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"Man-Eater: The Life and Legend of an American Cannibal" Harold Schechter delivers the definitive story of a legendary crime—a gripping tale of unspeakable suffering, the desperate struggle for survival, and the fight to uncover the truth. Learn more | See related books
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I would like to give this 2.5 stars, but 3 is too much.
As a tactical discussion this is probably preferable to Paddy Griffith's work favoring vigorous frontal assault and discounting the new firepower. However, Attack and Die has some glaring omissions that hurt it, and it also makes some assertions that don't help. There are too many technological phases and differing terrain, strategic, and logistical situations in the American Civil War to support the simple tactical absolutes that authors too often apply.
The authors' thesis is two fold: Southern armies were too aggressive; and that this was the result of Celtic heritage. On the first point it is true that the improvements in the rifle and percussion firing systems greatly improved the odds for the force on the tactical defensive. As the war progressed, earthworks further increased lethality of rifles while shielding the defender and concealing his numbers. However, this completely misses the strategic fact that it's rather hard for two opposing armies to simultaneously and indefinitely remain on the defensive since it results in stalemate. Unfortunately, as Joe Johnston proved both at Vicksburg (by failing to support Pemberton) and before Atlanta, if one cannot find an opportunity to repel the invader, the enemy can pin one's force and subdue it through siege operations. So remaining on the defensive can result in an even more demoralizing defeat without ever yielding an opportunity for victory. Preserving one's force is irrelevant if it cannot be fed or equipped because of destruction of one's territory, industry and logistical hubs. Lee, Davis, and even Bragg understood that. "Use it or lose it" applies.Read more ›
The book contains valuable sources, is well documented, and presents some good information, but it has some unpleasantly conspicuous problems. This book presents a mono-causal reason at the tactical level of war for why the Confederacy lost which is overly simplistic. Analysis of conflicts and their resolutions can rarely by tied to one cause - causes are normally woven together and to analyze one thread without the others creates an artificiality which negates any sincere analysis. This book conducts a sterile study of war at the tactical level without the influence of strategy, operational plans, politics, or economics which gives questionable results. In the beginning of the book, the authors clearly state their thesis which is the only time that it is clear. They begin to present data in several different tables that are skewed. In presenting a case that the Confederacy suffered more casualties because they attacked more often, the authors include the 29,396 southern soldiers who surrendered at Vickburg (these soldiers were entrenched and never attacked). There is sufficient evidence to support their case without skewing figures - this only lessens their credibility. After the first section, the thesis of the book seems to wander. Facts are presented but analysis is missing. Various issues of the war are well presented while others are biased and fail to present all of the evidence - some of the evidence does not support the thesis and some negates it. The combination of the rifle and fieldworks are proclaimed to be practically invincible. This becomes the primary thesis for most of the second section and the authors are more interested in proving this new thesis than supporting their original one.Read more ›
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The focus of this book is boldly stated on page xv: "How and why the Confederates lost so many men is the burden of this book. We contend that the Confederates bled themselves nearly to death in the first three years of the war by making costly attacks more often than did the Federals."
One theme of the book is that warfare had been changed by the outset of the Civil War, with the development of rifled guns. Masses of troops firing at one another at close range made some sense with the inaccurate muskets of the Revolutionary War or the Napoleonic Wars. However, such formations made much less sense as rifles increased accuracy and range.
Among specific arguments that the book makes is that the romance of the bayonet was pretty much done; evidence suggests that rather few casualties came from bayonet thrusts? Why not? It was difficult for attacking soldiers to get close enough to defenders because of the rifle fire and the use of defensive positioning. Fieldworks thwarted many massed charges; soldiers on the defensive were ordinarily better placed for victory than those who attacked. Just so, the value of cavalry with sabers bared, charging. The bulk of cavalry combat came with troopers fighting as infantry did, not fighting from atop their horses.
Doctrine lagged behind facts-on-the-ground. Only a few officers began to redefine how to carry out an offensive against entrenchments (e.g., Emory Upton). And, according to the authors, Confederates appeared less willing to give up the tactical offensive. Why? Here comes the rather bizarre part of the book. The authors content that southerners were more Celtic and Northern troops more English. And, the contention goes, Celtic warriors fought on the offensive (there is even an effort to tie the Rebel yell to Celtic warriors).Read more ›