Magazine article Army

'Superb Examination' of Civil War Strategy

Magazine article Army

'Superb Examination' of Civil War Strategy

Article excerpt

'Superb Examination' of Civil War Strategy The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War. Donald Stoker. Oxford University Press. 498 pages; maps; index; $27.95.

Of the numerous books on the American Civil War, few have explored in depth the critical role of strategy in determining the outcome of this nation's bloodiest conflict. On the eve of the sesquicentennial of that war, Donald Stoker fills that gap with a superb examination of the larger employment of military power beyond the battlefield. By focusing purely on military strategy during the war, Stoker hopes his audience learns from the successes and failures of the conflict's principal antagonists. Tfie Grand Design provides a welcome addition to the war's historiography that will largely appeal to senior field-grade and general officers who concentrate on the operational and strategic levels of warfare.

Stoker is professor of strategy and policy for the U.S. Naval War College's (NWC) program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. His analysis of military strategy reflects the core syllabus of the Strategy and Policy (S&P) course taught at the Navy's senior service college. Indeed, Army graduates of the NWC will readily recognize the familiar themes of the S&P course: adequacy of strategy, strategypolicy (mis)match, civil-military relations and war termination.

Stoker defines strategy as "the larger use of military force in pursuit of a political objective." Consequently, The Grand Design is not a comprehensive history of the Civil War, even though battles and commanders play an integral role. Rather, Stoker focuses on the larger military and political objectives that the combatants sought. In doing so, Stoker makes a strong case that overall strategy, rather than the tactics displayed on the battlefields, determined the outcome of the conflict.

The heart of Stoker's study revolves around Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, two Kentuckyborn chief executives with differing views on their respective roles as commanders in chief. Early on, Lincoln made the decision to use military force as the North's response to secession. Davis, on the other hand, adapted a strategy of cordon defense to protect the entire southern border. Exacerbating the disparity of forces between the North and South was Davis' conviction that not only was he the Confederacy's commander in chief, but also its general in chief, a role that he was ill-equipped to play despite his background as a West Point graduate, a Mexican- American War hero, and Secretary of War in the Franklin Pierce administration.

Stoker believes that Lincoln's true genius lay in the political realm. Early on in the conflict, Lincoln deciphered the South's center of gravity - its armies. By keeping his political objectives foremost in his mind, Lincoln always ensured that his political and military subordinates aligned their actions with his administration's policy. Lincoln's chief problem was identifying the right generals to implement his strategy.

In contrast, Davis lost control of the political side of the equation when he bowed to his military commanders' wishes to invade Kentucky in September 1861. He "allowed a general, Polk, to decide policy and invade the purview of a nation's leader. …

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