Nations often stumble into war. Miscalculations, expectations and preconceptions work together to blind one or both parties to reality. The result is a war that neither side particularly wanted but was unable or unwilling to avoid. Once started war requires planning. Each sides needs to determine its' objectives and a course of action that will attain them. Ideally, each campaign helps obtain the objective. In the Civil War, the objective of each side is very straightforward: The South wanted to become an independent nation and the North wanted to preserve the Union. Since the two objectives are mutually exclusive, victory in an exhausting war is the result.
Donald Stoker takes a long and detailed look at how each side worked to accomplish their objective. This is a detailed look at conducting one of the most important wars in America's history. This is a combination of history, theory, observation and "might have been". The mix results in an absorbing and thought provoking read. This is not a basic history! This is an advanced intermediate level book. A background in the issues, coupled with an understanding of "Battles and Leaders", the major and some minor political figures and the campaigns is required. Without these, this is going to be a long long long book! With them, it is a lively read that can pull together several ideas giving "the reason why" to any number of questions.
I alternated between enlightenment, enjoyment, agreement and disagreement. His handling of Halleck is excellent. I feel he is to hard on Meade. At times, he is inconsistent on J. E. Johnston. Overall, the author's position is mainstream current history. Each reader will find something to disagree with but will agree on most items.
The book opens with a discussion of strategy, as we understand it and as understood 150 years ago. In this section, the author defines terms and outlines his argument. The book proceeds from 1861 to 1865, covering the planning or lack of planning and direction of the war. Much of the history is of political control and political problems with generals. We watch Lincoln grow into his role as commander, even as we see Davis mired in details. Each campaign season, produces a new set of opportunities and dangers. Political considerations, for Lincoln East Tennessee, influence campaigns while producing problems with generals. The South constantly is trying to balance limited resources, reward success and retrieve lost areas. The author maintains a firm grip on the major areas of the war, outlining how they contribute or fail in each year. Neither President has an easy time with his generals nor have generals an easy time with their President. The development of the path to victory is a complex story that the author tells well.
This is a book every student of the war will want to read. This is an understandable explanation of why the war came to be fought as it was. It is an intelligently written book full of good ideas that will challenge you, while increasing your understanding of the war.
on August 6, 2010
According to the author a long term grand strategy is a must in winning wars. That's the prime reason the North defeated the South. Superior manpower and greater industrialization were secondary. In fact without the better strategy the North might have lost the war.
Since National Policy and Grand Strategy is the main theme that runs throughout this book, Mr Stoker begins his book with a deliberate discussion of what grand strategy is and how it differs with operational and tactical considerations. He also explains how strategy has evolved and that today's description is a little different, more involved than 150 or more years ago. Clausewitz, a Prussian strategist during Napoleonic years, is brought into the discussion for his influential theories that the officers of both sides had studied.
An illustration of an inverse triangle is presented to show the levels of Strategies that are essentials if a combatant is expected to win a war. At the top and most important is National Policy and moving down the scale of importance is Grand Strategy, Strategy, Operations and finally Tactics.
The author goes to great lengths describing each level and how they interrelate with the other levels. Unless you're already an expert in this stratagem, this opening chapter is essential to get the most out of the rest of the book. He then moves on to describe the planning process for Lincoln and Davis in developing their respective overall strategy.
The author is equal handed in his discussion and appraisal of both sides and discusses Lincoln's effort to get his generals to work with him in achieving the Grand Strategy that he developed as does Davis for the south. Though Lincoln had no prior military experience he had a lot of common sense and it will be shown that his top generals - McClellan, Hooker, Meade and Halleck- were very hestitant and didn't really worked with the President as they should have. President Lincoln wasn't as sure of himself militarily and didn't press his ideas on McClellan, Hooker, even Meade as he should have. President Davis will be shown lacking in these skills of developing Grand Strategy and General Lee will have to fill the void. The presidents and these generals, plus Generals Lee and Grant are discussed extensively throughout the book in their attempts to prosecute the war and how they helped or hindered in following National Policy and Grand Strategy. Every issue of the war is not covered but the author selects the key events that will have an impact, either good or bad, on the Grand Strategy being implemented. I especially enjoyed the chapter on Gettysburg, the discussion on the motivations and expectations of Lee was really quite good.
While limited discussions are made on the tactical aspects of key battles, most of the time is spent on showing how the results of these battles impact the long term big picture as well as how the Commander in Chief responds to those results and the commanders causing those results.
In the final chapter, the author makes his overall conclusions and appraisals of both sides and their key people. A brief discussion of post war life of key people is also covered.
There are 17 large scale maps to help you follow the narrative but there are no photos. There is an impressive Notes section and Index if further study is desired.
From my perspective, a person who has read a number of tactical battles of the war but not the Grand Strategy concept and consider myself to be closer to the beginners end of the scale than expert, this book was exemplary and greatly insightful in helping me understand the Civil War and its key commanders better. I'm not sure if this is the best book on the market for Grand Strategy but I found it excellent and highly recommend it to all interested parties from teenagers on up.
Dr Stoker, US Naval War College Professor of Strategy and Policy, has written a very good analysis of the strategic dimension of the US Civil War. The book is a very thorough and comprehensive analysis of what the two sides were trying to achieve, and their difficulties in formulating a coherent strategy to achieve those aims. In fact, Dr Stoker makes the case that the South never really successfully formulated a strategy that could, if properly implemented, have achieved their war aims.
The North did finally formulate such a strategy, the central idea of their strategy was that the only effective way to effectively apply their preponderance of men and material was a campaign of more or less simultaneous action engaging each Southern force at the same time, so that Davis couldn't shuttle troops back and forth to deal with threats sequentially. Interestingly, Lincoln had the germ of this idea as early as the spring of 1862, but didn't have the professional credibility to effectively articulate it to his commanders, who were either obsessed creating some kind of Napoleonic Grand Battle of Annihilation (Halleck) or reluctant to bring the full force of destruction to bear on the South (McClellan). Nor did he have the confidence in his own military acumen that would permit him to impose it on them as Commander -in-Chief. The book is really an accounting of how the North gradually moved toward the policy of simultaneous action along all fronts, finally culminating in Grant's Overland Campaign and Sherman's Atlanta Campaign in the Summer of 1864. After false starts in 61, 62, and 63, the two campaigns effectively destroyed the South's ability to resist within 11 months.
Potential readers should be aware that this book as a very in depth analysis of the strategic options of both the North and the South at various points during the war. As such the book assumes a great deal of familiarity with both the war in general and the various campaigns and battles of the war in particular, this is definitely not a general history of the American Civil War. Readers who are unfamiliar with the War should probably read either McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom or Eicher's The Longest Night, preferably both.
I said in the title of the review that the book was good but not great. Really the only drawback was the narrative flow and writing style. Stoker's writing is clear and concise, especially so for an academic work (which this most definitely is) but it is missing some spark of readability such as one finds in McPherson or in Phillpott's recent Somme book. It was still a very valuable book though. And I recommend it highly, if the topic is of interest.
on August 5, 2011
There have been many many books written on the Civil War. Histories of the war run to as many as 8 volumes (though admittedly Allan Nevins' first four volumes dealt with the lead-in to the war) and in single-volume form run to a thousand pages or more. Most of these books spend some time dealing with the strategic aspects of the war, but they also spend a lot of time concerning themselves with the battles, and of course try and discuss the war on the home front, the affect on the soldiers in the field, and so forth, along with the politics. Donald Stoker's "The Grand Design" is different. He almost completely ignores the trials and tribulations of the average people during the war, which of course means that this book won't appeal to a lot of mainstream individuals. Instead, he focues exclusively, and very intelligently, on the strategic aspects of the war. He ignores politics except when they influence strategy, and he ignores battles except to recount their course very briefly and make sure you understand their outcome, and its influence on the strategic situation. Gettysburg is recounted in a little more than 2 pages; other battles of course get considerably less space, and some are dismissed in a single sentence. The author is very clearly focused on the strategic aspects of the war, and he stays focused on them quite skilfully during the course of the book.
This leads to some interesting discoveries. McClellan, it turns out, wasn't a bad commander-in-chief, it was commanding the Army of the Potomac that wasn't his forte. When he commanded the whole army, and directed operations in early 1862, his orders to Halleck and others were clear, intelligent, and well-reasoned. When at that level he discussed the operations of his own army, he was intelligent and coherent. It was when he got to the lower level of commanding his army as it moved into contact with the enemy that he got into trouble; he just couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger.
Halleck comes across worse than most of the other generals whose careers get reassessed here. He was loath to issue actual orders (Stoker's patience wears thin with him and J.E. Johnston in 1864, and the author begins to resort to sarcasm) and spent a lot of time either trying to take responsibility for things he didn't do or avoiding it for things he actually did. Not surprisingly, Grant, Sherman, and Lee come in for the best marks. Lincoln gets a more nuanced assessment than usual, and he comes out pretty well, but not unscathed. Jefferson Davis, of course, comes out very poorly, much below Lincoln in spite of his military education.
I really enjoy this sort of military history. Don't get me wrong, I like the other sort, the you-are-there-down-on-the-battlefield sort of thing. That history, though, gets written a lot, and this sort doesn't get much study, by comparison. Given Stoker's day job (he teaches "Strategy and Policy" at the U.S. Navy War College's program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA) you know that this sort of thing is going to be very judgmental. At times you can almost see Professor Stoker standing at the head of the class, with Lee, Grant, Beauregard, Sherman, both Johnstons, Lincoln, Davis, Halleck, and McClellan sitting in the class, and the Professor's handing out the grades for the end of the class, which of course is the war. McClellan is indignant that no one else believes Lee's army was as large as he thought it was, Davis and Beauregard have been fighting in the back of the class all semester, with Johnston joining in once in a while, Halleck has been smugly expecting to get the best grade and is now stunned, and Grant is snoring in the front row, bored with the grading process now that the war is over. Lincoln's telling stories, and Lee is probably puzzling over how such good grades could still result in his side losing. What I'd pay to be a fly on *that* wall...
on February 21, 2011
The Grand Design covers a field not much covered. Only books that come close are the Archer, Davis, et.al - How the North Won, Why the South Lost, and Woolworth's pair "Jefferson Davis and Failure of Command in the West " and "Lee & Davis" and T. Harry Williams's "Lincoln and his Generals". In this it is a book long over due. That said, the author has a mix of interesting, standard, and questionable assessments. For example - on the interesting side is his premise that McClellan was an effective General in Chief and had developed a coherent strategy that the Union would not manage until Grant assumed the position. It isn't often that one reads anything positive on McClellan. On the standard side - his assessment of Grant's strategy. Finally on the questionable side, the author posits that clearing the Mississippi was a diversion from taking Chattanooga and Atlanta. I think this overlooks multiple aspects. Politically clearing the Mississippi was a major boone for the administration. Militarily, the loss of the Mississippi deprived the confederacy of large amounts of supply. Some books put it at 40% of confederate foodstuffs. Additionally it cut off 1/3 of the confederacy.
While providing alternatives to Union strategic moves, the book rarely covers Confederate alternatives. One thing I have always noticed was that the South consistently thought that they could crush major Union armies with a concentration that only equaled or marginally exceeded Confederate strength. The North rarely managed to achieve this result when vastly outnumbering the Confederates. The major surrenders at Ft. Donnelson and Vicksburg occurred when the South was pinned to a location and allowed itself to be surrounded. The North except for Washington DC would never have allowed itself to be so trapped. So, while chasing the chimera of a decisive engagement, the South failed to press campaigns that could have resulted in the total defeat of a Union Army. At different times in the war a concentration on the supporting Union moves could have been decisively defeated. One example just barely touched on in the book, would have been Butler's Army of the James in 1864.
Another alternative would have been, what if the South had conducted the Atlanta campaign much as Lee conducted the 1864 Virginia campaign. If Sherman - who demonstrated little appetite for hard fighting, had had to fight for every advance in Ga. Would Lincoln have won reelection? If the North was suffering two simultaneous blood baths, would it have continued? Would the strategy of attrition not have backfired in that case? He is correct in indicating that Johnston wold never have been the general to fight.
The book provides a good critique of the thought processes of all too many civil war leaders. They too often were obsessed with tactics, and if thinking much, they concentrated on the operational. You don't read about the impact of Jomini and Clausewitz on the civil war very much. This book provides a welcome change in that department.
All in all a good addition to the library of anyone interested in the "big picture".
on May 8, 2011
Strategy is a topic often mentioned when discussing the Civil War, but it is rarely talked about in depth. Strategy in the Civil War, however, is the sole topic of Donald Stoker's hefty tome, "The Grand Design: Strategy and the U. S. Civil War."
Before delving into the topic of strategy in the American Civil War, Mr. Stoker begins by giving an overview of military strategy prior to the Civil War by referencing works by military strategists Sun Tzu, Carl von Clausewitz and Antoine-Henri de Jomini. He also differentiates policy, strategy, operations and tactics. "How a battle is fought is in the realm of tactics. Why a battle was fought is the arena of strategy."
One theme that runs through the author's narrative is Lincoln's desire for the Federal Army to simultaneously attack its Confederate counterpart at different places, thereby not allowing the Confederate Army the opportunity to weaken part of its defenses while strengthening that which is currently threatened. Mr. Stoker rightly observes that it wasn't until Grant's elevation to General-in-Cheif and his embrace of this strategy that ultimately won the war.
When strategies failed, or generals failed to implement them, Stoker points out that Lincoln was not afraid to step in, which resulted in mixed and often negative results. Once Grant was elevated to the command of the Federal army, and employed the strategy of continued simultaneous pressure against the Confederate army, Mr. Stoker observes Lincoln took a largely (but not entirely) hands off approach.
On the opposite side of the coin, Stoker demonstrates Jefferson Davis' micromanagement of the Confederate Army, and its strategy of an offensive defense, is largely responsible for the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy.
This is not a book for the beginning student of the Civil War, nor do I believe it was intended to be. The intended audience for Mr. Stoker's tome, rather, is the serious student of the Civil War, and thereby is a "must have" for the home library of every one with a serious interest in the Civil War. It is very well researched and easily read, though Mr. Stoker may draw some conclusions that a few in his audience might argue with.
on January 18, 2011
The book is well-written, easy to follow along, and the maps help (esp. in the western theatre.) Although some of Stoker's conclusions may be off (were the rebels really fighting a war of "conquest" in KY?), it is well-worth reading, and I think he got Lincoln's role in the war right. However, I think that the books main flaw is how little naval strategy/operations comes into play in the book. There is a 8-10 page part in the 1st half o fthe book that deals with naval matters, but after that we hear little @ the Union navy.
on December 26, 2010
This book is excellent in meeting the need for an examination of the Civil War at the strategic level. While providing information as to the differences of strategy, operations and tactics, Stoker provides an entertaining read for both Civil War novices and long-time buffs alike. The author lays out that a general failure by both sides to develop relevant and coherent strategies for winning the war, along with some poor leadership, unnecessarily prolonged the fighting. The author skillfully chronicles how the war played out in light of this.
In this book, it will be seen that both sides were plagued with similar problems. Neither chief executive was very adept at providing strategic leadership. Lincoln, while miserable at getting his generals to do anything and sometimes too interfering, did have some surprisingly good political and strategic common sense, and at least learned as the war went along; Davis thought he knew it all and tried controlling every aspect of military movement (refusing to appoint a general in chief until it was too late) and continued to re-appoint failed generals to command. What I found of great interest is the utter breakdown, or non-existence, of command structures on both sides, where presidents and generals "suggested" actions for their subordinates but rarely "ordered" them. Even when orders were given, a number of generals ignored their orders. This, and general timidity by some officers, meant both sides blew opportunities throughout the war.
Stoker generally concludes that of all Civil War generals, only Lee, Grant and Sherman truly attempted to think strategically and then design operations and tactics to hopefully meet the end goals. McClellan and Bragg are shown as having some strategic thinking, but were both unable to handle armies in the field. Other generals, such as Buell, Rosecrans, Halleck, Johnston and Beauregard generally lost many opportunities.
Overall, a great addition to Civil War study.
on February 7, 2016
By far the greatest number of written works on the Civil War concern battles, which both draw readers and sell books. Very few are about strategy, but that may be changing thanks to "The Grand Design". The word "strategy" comes from the Greek work strategos, loosely meaning "the art of the general." Donald Stoker, professor of strategy and policy for the U.S. Naval War College's program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., succinctly defines strategy as "the larger use of military force in pursuit of a political objective." Examples of strategies in warfare include blockades, attrition, and applying pressure at many points at once. Stoker, who has written half a dozen books on the subject of strategy, calls this book "unapologetically top-down history." In the introduction, Sroker places strategy in the middle of an inverted pyramid. Policy is at the top. It drives grand strategy, which in turn forces operations and, through it, tactics. Tactics is the employment of available means to win individual battles and engagements—in short, how individual battles are fought. In his thoroughly researched and well-written book, Stoker deals with the means employed to fight and win the Civil War.
Stoker believes that historians have paid too much attention to battles, ideas, and resources as deciding the Civil War's outcome. The two principal figures in Civil War strategy were Confederate president Jefferson Davis and U.S. president Abraham Lincoln. Surprisingly, Davis, who had a distinguished military background (a colonel and war hero in the Mexican-American War and, a decade later, one of the outstanding secretaries of war in U.S. history), turned out to be a very poor strategist. Lincoln, with little military background (a militia officer who saw no action in the Black Hawk War), had an excellent strategic sense. Lincoln essentially embraced Union general-in-chief Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott's Anaconda strategy of strangling the South by naval blockade and then bisecting it in joint army-navy operations. Lincoln always kept the political objective firmly in mind. He also saw the need for simultaneous pressure on the Confederacy. His problem was in finding the generals who would execute his grand design. When at last he had them in place, the Union won the war.
The most controversial aspect of "The Grand Design" is likely to be Stoker's resurrection of an argument by historian Rowena Reed (Combined Operations in the Civil War, 1978). Reed contends that had Lincoln only followed the plans of Scott's successor, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the war might have been decided in 1862. Stoker praises McClellan for his "understanding" of the operational art of war. That may be true, but the general's operations and tactics were certainly flawed, notably in the Antietam and Peninsula campaigns.
"The Grand Design" is an important, provocative addition to the literature of the Civil War. Hopefully, it will have a wide readership.
on January 14, 2015
Dr Stoker presents a very lucid explanation of the three levels of war: strategic, operational, and tactical. Throughout this book, he reminds the reader what level of war is being discussed. This is a great strategic overview of the Civil War, presenting startegic and operational reasons for campaigns such as Arkansas-Missouri, as well as the political rationale. A very good read.