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BOOK REVIEWS War in Kentucky: From Shiloh to Perryville. By James Lee McDonough. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1994. Pp. xvii, 385. $32.00.) Civil War Kentucky is a study in paradox. Most Kentuckians favored both slavery and Union. And having rejected secession, they experienced therewards of occupation and martial law. In addition, minority secessionists formed menown government and designated a second capital. Moreover, this ostensibly peaceful region behind U.S. lines long endured a vicious guerrilla war. But the era's most glaring self-contradiction was the 1862 Confederate invasion. Apparently a straightforward fiasco, the expedition actuaUy represented, for each opposing army, a strange mix of professionalism and fumbling, realism and illusion, success and failure. Some of these inconsistencies are resolved by War in Kentucky, the first serious, book-length study of the incursion. Perceptively, James Lee McDonough equates interpreting this second major attempt to reverse the Union's western tide with understanding die war itself. Indeed, military operations from Shiloh to Perryville did reflect the vague objectives, poor coordination , and bloody indecision characteristic of contemporary armies. And by deftly synthesizing participants' words and historians' conclusions, the author sometimes reaches beyond the immediate. His richly textured, engaging narrative addresses a profound theme—the tragic toil of soldiers. More analytical attention, however, to the flawed body of thought that spawned and shaped the campaign might have clarified persistent ambiguities of the Bluegrass State's largest contest of arms. According to the author, the design to recoup Confederate losses by a vast turning move flowed from many unnamed, and unanalyzed, sources. Steven E. Woodworth argued unconvincingly for President Davis as the venture's strategic catalyst in Jefferson Davis and His Generals (1990). In contrast, McDonough credits Braxton Bragg with shining generalship in the execution ofhis own option to move personnel by train from Mississippi to Chattanooga. Without noting the rail transfer's innovative significance, the author records that Bragg "surprisingly . . . acquiesced" (80) to the Kentucky ambitions ofhis glory-hunting co-commander, Edmund Kirby Smith. Unfortunately, McDonough does not locate origins ofthe unrealistic beUefthat a traditionally BOOK REVIEWS245 nationalistic state would rise when armies ofgrayclads appeared. Theprocess by which Southern preconceptions distorted Kentucky grievances against an occupier into supposedly latent secessionism remains unclear. The campaign and much bloodshed were direct results of tiiis misconception. But the failure of strategic intelligence—unusual in a civil war—disappears in McDonough's summer 1862 inventory of Kentucky's treasures, generals' enthusiasms, and Kirby Smith's machinations. With broader perception the author details the treks of Don Carlos BueU's Federals across Tennessee. There, as McDonough explains, local events foreshadowed national trends. The effectiveness of cavalry and guerrillas against railroads and an increase in wholesale brutaUty both indicated die war's savage direction. Likewise, die Army ofdie Ohio's retreat to NashviUe portended BueU's fatal sloth, caution, and timidity. McDonough also traces the seemingly dazed exploits of Bragg and Kirby Smith in Kentucky. But die author does not gauge die distant, imperfect, yet evident influence of contemporary strategic concepts on the actions of diese two professional soldiers. Thus, only Kirby Smith's ineptitude and petulance are employed to explain his flawed possession of Lexington and his reluctance to join forces with senior commander Bragg. Similarly, Bragg's avoidance of battle at Munfordville and Louisville appears derived solely from idiosyncrasy and halting but rational choice of "options." In describing Bragg's deliberations, McDonough does, however, make a worthy contribution by illuminating that commander's notoriously murky thoughts. But the book's best passage is the account of Perryville. The author smoothly recounts how faulty intelligence, generally amateurish maneuvers , and command perception evolved into a fierce meeting engagement. And the detailed, three-chapter battle piece compellingly evokes die horror, poignancy, and immense variety of behavior in combat. Adroit uses of soldier recollections make the infantry assaults, artillery duels, and casualty tolls reverberate with human voices. In die Kentucky campaign McDonough finds a "pattern of folly" (315). Truly, conventional miUtary wisdom found witless expression in uncertain goals, divided command, and wasteful bloodletting. Yet, military factors in addition to McDonough's catalog of errors held significance for war in the heartland. Union armies, here as elsewhere, demonstrated that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 244-245
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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