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Battle Tactics of the Civil War (Yale Nota Bene)

3.5 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300084610
ISBN-10: 0300084617
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Editorial Reviews


"Belongs on the shelf of every historian, Civil War buff, and military tactician." -- Maj. James T. Currie, Army

"Provides a fresh and provocative appraisal of the [Civil] War. . . . An essential read for anyone interested in the subject." -- Military History Illustrated

About the Author

Paddy Griffith, formerly a senior lecturer in war studies at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England, is the author of several other books on military subjects, including Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army's Art of Attack, published by Yale University Press.

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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Nota Bene
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300084617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300084610
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,459,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jonathan Gianos-Steinberg on March 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
Griffith's book certainly makes some good points, but there's plenty of bad mixed in. Since so many have discussed what they believe is good about this book, I'll list my reservations. In addition to others who did a review of this book, I also suggest reading Archer Jones's "Civil War Command And Strategy" as a complementary book, since the latter breaks down the campaigns tactically while this book breaks down the battles.
Field Fortifications - Griffith essentially concludes that field fortifications were a psychological deterrent more than a physical one. Often Griffith states that fieldworks didn't create a big advantage, and in doing this he cites figures on how many people were hit per minute or per shot fired. In other parts of this chapter, he claims that armies were too quick to dig in, even if they were on the offensive. With Jones pointing out how invaluable counter attacks were, and with Shiloh proving that point, I disagree with Griffith there as well. Finally, Griffith seems to ignore that multiple lines of fieldwork were generally put up at places like Gettysburg and Chancellorsville. To sustain big losses to take one set of works doesn't automatically grant a side the strategic or even tactical victory, as the Confederates proved on Culp's Hill on 2 July 1863.
Cavalry - Griffith seems to take others to task for their "romantic lore" over how they view the CW. I wholeheartedly disagree with his conclusion that Civil War cavalry should have been used on the battlefield in condensed charges more often. In making his point, he often hearkens back to Napoleonic times, yet he conveniently omits any mention of how devestated the Grande Armee was at Waterloo by using that tactic.
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Format: Paperback
Paddy Griffith's thesis is essentially that from a weapons and tactics point of view the Civil War was the last Napoleonic War rather than the first modern war. He points to the similarity in weapons, tactics, and similarities between how battles were fought and wars were conducted. In Griffith's eyes, both Union and Confederate leaders were rather inferior to their Napoleonic counterparts, being too addicted to defensive entrenchments and not nearly aggressive enough (he frequently uses the term "tyranny of the engineers"). Needless to say his conclusions are controversial but his book is worth reading because it is an "outsider's" view of "our" war and because some of his insights are dead on. His chapter on the evolution of drill manuals and their reliance on French authors is particularly insightful.
On the other hand, some of his ideas are insane. He believes that the rifled musket made little to no difference in how battles were bought, that soldiers who refused to attack entrenchments later in the war were cowardly, and that few generals on either side were worth their weight in brass, and that railroads and telegraphs made little difference in the way the war was conducted, and that the side on the offense usually won, among other thoughts.
This is a good book to read along with McWhitney and Jamieson's Attack and Die, which reaches exactly the opposite conclusion: that the South lost the war primarily because it was so addicted to the attack. Both books contain good research and thoughts but make sweeping generalizations that render their research and insights all but useless. Go figure.
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Format: Paperback
Battle Tactics of the Civil War, Paddy Griffiths, Yale University Press, 2001

This book aggravated me, and it took me a while to realize why. While Paddy Griffiths has unassailable credentials as a military historian (among other things, he lectures at Sandhurst) and has published extensively on the Napoleonic Wars, I found much of this book to consist of opinions and generalizations that seemed unsupported by the facts, either as he presented them or as the careful student of the civil war will find in original sources.

It begins with the premise of the book. The civil war, Griffiths tells us, contrary to received wisdom, was not the first modern war but the last Napoleonic War. This sounds intriguing, but what exactly does he mean, either by "modern" or "Napoleonic"? During the centennial, when I like many other baby boomers played with plastic civil war soldiers and read enough children's books about the war to horrify the contemporary parent, "modern" meant like World War I - the civil war had railroads, wire entanglements (though admittedly not barbed), ironclad ships, etc. Today, in the postmodern era of the Global War on Terror, with more fighting in the media than on the ground, this conception of "modern" seems quaint. But Griffiths seems to have held on to it, if only as a straw man. Griffiths' conception of "Napoleonic" may prove equally stretched, as the term in fact applies to a whole era, but since he doesn't really define it, it hardly matters.

In its details the book also seems to reflect a superficial reading of the civil war, with analyses somewhat forced into service of the vague theme.
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