (until the final nine months) (p. 670). Many things would have had to turn out differently for the South to win, including diplomatic recognition by Great Britain and France, which was unlikely, and military victories at some crucial moments in the war. If victory for the South rested on resolve, Jones insists that we not focus so heavily on the decline of southern resolve (which mainly happened in the last year of the war when battlefield defeats and personal deprivations "became commonplace"), but instead consider both sides: "What many fail to recognize is that the Northerners viewed the war as almost a religious struggle, and they were just as committed to winning as the Southerners. …