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BOOK REVIEWS Dictionary ofAmerican Military Biography. Edited by Roger J. Spiller, Joseph G. Dawson III, and T. Harry Williams. (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984. 3 vols. Pp. 1,368. $145.00.) Look at a battle map sometime. It all appears so neat and simple, with straight lines of ink on flat paper, varying colored arrows denoting orderly troop dispositions, dark areas differentiating between hilly country and flat ground. Yet wars are not fought with ink on paper nor conducted on a drawing board. Living beings struggle in large numbers; they have individual feelings; they bleed, and they die. Despite the scope of warfare , it is fundamentally a highly personal thing. For a nation which prides itself as a peace-seeker, America has had an illustrious military past. Eight major wars have marked our 210-year history. Battle names dominate our annals far more than any international pacts or peace treaties do. Preparedness, not pacification, commands our attention—and the national budget. Yet despite the fascination for and domination of war in our society, two weaknesses are inherent in the study of military history. The first is a tendency to oversimplify the facts. For example, Civil War buffs (professional as well as amateur) need little prodding to argue that the fall of Nashville, or the Confederate setback at Antietam Creek, or the Union victory at Gettysburg, was the highwater mark of that war. If any of those assertions were true, the conflict would have come to a close at that particular time. However, the loss of Nashville posed no danger to Richmond; after Gettysburg, the South was successfully defiant at Chickamauga, the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, etc. The Civil War was simply too big for one moment to reign supreme. The second failing so often seen in military history is the overemphasis on heroes. We are a nation of hero-worshippers. That is not bad, so long as one keeps in mind exactly what made a person a hero. No one doubts the heroism of Robert E. Lee; but was Lee's greatness all in his own makeup, or did he become eminent because the gallant men in the Army of Northern Virginia made him so? Moreover, heroism is not something which is easily definable. A display of bravery certainly qualifies—but so might endurance under pressure, or determination in the face of defeat. America has had a large and quite heterogenous group of heroes, sometimes on opposite sides of an issue. That is but one of several pleasant discoveries in this meticulously prepared compilation. 278CIVIL WAR HISTORY Resolved to present a reference tool more accessible and comprehensive than the Dictionary ofAmerican Biography, Generals in Blue, and similar works, the editors of the Dictionary of American Military Biography labored long and painstakingly at their task. Over two hundred writers and historians participated in the project. (The sum total unquestionably provides a clear picture of the thinking and quality of current military history in this country.) In many instances, biographers wrote the essays on their particular area of specialization. Each writeup, according to the editors, went through twenty-five stages of additions and subtractions before reaching final form. The widest possible range of individuals are discussed here. In other words, any connection with the American military establishment qualified a person for inclusion. Clara Barton is the set's biggest shocker, but biographical sketches will also be found on World War II Selective Service System Director Lewis Hershey, Theodore Roosevelt, Oveta CuIp Hobby of the Women's Army Corps, the Marquis de Lafayette, Virginia settlers John Smith and Nathaniel Bacon, historian Samuel Eliot Morrison , cabinet secretaries John C. Calhoun, Edwin M. Stanton, and Stephen R. Mallory, Abraham Lincoln, plus such Indian leaders as Black Hawk, Chief Joseph, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Geronimo. What makes this biographical listing so superb is not merely the factual contents nor the many nuggets which underscore personality. Rather, the greatest value here is in the three or more paragraphs which close each entry. They analyze the subject by stressing individual traits, strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and failures. Overwhelmingly the entries are expectedly laudatory, yet a large number are not—and hence more accurate. It should be no surprise that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 277-280
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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