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A selection of the Military Book Club
While the Civil War is mainly remembered for its epic battles between the Northern and Southern armies, the Union was simultaneously waging another campaign—dubbed “Anaconda”—that was gradually depriving the South of industry and commerce, thus rendering the exploits of its field armies moot. When an independent Dixie finally met the dustbin of history, it was the North’s coastal campaign, as much as the achievements of its main forces, that was primarily responsible.

Strangling the Confederacy examines the various naval actions and land incursions the Union waged from Virginia down the Atlantic Coast and through the Gulf of Mexico to methodically close down every Confederate port that could bring in weapons or supplies. The Rebels responded with fast ships—blockade runners—that tried to evade the Yankee fleets, while at the same time constructing formidable fortifications that could protect the ports themselves. While Union troopships floated offshore, able to strike anywhere, mobile Confederate forces were kept at hand near crucial points, albeit in smaller numbers, to resist Federal irruptions into their homeland.

In the final analysis, the Union’s Navy Board, a unique institution at the time, undertook the correct strategy. Its original decision to focus on ten seaports that had rail or water connections with the Confederate interior—from Norfolk to Charleston to Mobile to New Orleans—shows that the Navy Board understood the concept of decisive points. In a number of battles the Federals were able to leverage their superior technology, including steam power and rifled artillery, in a way that made the Confederate coastal defenses highly vulnerable, if not obsolete. On the other hand, when the Federals encountered Confederate resistance at close-quarters they often experienced difficulties, as in the failures at Fort Fisher, the debacle at Battery Wagner, the Battle of Olustee, and in other clashes.

What makes this book particularly unique is its use of modern military doctrine to assess and analyze the campaigns. Kevin Dougherty, an accomplished historian and former career Army officer, concludes that, without knowing it, the Navy Board did an excellent job at following modern strategic doctrine. While the multitude of small battles that flared along the Rebel coast throughout the Civil War have heretofore not been as well known as the more titanic inland battles, in a cumulative sense, Anaconda—the most prolonged of the Union campaigns—spelled doom for the Confederacy.
The Port Royal Experiment builds on classic scholarship to present not a historical narrative but a study of what is now called development and nation-building. The Port Royal Experiment was a joint governmental and private effort begun during the Civil War to transition former slaves to freedom and self-sufficiency. Port Royal Harbor and the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina were liberated by Union Troops in 1861. As the Federal advance began, the white plantation owners and residents fled, abandoning approximately 10,000 black slaves. Several private Northern charity organizations stepped in to help the former slaves become self-sufficient. Nonetheless, the Point Royal Experiment was only a mixed success and was contested by efforts to restore the status quo of white dominance. Return to home rule then undid much of what the experiment accomplished.

While the concept of development is subject to a range of interpretations, in this context it means positive, continuously improving, and sustained change across a variety of human social conditions. Clearly such an effort was at the heart of the Port Royal Experiment. While the term "nation-building" may seem misplaced given that no "nation" was the beneficiary of these efforts, the requirement to build institutions critical to nation-building operations was certainly a large part of the Port Royal Experiment and offers many lessons for modern efforts at nation building.

The Port Royal Experiment divides into ten chapters, each of which is designed to treat a particular aspect of the experience. Topics include planning considerations, philanthropic society activity, civil society, economic development, political development, and resistance. Each chapter presents the case study in the context of more recent developmental and nation-building efforts in such places as Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan and incorporates recent scholarship in the field. Modern readers will see that the challenges that faced the Port Royal Experiment remain relevant, even as their solutions remain elusive.

The largest offensive of the Civil War, involving army, navy, and marine forces, the Peninsula Campaign has inspired many history books. No previous work, however, analyzes Union general George B. McClellan's massive assault toward Richmond in the context of current and enduring military doctrine. The Peninsula Campaign of 1862: A Military Analysis fills this void. Background history is provided for continuity, but the heart of this book is military analysis and the astonishing extent to which the personality traits of generals often overwhelm even the best efforts of their armies.

The Peninsula Campaign lends itself to such a study. Lessons for those studying the art of war are many. On water, the first ironclads forever changed naval warfare. At the strategic level, McClellan's inability to grasp Lincoln's grand objective becomes evident. At the operational level, Robert E. Lee's difficulty in synchronizing his attacks deepens the mystique of how he achieved so much with so little. At the tactical level, the Confederate use of terrain to trade space for time allows for a classic study in tactics.

Moreover, the campaign is full of lessons about the personal dimension of war. McClellan's overcaution, Lee's audacity, and Jackson's personal exhaustion all provide valuable insights for today's commanders and for Civil War enthusiasts still debating this tremendous struggle. Historic photos and detailed battle maps make this study an invaluable resource for those touring the many battlegrounds from Young's Mill and Yorktown through Fair Oaks to the final throes of the Seven Days' Battles.

Long relegated to a secondary position behind Gettysburg, Vicksburg has more recently earned consideration by historians as the truly decisive battle of the Civil War. Indeed, Vicksburg is fascinating on many levels. A focal point of both western armies, the Federal campaign of maneuver that finally isolated the Confederates in the city was masterful. The Navy’s contribution to the Federal victory was significant. The science of the fortifications and siege tactics are rich in detail. The human drama of Vicksburg’s beleaguered civilian population is compelling, and the Confederate cavalry dashes that first denied the Union victory were thrilling. But perhaps more than any other factor, the key to the Federal victory at Vicksburg was simply better leadership. It is this aspect of the campaign that Leadership Lessons: The Campaigns for Vicksburg, 1862–1863 seeks to explore.

The first section of this book familiarizes the reader with the challenges, characteristics, and styles associated with leadership during the Civil War in general. It also outlines the Vicksburg Campaign by explaining the strategic significance of the Mississippi River and Vicksburg, detailing the opposing forces and the terrain, discussing the failed attempts to capture Vicksburg over the winter of 1862–63, and tracing the brilliant campaign of maneuver and logistics that allowed Grant to ultimately lay siege and win a Federal victory. The second section of the book contains 30 “leadership vignettes” that span the actions of the most senior leaders down to those of individual soldiers. Each vignette focuses the campaign overview to the specific situation in order to provide appropriate context, explains the action in terms of leadership lessons learned, and concludes with a short list of “take-aways” to crystallize the lessons for the reader.

The human drama of Vicksburg involved such traits as daring, persistence, hesitation, raw courage, vascillation, self-confidence, and over-reliance—all with a great prize at stake. This study of many of the Civil War’s most famous commanders who vied for the Rebel “Gibraltar on the Mississippi” reveals combat on a wide scale, but more importantly lessons on decision-making that still apply to this day.

Kevin Dougherty, a career Army officer and more recently a university history instructor and tactical officer at the Citadel, is the author of six previous books on the Civil War.
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