- Engineering Victory: How Technology Won the Civil War by Thomas F. Army
A new explanation and self-proclaimed "corrective" to the various single-factor theories for Union victory, Engineering Victory: How Technology Won the Civil War states that the "Union's critical advantage over the Confederacy was its ability to engineer victory"—this being more important than military strategy or industrial might (p. 5). The majority of this "engineering" is primarily the North's ability to prepare and build (and rebuild) bridges, railroads, roads, and canals in support of troop movements during the war. The book is not directed to, as the use of "technology" in the title might suggest, in-depth discussions of such things as weapons, nautical mines, or naval developments like submarines or ironclads. Rather, it is directed to the ability of the Union soldiers to engineer solutions in the field to get troops and their supplies to battle.
The book consists of an introduction, thirteen chapters, and a conclusion, along with an essay on sources, notes, and an index. It is organized in [End Page 970] three parts, the first being "The Education and Management Gap: Schooling, Business, and Culture in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America"; the second being "Skills Go to War," covering the start of the war through late 1862; and the third being "Applied Engineering," covering the fall of Vicksburg to the end of the War. This last part has individual chapters dealing with the Union's engineering efforts at Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, Red River and Petersburg, and finally the Atlanta and the Carolina Campaigns.
As the election of 1864 approached, Lincoln needed victories to assure re-election, and the Union's ability to logistically position troops by use of engineers in the field was the key to these victories. Indeed, the second and third parts of the book reflect a large amount of research into this behind-the-scenes engineering. Whereas many histories discuss troop movements associated with battles, here the author has provided details on the engineering that allowed the troops to cross rivers or be supported by rail, etc., including naming the actual engineers in charge, detailing how bridges and roads were constructed as well as the challenges overcome, and explaining how the engineers were able to respond so quickly.
The book's secondary thesis concerns the superiority of Union soldiers, summarized best on the dust jacket: "… the soldiers' education, training, and talents spelled the difference …" The first part of the book on nineteenth-century education, management, and culture asserts that because the South was a slave economy, the South had little value for applied education or technical innovation, lest it upset the "particular institution" of slavery. Conversely, because of the North's industrialized economy, it produced superior soldiers unafraid to do manual labor, while the Southern soldier avoided manual labor and had a dearth of applied training or was otherwise culturally unable to innovate. In support of this thesis, the author provides examples from North-South educational systems, pointing to individual differences. In addition, quotes from prominent Southerners are used to suggest the prevailing Southern attitude was that a Northern education was undesirable in the South. Further, the author suggests the North had superior engineering leadership, primarily supplied by the practical training provided by West Point, and the North had more of these engineers than the South.
Readers will have to decide for themselves whether or not differences in the abilities of the North-South rank-and-file soldiers and their leadership were as significant as claimed. In this regard, for a contrasting view, they may want to review works by Jennifer R. Green (Military Education and the Emerging Middle Class in the Old South, Cambridge University Press, 2008) and Rod Andrew Jr. (Long Gray Lines, University of North Carolina Press, 2001) that suggest schools throughout the Antebellum South adopted the West Point model because of its known superiority and that the differences in opportunities for practical education were not as great as previously assumed. [End Page 971]