Book Review: The Politics Of Command

The Politics Of Command: Factions And Ideas In Confederate Strategy, by Thomas Lawrence Connolly and Archer Jones

There are a few people at least who will read this book and miss what I think is the worth and enjoyment of a work like this. There are some people who will read this book or one like it and think that the Confederacy fell because it was a house divided, to borrow that biblical and Abraham Lincoln quote. And it is certainly true that there were divisions within the Confederacy that the author explores, differences that were inherent in the strategic situation of the South as well as the squabbles that tend to be pretty inevitable when one is dealing with very scarce military resources and very different priorities and perspectives. What is detailed in this particular book is a somewhat detailed look at some of those divisions within the Confederacy, none of which the author entirely endorses and which reflect the institutional politics of the Confederate States of America. The lack of formal parties and party discipline within the Confederacy meant that the factions that existed combined personal grievances as well as different perspectives and tended to add a sharp and bitter edge to the disagreements that existed. And, unfortunately, Jefferson Davis does not appear to have been as savvy a coalition builder as Abraham Lincoln was, to the great detriment of his cause.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and contains various chapters that serve to help the reader understand the nature of political factions within the Confederate political and military establishment. The authors begin with acknowledgments and an introduction. After that comes a look at the European inheritance that came especially from Jomini and the writing after the French Revolution that Americans, including rebels, inherited (1). After that comes a look at the role of Robert E. Lee and the strategy of the Civil War, which was especially heavily influenced by his own Virginian background as well as the fact that he spent most of the war dealing with the concerns of Virginia as well as its logistical connections to the Carolinas (2). This is followed by a discussion of the western concentration bloc, which the authors view as being particularly important (3) as a counterweight to Lee’s focus on Virginia. This is followed by Davis’ role as general-in-chief as well as the importance of troop and logistical support within the Departmental system of the Confederacy (4). This is then followed by chapters on the ghost of Beauregard (5) as well as the politics of command (6). The main content of the book is followed by an appendix on prewar connections between Confederate leaders as well as simplified diagrams that show the connection between Civil War and Napoleonic warfare, as well as a bibliographical essay and an index.

Despite the fact that I am not very sympathetic to the cause of the Confederacy, there is much interest in the way that different factions and ideas influenced the Confederacy, as these differences have endured even to the present-day when it comes to how the Confederacy is remembered. In particular, the hostility between Davis and who the authors refer to as the Western Concentration Bloc hardened into bitterly hostile battles in essays and memoirs that paint the picture of the Confederacy as a hotbed of overly sensitive and prickly people with fragile egos and an inability to get along with others, even those who would be considered as natural allies. I think that the authors manage to do a good job at discussing the reasons why these divisions existed and point to the complexity of the connections that existed among Confederate leaders, ties of kinship, friendship, as well as political patronage going back decades into the military, Congress, as well as local politics. These are elements that students of the Civil War do not always consider but they help us to be a bit more favorable to the authors’ thesis than may be the case without that context.

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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