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  • Reflections of a Civil War Historian: Essays on Leadership, Society, and the Art of War
  • William Garrett Piston
Reflections of a Civil War Historian: Essays on Leadership, Society, and the Art of War. By Herman Hattaway. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8262-1487-8. Notes. Index. Pp. xv, 254. $44.95.

Herman Hattaway's Reflections of a Civil War Historian collects essays from across his long and distinguished career. Some are addressed to fellow academics, others to a general audience. Some pieces are collaborative, but most were written solo. Almost all have been previously published. Hattaway forthrightly labels the collection a "late-in-career vanity piece" (p. xiii), but the book deserves wide readership, for it reminds us why Hattaway is considered one of the most distinguished students of the late T. Harry Williams. Many prominent Civil War scholars actually know very little about military history. Hattaway knows it well and writes it beautifully.

Hattaway's thirteen essays are in three sections. "Civil War Leadership" covers Stephen D. Lee; P. G. T. Beauregard; John Hunt Morgan; George H. Thomas; and Abraham Lincoln. "Society in Wartime" examines conflict within Christian churches; the relationship between state rights and local defense; and friction between the Lincoln administration and the United Kingdom. "The Art of War" has essays on balloons in the American military from the Civil War to World War I; the War Board, precursor to a true general staff; an overview of how Civil War armies were created, mobilized, and developed; and an analysis of how tactics evolved during the war.

Some of Hattaway's essays are printed versions of addresses to Civil War Round Tables or pieces written for popular magazines, based largely on secondary sources. They are well-written and by no means "light weight." For example, in "Stephen D. Lee and the Guns of Second Manassas," Hattaway unravels a complex controversy related to General James Longstreet's counterattack. Some essays come from papers presented at academic conferences, [End Page 241] presaging Hattaway's subsequent monographs. In "State Rights and Local Defense," Hattaway outlines many of the ways the Confederacy benefited from localism. This was an important theme in his later collaborative work, Why the South Lost the Civil War.

Military historians will be particularly interested in two essays. "The War Board, the Basis for the United States's First General Staff," was originally published in Military Affairs in 1982. Here Hattaway and coauthor Archer Jones rescue from obscurity the important effort made by Secretary of War Edward M. Stanton, who in 1862 brought the heads of the various army bureaus together under retired Major General Ethan Allen Hitchcock. Although the Board did not last long, it gave Stanton crucial assistance early in his tenure and established important relationships that continued informally throughout the war. In "The Evolution of Tactics in the Civil War," Hattaway provides an overview of how West Point education and Mexican War memories combined with fortuitous circumstances at battles such as Shiloh, Antietam, and Fredericksburg to demonstrate the power of the defensive. He follows this with a survey of past and current writings concerning tactics, including Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson's controversial "Celtic thesis," which links ethnicity to a Southern propensity for the offensive, and assertions by Paddy Griffith and Earl J. Hess that historians have exaggerated the impact of rifles during the war.

Hattaway concludes with an epilogue that touches upon everything from Civil War Round Tables to Civil War reenactors, and from controversies over Nathan Bedford Forrest to Ken Burns's PBS extravaganza. It's a bit of a shotgun blast, but he hits his targets. Hattaway considers himself highly privileged to have made a living teaching and writing about the Civil War. This book, like his many other works, demonstrates how his career has benefited both the public and his chosen profession.

William Garrett Piston
Southwest Missouri State University
Springfield, Missouri


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 241-242
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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