Book Review: The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War

The Grand Design:  Strategy and the U.S. Civil War, by Donald Stoker

As a historical reader with a passionate interest in the American Civil War, it is a treasure to be able to find, read, and recommend a book that provides something meaningful that has not already been said in depth and at length about the Civil War. This book delivers, in a detailed examination of the often-muddled attempts on both sides to align civil and military goals and ensure civilian leadership without harming the need for working through the military hierarchy. While this may not sound fascinating, most of the book is an examination of what generals and politicians on both sides did to both exploit the circumstances of war as well as execute a grand strategic design (rather than merely battle tactics).

Two conclusions that this book comes to are worthwhile–for one, that the North could have won much faster by focusing on taking Chattanooga in early 1862 rather than waiting until late 1863, and two, that the main reason the North was able to defeat the South was because the North (eventually) found a military strategy that corresponded to its strategic strengths (greater numbers and military power, a more consistent view of freedom, a powerful navy) and that allowed it to achieve its aims (a destruction of the slave owning power and a restoration of the Union). Notably, the South was never able to reconcile its contrary strategic goals of preserving its inferior strength and its political need to defend every inch of territory to form a grand strategy of any kind linking military and political and diplomatic aims. Thus defeat on the strategic level led to subsequent defeat on the ground. This book is a fascinating explanation of the greater strategic elements of the Civil War, making it a must-read for Civil War buffs with an interest in strategy. I somehow suspect that is a very wide audience.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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