The American Civil War: A Military History

In This Review

The American Civil War: A Military History
By John Keegan
Knopf, 2009
416 pp. $35.00
Purchase

This interesting study of the Civil War, well-timed for the sesquicentennial, comes from one of the world’s foremost military historians. A British citizen, Keegan brings both a foreigner’s fresh eye for detail and issues that Americans may overlook and the insight that comes from a lifetime’s study of war. This is not a groundbreaking book of original research, and readers will recognize (and Keegan generously and freely acknowledges) the book’s immense debts to great American historians such as Shelby Foote and James McPherson. It is nevertheless a compelling and illuminating read; Keegan is better than many U.S. historians at capturing the degree to which European ideas and precedents shaped the military ideas of American generals and civilian leaders who were engaged in what was then the most violent conflict since the fall of Napoleon. Young readers will find this an accessible introduction to the military history of the war; scholars and more experienced students will appreciate Keegan’s incisive judgments, clear prose, and keen eye for the telling facts.