In This Review

A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War
A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War
By Williamson Murray and Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh
Princeton University Press, 2016, 616 pp

Some might be disappointed with a one-volume history of the American Civil War that is less than comprehensive in its coverage of famous battles and that eschews the recent trend in military history toward concentrating on the effects of war on all levels of society. But for those who want to understand the key decisions that determined the outcome of the war, the organization of the opposing armies and their deployments, the role of logistics and intelligence, and the moments of inspired generalship (and missed opportunities), it is hard to imagine a better book than this. The authors reveal how the two sides stumbled into the first war of the modern era and then struggled to come to terms with the conflict’s strategic implications. The Union’s victory was by no means inevitable; leadership was the key, and the authors give high marks to President Abraham Lincoln for recognizing just how long and painful the war would be and how vital it would be to empower the right generals. In the east, Confederate generals displayed their tactical brilliance while hoping for a decisive battle. But the war was won, the authors argue, in the west, where the Union general Ulysses S. Grant made his name.