The Battle Of Nashville: General George H. Thomas & The Most Decisive Battle Of The Civil War, by Benson Bobrick
Admittedly, this book was disappointing to me. It was disappointing for a very specific reason, though, one that is well worth exploring and considering. Specifically, this book was disappointing because it had an interesting subject but failed to cover it in sufficient depth. This is not a book written for students of military history who want to know about an important battle better. That’s what I assumed when I started reading it, but I was soon disabused of this notion as it became clear that this was a book written for people whose understanding of the Civil War is slight and who need or want a very superficial account of a lot of material before belatedly getting to the battle itself very quickly. And if that is not enough to make this a less than enjoyable work, there is the matter of the book’s approach, which does not show but rather tells. Given that the book is superficial, the fact that it decides to tell the reader what is going on rather than give details and let the reader come to one’s own conclusions is lamentable and makes this book a lot less enjoyable.
This book is just over 100 pages before its appendices, and only the last 25 pages or so deal with the battle itself. That is not a good ratio. The book begins with a discussion of Grant’s impatience with Thomas as the need for horses and the problems of weather in December (1). After that the author discusses why the Civil War was fought (2) and the beginning of the war (3). A discussion of Thomas’ background and how it influenced his loyalty to the Union despite being from a Virginian slaveowner background (4) and a discussion of the differences between the war in the Eastern and Western fronts follows (5). After this the author looks at the world of the soldier (6) as well as the problem of carnage (7) in the war, reaching nearly 75 pages before even getting to the context of the Nashville campaign itself. This context takes place in the last two chapters, which look at the prelude to the battle (8) and then the battle itself (9) and its aftermath. The postscript of this book includes Lincoln’s two inaugural addresses (i) and then some selections to the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments (ii) before notes, some books about the Civil War, picture credits, and an index.
Overall, the book’s flaws are not something that are isolated to this book. One of the characteristic problems of children’s literature, especially when it comes to nonfiction, is that writers of children’s nonfiction frequently do not feel it is enough simply to provide facts and evidence and let the reader come to conclusions. For example, quoting diaries and messages would be enough to convey a great deal of what this book outright says, and it would be better for people to learn how to understand things indirectly rather than have to be spoon-fed everything by an author whose knowledge is not that much more profound than the audience is. If this is not the worst book I have read on the Civil War, it certainly is a book that takes way too long to get to its point given how short the book is overall. An author should simply write what is necessary in order to explain the context, and this author does not do so, but rather thinks that the Battle of Nashville needs to be understood by referring to politics of the antebellum period, which is just excessive.