The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War / Civil War Generalship: The Art of Command

By White, Charles E. | Infantry, September-December 1998 | Go to article overview

The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War / Civil War Generalship: The Art of Command


White, Charles E., Infantry


The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War. By Thomas B. Buell. Crown Publishers, 1997. 494 Pages. $35.00.

Civil War Generalship: The Art of Command. By W.J. Wood. Praeger Publishers, 1997. 269 Pages. $59.95. Reviewed by Doctor Charles E. White, Infantry Branch Historian.

Why do we need more books on generals of the American Civil War? Indeed, why do we need more books on the American Civil War? The answer to these questions is simple: the more we study history, the more we understand ourselves. We are the one constant in history; we do not change.

Remember the news footage of American Army engineers trying desperately to build a pontoon bridge across the flooding Sava River in Bosnia in January 1996? Go back to December 1864, and you will see Federal engineers trying desperately to build a pontoon bridge across the raging Duke River in Tennessee. Had George Thomas emerged from the past and stood alongside the American general in Bosnia, he would have instantly recognized the circumstances, the challenges, and the timeless lessons of history.

Warrior Generals and Civil War Generalship are two fine studies of combat leadership during the American Civil War. The very titles of these engrossing books provide a glimpse of their contents. Thomas Buell and W.J. Wood examine the art of battle command. Buell selects three pairs of "warrior" generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee; George H. Thomas and John Bell Hood; and, Francis C. Barlow and John B. Gordon. Wood also selects three pairs of warrior generals: Stonewall Jackson and Nathaniel Banks; William Rosecrans and Braxton Bragg; and, George H. Thomas and John Bell Hood.

Buell's selection of Grant and Lee, Thomas and Hood, Barlow and Gordon as portraits of warrior generals is truly insightful. Grant "the Yeoman" and Lee "the Aristocrat" commanded at the highest echelons and symbolize both the citizen and the professional soldier, as do Thomas "the Roman" and Hood "the Knight-Errant," both of whom commanded at army level. Barlow "the Puritan" and Gordon "the Cavalier," who led regiments and divisions, represent the finest traditions of the citizen-soldier. The stories of these six men create a sweeping panorama of the American Civil War.

Wood, in choosing his six generals, selects mostly professionals who had to deal with the problems of operational command. In this regard, Buell's study is much more representative of the Civil War and its generals.

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