For more than forty years Herman Hattaway has thought about the Civil War, about such special facets of it as command, leadership, tactics, and innovations. This splendid volume offers an apparently eclectic collection of his essays that touch on varied parts of the war. A close reading, though—and these essays deserve a close reading—shows a personal concern running through the book. Hattaway is interested in people in war, at war, and affected by war. That is not surprising since his mentor, T. Harry Williams of Louisiana State University, had mostly similar predilections.
Biography is his forte; his scholarly career began with a life of Confederate General Stephen D. Lee and progressed to a recent study of Jefferson Davis. Beyond biography he has been concerned with the Civil War armies, with the way the war changed tactics, and with such war innovations as balloons. Especially useful are his careful studies of numbers and casualties. He blazes an important new trail in this book with his essay on “State Rights and Local Defense”; he takes sharp issue with Frank L. Owsley's famous book State Rights in the Confederacy, especially in its condemnation of local defense forces. Hattaway's careful research offers a fresh interpretation of the entire matter of state rights and the Southern war effort.
Equally cogent is his critique, in “We Shall Cease to Be Friends,” of U.S.-British relations after the Trent affair. The threatened war would have forced British efforts in Canada, where operations would have been difficult on the Great Lakes and along the upper Union coastline. Clearly the United States had the power to fight a two-front war and Hattaway adroitly suggests that a stalemate seemed likely and would have been too costly for Victoria's exchequer.
Deftly written, boldly insightful, certainly controversial, this is a must read for anyone willing to think seriously about the war that changed the United States and perhaps the world.
FRANK E. VANDIVER