The American Civil War
By Terry L. Jones
(September 2010 Civil War News )
Illustrated, photographs, maps, bibliography, index, 729 pp., 2010, McGraw Hill Higher Education, www.mhhe.com, $66.56, college text, softcover.
Let the record reflect that this lawyer was drafted (and could not hire a substitute) to review this hefty textbook by Terry L. Jones, a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. While hardly the most qualified of all possible reviewers, I am a better student of the Civil War for having read this book and will be glad to have it at hand going forward.
The book contains 26 very readable chapters of approximately 26 pages each. There are two prewar chapters, 11 largely chronological chapters focused on military campaigns, and two concluding chapters about reconstruction and the war’s legacy. The other 11 chapters, scattered along the way, address topics such as naval operations, Union and Confederate politics, international diplomacy, medical care (surprisingly interesting), and irregular warfare.
There are many useful maps and a less-inspired selection of photographs and other illustrations. By way of sidebars, Jones also presents mini-biographies of 39 “well-known … and more obscure people,” profiles of “notable” units such as the Louisiana Tigers, and “eyewitness” accounts of various kinds.
These features are almost all useful, although few of the “eyewitness” accounts are compelling reading. Much less useful are Jones’ “Did You Know?” sidebars, providing sometimes rather fluffy color about topics like the origin of the word “hooker.”
Jones’ preface promises an “unbiased” account, and the publisher trumpets a “fresh and balanced approach.” The text does seem even-handed by objective measures, but at heart this descendant of Confederates is rather clearly a Union man.
The preface also disclaims any aspiration to be encyclopedic, but the military coverage seems very thorough to this reader. One omission: Jones takes no note of Gen. William T. Sherman’s march to relieve Knoxville.
As one would expect of a textbook in particular, Jones strives to reflect diversity. Thus, he explores many topics related to slavery and black soldiers (with attention in particular to the 54th Massachusetts, Louisiana Native Guards and 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers). He also emphasizes the benefit the Confederacy derived from slave labor during the war. In addition, Jones presents a chapter focusing on women, children and Native-Americans.
Jones’s laudable commitment to inclusiveness does have a cost. He presents a biography of the boy soldier Johnny Shiloh (acknowledging that much of his tale cannot be substantiated), but there is no biography of any of the wartime governors or legislative leaders unless one counts Andrew Johnson or Stephen A. Douglas, who died at the very outset of the war.
In the end, the book is dominated by military topics, and the various generals and their respective commanders-in-chief are the predominating figures. Still, the overall scope is impressive, and this reader marvels that Jones produced such a comprehensive work without co-authors, though he credits 16 reviewers in the preface.
What are the book’s shortcomings? Unfortunately, there are no notes, making it difficult to probe behind assertions. Further, this reviewer noted a dozen typos and errors of detail.
One error is the assertion that James Longstreet’s preliminary bombardment before Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg marked a historic first. Another is that Fighting Joe Hooker sent Lincoln a letter recommending a military dictatorship, but Jones implicitly corrects that in the book’s Web site of reference materials (www.mhhe.com/jones1e).
Finally, the coverage of most topics is necessarily rather brief, and the last military chapter in particular seems rushed. This reader wanted discussion of Lincoln’s March 1865 conference with Grant, Sherman and David Dixon Porter at City Point, Va., as well as more on the passing suggestion that the Confederate government may have been complicit in Lincoln’s assassination.
Still, this book is a solid accomplishment. It is well worth having, especially for reference, even for those whose college days are long behind them.
Reviewer: Carl R. Schenker Jr.
Carl R. Schenker Jr. is a lawyer living in Washington, D.C. His wife, Susan Sherman Richardson, is a great-great-granddaughter of William Tecumseh Sherman. Schenker is the author of “Grant’s Rise from Obscurity” in North & South magazine.