Archive | February, 2023

Review of Confederate Homefront: Montgomery During the Civil War, by William Warren Rogers Jr.

28 Feb

Montgomery, Alabama played a pivotal role in the Confederate war effort through its serving as the first capital of the Confederate States of America. The meeting place for the convention which resulted in the formation of the short-lived nation, the place from where the order to bombard Fort Sumter was issued, and the political center of the Confederacy at the opening of the war, Montgomery is familiar to those who have studied secession and the coming of the Civil War. Following the moving of the Southern capital to Richmond, though, Montgomery seems to disappear from narratives about the conflict. Only in a few regional studies is its experience for the duration of the war given any attention, and that only a cursory mention as one of the targets in one of the last major military operations in the war in April of 1865. In an attempt to tell more fully the first Confederate capital’s Civil War experience, historian William Warren Rogers wrote Confederate Homefront: Montgomery During the Civil War. Originally published by the University of Alabama Press in 2001 and on my bookshelf for over a decade, I finally listened to the audio version of the book in its entirety a few weeks ago.

Rogers, an accomplished historian who has spent over two decades teaching at the University of North Georgia, attempts to examine the political, social, economic, and military life of Montgomery in his book. Through a wealth of research, he helps readers understand the reality of living in the city during the era. He paints written portraits of its built environment and the numerous people who are important parts of its wartime story, ranging from politicians and generals to businessman and everyday citizens with family members serving in the Confederate army. The book is arranged topically, discussing the city’s role as national capital, its contribution of men and resources to the Confederate war effort, its wartime economy, and society. Among the more interesting chapters which offer information not widely known before are the activities of its sizable unionist-leaning population and the city as it first came into the crosshairs of Federal military officials in the last days of the war.

Other than the story of the first few months of the war in Montgomery, in which it became a focus of national attention, the story of the city during the Civil War is typical of so many Southern cities as to be ubiquitous. Troops were sent from there to fight on numerous fronts, a number of small war-related industries emerged to help support the war effort, enthusiasm for the Confederacy gradually eroded as battlefield losses struck home and its economy withered, and, finally, the city prepared to defend itself against an overwhelming enemy force to which it ultimately surrendered. Few but local readers will therefore be interested in the specifics of Montgomery history during the Civil War, knowing beforehand the broad contours of what Confederate Homefront contains before even opening the book. But for those who, like me, have an enduring fascination with the war in Alabama, however, it ranks among the better books of its type and is recommended as a case study of life there in the pivotal period between 1861 and 1865.


Review of George Washington’s Military Genius, by Dave Richard Palmer

14 Feb

George Washington looms exceptionally large as an influential figure in the founding of our nation, and not just because he was our first president. Having led the primary Continental army which won the Revolutionary War, he is remembered as a military leader who defeated the British. But Washington’s military abilities have been second-guessed by historians for generations. Washington did, after all, almost lose his entire army, and by extension the war, on more than one occasion, and some of his greatest victories have sometimes been attributed more to luck than skill. While few have sought to discredit Washington as a military leader entirely, likewise few modern scholars have chosen to herald him as a tactical genius.

Dave Palmer’s evaluation of Washington’s abilities as a strategic military tactician, then, promise to shed some light on an often-contested subject and help historians make sense of the man’s accomplishments and failures. A retired US Army Lieutenant General, former superintendent of West Point, and a former university president, historian Dave Richard Palmer brings a considerable wealth of knowledge to the task of evaluating “the father of our country” in George Washington’s Military Genius. The book was originally published in 1975 but revised and updated in a 2012 edition. I had an opportunity to listen to the audiobook version distributed by Regnery History a few weeks ago.

Palmer holds that Washington was a much more skilled strategist than he has been credit for being by most historians, and seeks to demonstrate that he used the troops and resources he had at his command effectively against a better equipped and better trained enemy. Choosing wisely when and where to take chances, Palmer demonstrates, Washington waited for the best opportunities to present themselves. Palmer offers a campaign by campaign analysis of Washington’s waging of the war in the book, relating how he reacted to the changing situation as it regarded British forces in the field and his army’s ability to move or retreat. Attacking boldly at times, forcing the British to chase him at others, and working to maneuver them into difficult situations, Palmer contends, enabled Washington to win the war by a strategy that took a long view of events.

I am not sure I am knowledgeable enough in military tactics to give a definitive opinion on the merit of all of Palmer’s evidence, but I will say that he makes a very compelling argument for Washington possessing a long-range strategy in the pages of his book. Plus, I found it an interesting story about a man whose military experience is frequently presented as merely an introduction to his presidency or as an inevitable success despite numerous setbacks. If you have an interest in our nation’s founding era and its essential figure, you will enjoy this book.