Cover image for A great Civil War : a military and political history, 1861-1865
A great Civil War : a military and political history, 1861-1865
Weigley, Russell Frank.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxviii, 612 pages : maps ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E468 .W425 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E468 .W425 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A Great Civil War is a major new interpretation of the events which continue to dominate the American imagination and identity nearly 150 years after the war's end. In personal as well as historical terms, more even than the war for independence, the Civil War has been the defining experience of American democracy.

A lifelong student of both strategy and tactics, Weigley also brings to his account a deep understanding of the importance of individuals from generals to captains to privates. He can put the reader on the battlefield as well as anyone who has ever written about war. All of the important engagements are covered, and he does it countless times in A Great Civil War. From Fort Sumter to the early clashes in the West and border states to the naval encounters in the East and on through the great and horrible battles whose names resound in American history--Shiloh, Corinth, Bull Run, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Antietam, Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Appomattox. A brilliant narrator of battle action and historical events, Weigley is never content merely to tell a good story. Every student of war will find new insights and interpretations at the strategic and the tactical level. There are firm judgments throughout of the leaders on both sides of the conflict.

A Great Civil War also analyzes the politics of both sides in relationship to battlefield situations. Weigley is unique in his ability to put all of the pieces on the board at once; the reader understands as never before how war and politics (and individuals) interacted to produce the infinitely complex story which is the Civil War.

As with any major work, there are themes and subtexts, explicit and implicit:

Both sides began the war with strategic and tactical concepts based on Napoleon which were already obsolete because of changes in technology--and both sides struggled throughout the war to develop new strategic and tactical procedures.

The Civil War was g

Author Notes

Russell F. Weigley (1930-2004) was Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at Temple University. He is author of numerous books, including The American Way of War, Eisenhower's Lieutenants, and The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo, all available from Indiana University Press.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Because of the icon status of some Civil War soldiers--Grant, Lee, and Jackson, for instance--even general histories of the war occasionally are bogged down in analyses of their personalities and backgrounds. Weigley, professor emeritus of history at Temple University, has no such problem. In this fast-paced and comprehensive survey of the military struggle, he concentrates on what commanders did, not who they were. Weigley is a skilled writer with a knack for explaining complex military maneuvers in laypeople's terms, so general readers will not be overwhelmed. Weigley does examine some aspects of the political struggles, North and South, that influenced the military campaigns. But this is fundamentally a story of war, and he brilliantly captures the chaos, confusion, degradation, valor, and blind luck that determine winners and losers. --Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Weigley's history of the Civil War accepts slavery as the conflict's moral center, but describes the war as a military contest for political ends. For Weigley, professor of history emeritus at Temple, the Confederacy fought to defend a way of life that could be sustained only in an independent nation, while the Union government insisted on the unconditional surrender of that claim to sovereignty. The war's outcome thus depended on the adversaries' respective mastery of war-making. Weigley contends that the Civil War was not the modern, and modernizing, event described on so many television programs. North and South alike waged war on artisanal lines, making do with the tools available to them. Extensions of government power on both sides were limited and channeled. The major exception was at the war's sharp end, when improved firearms drove casualty lists relentlessly upward at the same time that armies had grown too large to be crushed in decisive battles on the Napoleonic model. Weigley's encyclopedic command of his sources enables him to combine narrative clarity and analytic perception in evaluating behaviors and decisions. To cite only one example, his discussion of Gettysburg makes clear in a few sentences why the Confederates were unlikely to have captured Cemetery Hill on July 1 under any circumstances. Weigley goes on to show the logistical reasons why Lee rejected Longstreet's proposal for an operational flanking maneuver. And he concludes by making a throwaway case that Dan Sickles may in fact have saved the Union army on July 2 by an often condemned advance to the Peach Orchard that created some maneuvering room for a constricted left wing. That kind of intellectual virtuosity, regularly repeated in these pages, makes this notable book the counterpoint to James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this in-depth review of the much-discussed War Between the States, Weigley (Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945) takes an original tact. Rather than provide a singular account of the major events of the war, he offers several perspectives, then examines the military, political, and historical consequences of each event. This approach serves up several revelations. We learn, for instance, that the attack on Fort Sumter was not a complete surprise to the UnionDthere already was concern within the army that Confederate forces might strike. Weigley also discusses some of the reasons for the first military draft, such as the short enlistment terms of militia units and the casualties that were draining the winning as well as the losing army. This book could be useful in any library but would be most practical where there are informed lay readers and/or large military, history, or Civil War history collections.DTerry Wirick, Erie Cty. P.L., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Maps
Note on Style
To the Gettysburg Address
Nineteenth-Century Americans at War
Why Did They Fight?
Chapter 1 From Secession to War
The Forts at Charleston
The Anomalous Southern Nation
The South Begins to Mobilize
Fort Sumter: The Crisis Approaches
Fort Sumter: The Bombardment
Militant America
Chapter 2 The Battle Lines Form
Napoleonic War
War in a New Style
Washington Rescued
Contentious Missouri: A Failure for Both Sides
Neutralist Kentucky
Western Virginia: Secession within Secession
Mobilizing the Union
First Bull Run
Chapter 3 Groping for Strategy and Purpose
The Union: War Aims at Military Frustration
The Confederacy: Recruitment, finance, Blockade, and War Production
The Invincible United States Navy
The Trent Affair and a Paper Tiger
The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War
Lincoln and the Purpose of the War
McClellan and the Purpose of the War
Chapter 4 Bloodshed and Indecision
An Unhappy New Year
Mill Springs
A Western Strategy Takes Shape
Pea Ridge: The Great Battle of the Trans-Mississippi
The Far West
Forts Henry and Donelson
Western Drumbeat: New Madrid, Island No. 10, The Locomotive General, Corinth, New Orleans
Conscription in the South
The Potomac Front
Battle of Ironclads
McClellan Launches the Peninsula Campaign
Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
The Climax on the Peninsula: The Seven Days
Chapter 5 The Confederacy Takes the Initiative
Cedar Mountain and Second Bull Run
Lee's First Strategic Offensive: The Maryland Campaign
Confederate Riposte in the West: Iuka and Corinth
Confederate Offensive in the West: The Kentucky Campaign
Lee versus McClellan--For the Last Time
Chapter 6 Of Liberty and War
The End of Slavery: The Sea Islands
The End of Slavery: Congressional Action
The End of Slavery: The President
Liberty Imperiled in the Name of Liberty
The End of Slavery: Arming African Americans
Chapter 7 Armies and Societies
Fredericksburg, the Mississippi River Campaign, and Stones River
Lincoln and the Republican Party
Congress Refashions the Union
The Union Pays for Its War
Dissent in War: The Opposition in the North
Inside the Confederacy
Charleston Harbor and Chancellorsville
Chapter 8 Three Seasons of Battle
Paying the Toll of War: The Military Draft in the North
The March to Gettysburg
Gettysburg: The Battle
Gettysburg: The Assessment
Vicksburg: Preparations
Vicksburg: Grant's Great Campaign of Maneuver Warfare
The Trans-Mississippi
Chapter 9 On the Horizon, the Postwar World
Assuring Freedom
The Burden of Race
From Battlefield to Polling Place (I)
The Beginnings of Reconstruction
The Union: The War, the Economy, and the Society
The Confederacy: Accelerating Breakdown
Chapter 10 Traditional Politics and Modern War
Lincoln Renominated
The Union Army Retained
The Generalship of U.S. Grant
The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor
The Race to Petersburg
The Siege of Petersburg: The First Phase
C.S.S. Alabama
A Catalog of Union Frustration: Red River, Bermuda Hundred, and Washington
The Politics of Military Deadlock
Chapter 11 Suspense and Resolution
Chattanooga to Atlanta
Battling for Atlanta
Mobile Bay
Sheridan's Valley Campaign
From Battlefield to Polling Place (II)
Chapter 12 The Relentless War
Sheridan's War against the Enemy's Economy
Sheridan's War against the Enemy's Economy and Morale
The Death Throes of the Confederacy
The End of Slavery: The Constitutional Assurance
Chapter 13 The Fires Die
Franklin and Nashville
The Campaign of the Carolinas
The Petersburg Campaign: Summer 1865 - Spring 1865
To Appomattox
Richmond and Reunion
Durham Station
The Terrible Assassination, and the Terrible War
The Sudden Death of the Confederacy