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West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace (Civil War America) Hardcover – November 15, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Skillfully explores institutional efforts to develop and maintain the army's infantry, artillery, and mounted standards.--Civil War Book Review

Leaves few stones unturned in examining how the professional officer corps produced by the U.S. Military Academy in the 19th century influenced the evolution of battlefield tactics at this critical point in our nation's history. . . . [Adds] another perspective to the historiography of a complex topic.--Civil War Times

This original and important book asks us to reconceptualize much of what we think about the Civil War.--Journal of Southern History

The most useful section of Hsieh's book for the general historian of the Civil War is his discussion of [the officers of the professional army officer corps].--Louisiana History

Judicious and well-researched. . . . Hsieh's project . . . is to explain the mentality of military professionals. . . . It is a task that he accomplishes with great skill.--Journal of American History

A solid contribution to scholarship . . . [An] excellent treatment of antebellum debates over tactical doctrine and particular tactical events during the war.--Journal of Military History


Hsieh challenges studies that have argued that field fortifications and rifles gave the advantage to defenders, insisting instead that other factors, such as leadership, morale, and troop strength were more influential in success or failure. Smart and genuinely stimulating, West Pointers and the Civil War will be controversial in the best sense of the word.--Joseph T. Glatthaar, author of General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse

The originality and importance of this book are indisputable--both scholars and amateurs will find much that is new in Hsieh's scholarship. West Pointers and the Civil War will challenge all readers to take Civil War officers on their terms, to understand their collective and individualized histories, and to see the contingency of war on the front lines of the Civil War.--Peter S. Carmichael, author of The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion


Product Details

  • Series: Civil War America
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 2009 no other dates edition (November 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807832782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807832783
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,783,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Wayne Hsieh immigrated to the United States as an infant from Taiwan and grew up in Alhambra--a suburb of Los Angeles with a large overseas Chinese population. He received an excellent public high school education at Alhambra High School, and went on to Yale University, where he received a B.A. in History (2000). He wrote a senior essay on Lincoln and religion under the direction of David Brion Davis. He attended the University of Virginia for his graduate work, where he received a PhD in History (2004) and worked under the direction of Gary W. Gallagher and Edward L. Ayers--the latter is now President of the University of Richmond.

Hsieh spent the 2004/5 academic year as an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale's Whitney Humanities Center, where he also taught half time in Yale's Directed Studies curriculum--a freshman Great Books program of which Hsieh is himself a proud alumnus. In August 2005 he joined the U.S. Naval Academy History Department, where he remains an assistant professor.

Between July 2008 and June 2009, Hsieh was on interagency detail with the U.S. State Department in Iraq, where he served as the Tuz Satellite Lead for the Salah ad Din Provincial Reconstruction Team. The most important of his duties centered on facilitating ethnic and political reconciliation in the Tuz district (approximately 150,000 inhabitants). He received a Commander's Award for Civilian Service from 3 BSTB (Department of the Army), and a Meritorious Honor Award from the U.S. Department of State (Embassy Baghdad).

Hsieh has a diverse number of interests in military history, although he remains a nineteenth-century Americanist by trade and training. He also, on occasion, wistfully regrets not pursuing to a greater degree his earlier interests in intellectual history, which led to such doomed pursuits as attempting to learn Ancient Greek. Speaking of doomed pursuits, he expends vast quantities of time and energy on following the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite the probable prospect of disappointment most every year. Yet he begins the grim process again every spring, in a testament to the triumph of faith over reason.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Building a million plus man army is a gut wrenching task. In 1861, two nations set out to do this while fighting a civil war. During the building process, any military experience becomes a critical asset. Veterans of the War with Mexico, members of the militia, and graduates of private military schools struggle with half-remembered, misunderstood or just plain wrong ideas. However bad they are better than no idea of what to do. At ground zero stand the graduates of West Point, the only fully trained professional military either side has. West Pointers set the professional standard for training and conduct during the American Civil War. Their efforts convert ill-trained armed mobs into veteran armies. Their military thinking controls the military direction and application of the armies they trained. What they considered right and proper conduct became the right and proper way to fight the war. West Pointers, for good or ill, controlled and conducted the American Civil War. While they have nothing to do with the political decisions that lead to war, they have everything to do with waging that war.
Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh brings us a look at how West Point learned about war, trained the cadets and how these lessons applied during the Civil War. Starting with the armed semi-trained mobs during the War of 1812, the author covers the development of America's professional officers. The War with Mexico vindicated the changes after 1814 giving the army a solid foundation while determining the direction taken into the 1850s. West Pointers understanding of moral, leadership and logistics allowed armies to develop. The daunting paperwork requirement of these armies was second nature to these men. They, more than any group, stepped forward and brought order out of chaos.
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Format: Hardcover
If you have an interest in Civil War battles and tactics, "West Pointers and the Civil War" will be an excellent addition to your collection. The book's title is admittedly a little deceptive as the book is mainly an investigation into why Civil War battles were indecisive. Hsieh accepts the conclusions of historians like Earl Hess and Brent Nosworthy that the rifled musket was not the great leap forward that many believe it was. He does this without much comment on the subject, so to fully appreciate this book you might do some reading on the topic from other authors. In rejecting the traditional dogma, we are left with an unanswered question - if the rifled musket didn't make Civil War combat indecisive, what did? There isn't a single, obvious answer. Hsieh believes that because the leaders on both sides shared the same educational background, neither side had an obvious leadership advantage. In the end, there are specific reasons why each battle ended far short of annihilation, and Hsieh discusses these reasons for each major battle. He discusses the Mexican War in some length, showing that the US Army greatly improved as a reaction to disasters during the War of 1812 then maintained a high level of competence. The tactical discussion and evolution before the Civil War is also discussed. Although imperfect, the book certainly does not deserve the handful of negative to mediocre reviews from some readers. The book is well written, well argued, and thought provoking. I look forward to reading the author's future books.
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Format: Hardcover
I listened to the audio version of this book and found it to be a valuable and enjoyable study. It added greatly to my understanding of the Civil War's leadership -- on both sides -- and I learned a lot about the education of nineteenth century military officers. It is a scholarly book that is written with clarity and directness (and an absence of jargon). I think that serious scholars of the conflict -- as well as the armchair historian -- will benefit from reading it (or listening to it). It certainly reshaped my understanding of these iconic American figures. Also, I imagine that people with a West Point connection will get a kick out of the sections on the school's curriculum in the first part of the nineteenth century. This book belongs on the bookshelves -- or in the MP3 players -- of anyone who wants a full view of the Civil War.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You may note that I gave West Pointers and the Civil War (WPCW) three stars. If I could I would have given it four stars for those with a solid basis in CW history and two for novices.

I saw Hsieh speaking on television on his book and was impressed by his insights and his ability to express relatively complex concepts in clear and direct language -- and I immediately ordered WPCW. If he could only write as well as he speaks. His prose is, at times, repetitive, dense, sometimes indirect, and often straying from the topic at hand. Hsieh has the defining characteristic of many academic historians -- if he made a note of an item of information, he will include it in the text without regard to how many other notes illustrate an identical point. In the text, many of his insights are little more than a collection of antebellum characterizations of a frontier constabulary that succeeded in its one great test - the Mexican War. He does provide valuable insights into civil-military relations and how the tone set before the war carried into the CW itself. And how the education provided at West Point was reflected in the commonality of both Union and Confederate officers.

Further his observations on the resources and approaches used to create huge armies from the melding of a few professionals with lots of recreational militia and raw volunteers was valuable. Likewise, his illumination of tactics in both the early and later war challenged stereotypes as he gathered existing information and presented it in a logical and concise fashion.

However, most of the information was not new to students of the Civil War. Or of the Old Army before the Civil War. Or the Mexican War.
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