War upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War

Article excerpt

War Upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War. By Lisa M. Brady. Environmental History and the American South. (Athens, Ga., and London: University of Georgia Press, 2012. Pp. [xxii], 187. Paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-4249-8; cloth, $69.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-2985-7.)

Historians of the American Civil War and American environmental history have long awaited Lisa M. Brady's engaging new work, War Upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War, which examines the role of wilderness during the conflict. While the book does not present a comprehensive environmental history of the war, it offers many important new insights into how soldiers constructed their view of wilderness areas and how they understood the natural world. As scholars of the Civil War increasingly investigate how soldiers thought about and constructed their worlds, as opposed to just what they believed from an ideological standpoint, the book offers an important contribution by reconstructing the relationship that Civil War Americans had with their natural environment. Brady also successfully bridges a historio-graphical gap between Civil War historians and environmental historians of wilderness.

The book argues that the American Civil War was a turning point in the history of military engineering. Before the war, military engineers worked to improve the land by altering the natural world, but the war convinced military engineers that mastery of the environment was vital to military success and could be the key to American economic expansion. Fundamentally, Brady believes that the Civil War was a transitional moment for American attitudes toward and relationship with nature. "[I]deas of nature" played an important role in the decision-making processes of soldiers (p. 4). This is certainly true of U.S. military operations against the so-called Confederate Gibraltar, Vicksburg, Mississippi, which Brady carefully investigates.

In his foreword, series editor Paul S. Sutter, an expert on the role of wilderness in American history, describes how Brady "recognized that making a wilderness of the landscape became a centerpiece of Union strategy" (p. …