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Posted on Dec 20, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

ACG –Connection Two-fer!

By Armchair General

Bevin Alexander (Tipping Points, How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, etc.) and Gregory Michno (Witness to War, How the West Was Won) have each published an outstanding new ‘must read’ book. Readers familiar with the authors’ ACG articles have come to expect the very best from these noted historians. Their latest books even exceed those expectations, providing superb, well-written accounts focused on two of America’s 19th century struggles – the Civil War and the Indian Wars. We highly recommend both!

book1How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors that Led to Confederate Defeat by Bevin Alexander. 2007. Crown (crownpublishing.com). HC. 321 pages; 18 maps. $25.95

Acclaimed historian and prolific author, Bevin Alexander, is known for his revealing, insightful examinations of some of history’s most famous conflicts and commanders. His previous books include: How Great Generals Win; How Hitler Could Have Won World War II; How Wars Are Won; and How America Got It Right. This time, Alexander turns his sights on America’s most deadly conflict, the Civil War, arguing that the Union victory in 1865 was far from preordained. In fact, as the book clearly lays out, it was the South’s “fatal errors,” a relatively small number of tactical and strategic mistakes by Confederate leaders – not overwhelming Union advantages in manpower and industrial might – that doomed Confederate fortunes on the battlefield.

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“There is nothing inevitable about military victory, even for a state with apparently overwhelming strength,” Alexander writes, citing the improbable triumphs of outnumbered Greeks at Marathon, Alexander the Great’s conquest of the massive Persian empire, and even our own defeat of global superpower, Britain, in the American Revolution. Although the side with the “bigger battalions” usually prevails in a war of attrition, he reminds readers, “the tables can be turned when a weak state produces inspired leaders.” Alexander points out that the Confederacy produced a disproportionate share of the Civil War’s brilliant battlefield leaders; yet, it was above all Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson who recognized “the need to adapt to a new kind of war … and offered the South plans that would have succeeded.” The tragedy for the South was that President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee “refused to carry them out.”

Jackson, Alexander asserts, proposed an overall Southern strategy that was the “polar opposite” of his president and his Army of Northern Virginia commander. While Davis favored a totally defensive strategy that would keep Confederate armies on their own soil, Lee was always offensive minded. But, to Lee, an offensive strategy meant hitting the enemy head on, meeting strength with strength – an operational method that led to bloody battles (such as Gettysburg) and a war of attrition that the South could not hope to win. Jackson, according to Alexander, “proposed moving against the Northern people’s industries” by “bypassing the Union armies and to win indirectly by assaulting the Northern people’s will to pursue the war.” It was precisely the strategy that the South’s nemesis, Union Gen. William T. Sherman employed to gut the heart of the Confederacy in 1864.

In twelve chapters, Alexander presents the plans that Jackson and other Confederate commanders actually proposed in critical Civil War battles that, had they been effectively followed, might have changed the course of history. The result is far from a fanciful “what if?” game, relying on 20-20 hindsight and far-fetched schemes. Instead, Alexander mines the historical record to illuminate the tactics and strategies that Jackson and others pleaded for when the battle – and the war – might still have been won for the South.

Finally, lest readers think this is merely the wishful thinking of an “unreconstructed Rebel,” Alexander explains: “I sincerely hope no reader will conclude that this book’s title implies in any way that I am advocating some reappraisal of the Lost Cause or some nostalgic longing for what is gone with the wind … This book is about something entirely different … My purpose is to show that, despite the odds, wars are won by human beings. When superior military leaders come along and political leaders pay attention to them, they can overcome great power and great strength. That is the lesson we need to remember today.”

That lesson shines through in Alexander’s superbly written, cogently argued and ingeniously conceived new book.

ACG rates this book 5 Stars.

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