- With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North
Carol Reardon’s most recent book is made up of three strong essays held together by an introduction and an epilogue. Her first essay assesses a number of military writers and theorists of the Civil War era who are almost universally ignored. Her discussion of German immigrant Emil Schalk is particularly good—his work on military theory, as well as his commentaries on various aspects of the war. Filled with original research, often from generally untapped sources, and backed by intelligent analysis, With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other is a fine piece of scholarly work.
In her second essay, Reardon examines contemporary debates about the differences between “intellect” and “genius” and considers arguments about whether it was better to have commanders who demonstrated an innate “genius” in military affairs, or those who were professionally trained. Various figures fought for and against generals fitting either bill, some of the debate swirling around the relative merits of particular [End Page 610] commanders—West Point graduates as well as those who were not. In the end, observers decided that a few Union generals (certain successful ones) possessed trained intellects and innate genius.
In the final essay, Reardon addresses a number of issues grouped under the appropriate rubric “the human factor.” Building on Antoine-Henri Jomini’s scant mention of such things in Summary of the Art of War, Reardon delivers an interesting examination of issues such as the Civil War era’s understanding (or lack thereof) of what we today sometimes classify as post-traumatic stress, as well as sleep deprivation, combat stress in general, the importance of regimental affiliation, the psychological impact of the Army of the Potomac’s 1864 reorganization, and numerous other issues related to the Union army’s 1864 Virginia campaign.
All three essays are fine scholarly works, but the tie binding them together could be developed with more acuity. The glue is Reardon’s consideration of how much (or little) the work of our aforementioned Swiss-French military theorist, Baron de Jomini, impacted the military thought of the Union during the Civil War. Jomini was the most famous military theorist of his day and a prolific writer of military history; his study of the 1793 campaign of the French Revolutionary Wars is still the standard work. He is most famous for his theoretical tome, Précis de l’art de la guerre, ou Nouveau traité analytique des principales combinaisons de la stratégie, de la grande tactique et de la politique militaire (1838).An English-language version, Summary of the Art of War, first became available to American readers in 1854 in what is regarded as a poor translation. Reardon rightly shows that the nature of Jomini’s influence has been a question since the middle of the last century, one that has been inconclusively answered. The author contends that Jomini’s influence was minimal. While her assertion is undoubtedly correct, the case for it needs more meat. For example, Reardon points to the infrequent references to Jomini in the indexes of various sources, but this scarcity does not necessarily prove a lack of penetration of concepts touted by Jomini. The author’s critique of the related literature also deserves greater development and a more finely drawn line between works that insist upon Jomini’s influence and those, such as this book, that use theoretical ideas as tools of analysis. Admittedly, proving the impact of ideas, and from whence someone derives them, is difficult. And, in the end, the measure of the influence of Jomini’s teachings on the Union (and the Civil War generation in general) may very well be a historiographical issue impossible to resolve, for as the author’s work suggests, modern historians have seemed more intent on measuring Jomini’s influence than did Civil War Americans...