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The Hard Hand of War

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521599412
ISBN-10: 0521599415
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Editorial Reviews


"This is one of the best books of Civil War military history published in twenty-five years." Journal of American History

"Well researched, clearly written, and elegantly conceived, this is an important book." Choice

"Students of the Civil War continue to debate the degree to which the North embraced a strategy designed to punish the Confederacy's civilians as well as to defeat its soldiers. The Hard Hand of War is a major contribution to this debate, in which Mark Grimsley argues that northern policies and practices fit comfortably within European traditions rather than marking a dramatic break with the past. Especially useful in its discussion of factors that promoted restraint among the North's citizen-soldiers, Grimsley's book should be essential reading for anyone interested in whether the Civil War deserves to be called a 'total war.'" Gary W. Gallagher, The Pennsylvania State University

"Mark Grimsley has written the best study of how Northern policy evolved from a limited war to restore the old Union into a "hard war" to dismantle the old South and build a new free-labor nation...The writing is lucid, the argument persuasive, the analysis illuminating." James M. McPherson, Princeton University, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"Mark Grimsley's The Hard Hand of War is the latest and best study to strip away the myth and explore the reality of Sherman's attack on the Southern civilian economy and population as a means of winning the war...Grimsley tells that story more clearly than anyone else has so far done. In lucid, straightforward prose grounded in thorough research he analyzes the evolution of Union strategy through three main phases." James M. McPherson, New York Review of Books

The 'Hard Hand of War' is an excellent account of how Northern military policy hardened over time, gradually allowing and even advocating foraging and destruction of civilian property which might aid the Southern war effort....Grimsley persuasively ties together a variety of sources to provide the best one-volume account of the origins of 'total war' in the 1860s. His book should be required reading for those who want to understand the roots of one of the more storied decisions in American military history, and would be an excellent addition to both graduate and undergraduate courses on the Civil War." Lance Janda, Journal of Military History

"Mark Grimsley challenges that old assumption by insisting that the civil war was not a total war, but a "hard war" in that the destruction of southern property was not the work of mindless human 'beasts,' but a calculated, measured attempt to demoralize the Confederate population by striking at chosen areas in order to cause surrender....Professor Grimsley has written a provocative and original book; it makes a reader look forward to more works from this rising Civil War scholar." The Civil War News

"The text of The Hard Hand of War flows with the chronology, precision, and rationale of a well-written legal brief....Mark Grimsley presents an irrefutable argument that the primary goal of the Federal government was at all times the restoration of the Union, not the devastation of the South....the result is a well-reasoned and elegantly written monograph that will take its place as one of the more important works about the Civil War to appear in years." David Long, Civil War History

"Mark Grimsley deserves respect for his keen concern with moral action in war." The Journal of Southern History

"The impact of the war on civilians is often not fully understood or misunderstood or quite deliberately misstated. So those new to the Civil War should read Mark Grimsley's The Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865. It examines the intentional and unintentional effects of the conflict in a balanced, comprehensive manner." Fritz Heinzen, Osprey Military Journal

Book Description

This volume fits into an emerging interpretation of the Civil War that questions its status as a "total war" and emphasizes instead the survival of political logic and control even in the midst of a sweeping struggle for the nation's future. Through comparisons with earlier European wars and through the testimony of Union soldiers and Southern civilians alike, he shows that Union soldiers exercised restraint even as they made war against the Confederate civilian population.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (February 28, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521599415
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521599412
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #736,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a professor of history at Ohio State. Over the years I've received three teaching prizes, including the Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award, which is the university's highest distinction of that kind. I enjoy teaching, so I'm very proud to have received such recognition.

I've written two books: _And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864_; and _The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865_, which won the Lincoln Prize in 1996. I have co-written or co-edited five other books and wrote the Civil War chapters for the military history textbook now in use at West Point.

Since December 2003 I have maintained a blog (web log) devoted to military history as an academic field. It received the 2005 Cliopatria Award for Best Individual Blog.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on January 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a conversion of the author's graduate thesis, composed while he was a student at The Ohio State University. The subject of the study is evident in the subtitle of the book: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865. The central theme of the book is that the policy mentioned evolved over time, getting more and more harsh with the civilians that the army encountered. The evolution, however, didn't go nearly as far as some later alleged, and the supposed depredations of the Union army in the various Southern states in the last year of the war are, as far as the author is concerned, mostly exaggerations.
This is a good overview of the subject, and the author goes over things with a good analytical eye. I disagree with the other reviewer, who thinks that he's unfairly easy on the Union soldiers who foraged "liberally" during the latter part of the Civil War. I did notice one shortcoming of the book's central argument: the author went over the motivation for attacking things like houses in retaliation for ambushes and attacks against Union troops, but overlooked the possibility that the troops themselves needed to feel that they were somehow retaliating for being attacked. Burning down a house, even if it had no effect on the Southerners who ambushed them, did serve the purpose of making the Union soldiers think that they were doing *something*.
This is a thesis, reworked as a book. It's sprinkled with footnotes, and written in a scholarly, dry tone. The result is a lot of information, with interesting and well-reasoned arguments stemming from them, written in rather wooden prose that's not very easy to read. I would recommend this book to hard core Civil War buffs who want to know more about the subject, but only to them.
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22 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
The thesis of this study of Union military policy toward Southern civilians during the Civil War boils down to "it wasn't all that bad, and here's why." Grimsley sets out to study what the combination of severity (for example, destroying civilian property) and restraint (for example, not shooting civilians on sight) meant, and concludes that it reflected the continued working of political logic and a sense of moral justice. He chronicles an evolution in Union policy toward "hard war". It's an interesting study, apparently valid on a broad scale, though breaking down somewhat when applied to local area studies. Grimsley doesn't really deal well with border areas, and although he could have used parts of the mountain South to compare Confederate with Union policies toward dissenting civilians, he doesn't do so. Some of his arguments seem tendentious: is it necessary to construct an elaborate theory of class conflict to explain the fact that plantation houses were more often robbed than one-room cabins? Surely the fact that the plantation houses had more to steal played a part, as well as any ideology. It also seems to me that Grimsley minimizes the abuse of civilians which did in fact take place, and has little to say about the trauma even of relatively restrained foraging. A rather jingoistic bit of characterization--rampaging Continental soldiers were "brutes", whereas American volunteers were democrats--is used as one more reason for restraint. Use of sources is good, though enforcers of the policies are overrepresented compared to victims of them.
There is definitely useful information here, especially in the portrayal of international legal theory and the evolution of official policy, but I'm not sure how well some of it stands up upon close examination.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sid Dowell on March 15, 2013
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Grimsley lays out a very reasoned argument for the changes in attitudes and thinking at the highest levels of Union leadership from the Civil War's outset to its conclusion. He provides solid documentation in support of his thesis and makes his argument with an economy of words.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Richard Welty on February 2, 2013
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Grimsley's Hard Hand of War was published 8 years ago, and remains the best account of evolving Federal war policy towards the Confederacy over the 4 years of the American Civil War. Grimsley carefully outlines the evolution from the conciliatory strategy of the first year of the war through the pragmatic policies of the mid period, and finally to the "hard war" which is most associated with General Sherman. his argument is nuanced and well documented. Highly Recommended.
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Mark Grimsley's well written & well researched book goes into great detail about the Federal government's prosecution of the Civil War. Grimsley pulls no punches & makes you see how things changed from place to place & from commander to commander. He shows how the policies & attitudes of the Union command changed over time as the war progressed. Highly recommended.
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