Book Review: Armies South, Armies North

Armies South, Armies North:  The Military Force Of The Civil War Compared And Contrasted, by Alan Axelrod

This book attempts a difficult task, and that is attempting to quantify in some sort of rating the strengths and weaknesses of the Union and Confederacy and their armies, and that task is made more difficult by the fact that the author appears, in his use of language, to be an open partisan of the South.  Obviously, the outcome of the Civil War is not something that can genuinely be disputed, but given that the Confederacy is the largest breakaway attempt in terms of size and population relative to the nation it was attempting to breakaway from that failed in the course of human history, those who want to portray the South as being better than incompetent have a great degree of interest in presenting the balance between North and South in terms of warmaking capabilities as closely as possible.  The extent to which this attempt to close the gap and make the South appear to be a better defender than, say, Paraguay in the War of the Triple Alliance when it held off three nations, two of whom were massively larger in force capacity, for a longer period of time despite far less land and at far greater cost even with a far lower level of technology and logistical capabilities, is successful is quite up to debate.

After a short introduction, this book of about 250 pages or so of material provides a detailed set of chapters that seeks to compare and contrast the performance and capabilities of the Union and Confederacy in the Civil War.  The first part of the book looks at the development of the US Army during the American Revolution, War of 1812 and Mexican War (1) and its effects on the officer’s corps in particular (2), as well as the state of America’s constabulary force at the eve of war (3).  After that the second part of the book discusses the relative esprit and economics between the two combatants (4), the mobilization of the Confederacy (5) and Union (6), the Confederate (7) and Union armies (8), Johnny Reb (9) and Billy Yank (10) and their commanders, the uniforms, equipment and arms of the Confederacy (11), and Union (12), and then closes with a look at the Civil War for African-Americans (13), the medics of both sides (14), and prisoners of war (15).  This then leads to a detailed discussion of the performance of the three main Confederate field armies, namely the Army of Northern Virginia (16), the Trans-Mississippi (17), and the Army of Tennessee (18) as well as the various Union armies like the Army of the Potomac (19), the Army of the Southwest (20), the Army of the Mississippi (21), the Army of the Tennessee (22), the Army of the Cumberland (23), the Army of the Ohio (24), the Army of the James (25), and the Army of the Shenandoah (26).  Finally, the book ends with the author’s somewhat skewed calculus of victory and defeat in an afterword as well as endnotes, an index, and notes about the author.

Ultimately, I found the approach of the book to be very worthwhile in the way that the author sought to provide a quantitative measurement of what all too often has been argued with a great degree of emotion but not much in the way of sound analysis, but the author’s clear bias towards the South was still off-putting to me.  Over the course of four years of war, with the Union not even really beginning to aggressively invade the South at all for the first year, the South lost more land than any other unsuccessful rebellion has ever lost.  The Confederacy’s resistance was as successful as Biafra’s against Nigeria, and Biafra was far more disadvantaged in terms of population relative to the rest of Nigeria and its geographical position far more difficult to defend.  Thus the author’s belief that the Confederacy’s performance was a two-star one against a Union performance of two and a half stars seems a bit too much of a stretch.  Either the Union was better than the author thinks, the Confederacy was not as good (it was especially poor in the logistics of food and clothing as well as among its commanders in the West) as the author claims, or a little of both.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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