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The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) Hardcover – March 12, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The deepest overall account of the war in the West to date. . . . [and] a major advance in our knowledge of the Civil War in the western theater.--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Hess is a master chronicler of this region.--America's Civil War

"Hess has provided Civil War scholars and lay readers with an excellent volume that promises to be the seminal work on the subject for years to come.--North Carolina Historical Review

The rich Civil War historiography of the western theater has needed a much-updated and comprehensive examination. . . . Recommended. All academic levels/libraries.--Choice

A well-researched and intelligent narrative that is essential to understanding America's bloodiest conflict.--The Annals of Iowa

A notable book that stands out in the crowded field of Civil War scholarship. Scholars and general readers alike will find it useful and accessible. Hess is to be commended especially for his ability to weave together the military narrative and the administrative difficulties faced by Federal commanders in occupied territory.--Journal of Southern History

Concisely and judiciously examines the military campaigns and battles and weaves them into a seamless narrative accessible to both novice and expert. . . . Thought-provoking, well-argued, engagingly written, and thoroughly enjoyable. . . . By far one of the best general accounts of the war in the West.--Indiana Magazine of History

This excellent and suitably broad summary work should serve as a valuable introduction to the western war for a wide reading audience. With The Civil War in the West, it's safe to say we have in our hands the subject's new standard single volume history.--Civil War Books and Authors blog

Hess's book should be lauded for its crisply effective prose, sweeping but well-paced narrative, command of both primary sources and the relevant historiography, and well-reasoned arguments." --Louisiana History

In one volume, Earl Hess has given readers as complete a study as can be found of this theater of battle.--New York Journal of Books

This is another outstanding book by Hess. This book is a great addition to the libraries of enthusiasts of the Western Theater, and those interested in the Eastern Theater will find it an intriguing contrast to the war in that region.--Blue & Gray Magazine

Hess has done it again. He has delivered a wonderfully researched and elegantly written volume that reveals his mastery of military history west of the Appalachians. Students and scholars are sure to profit from his insightful analysis and bold assertions, making for a better understanding of this complicated conflict.--Journal of American History

A sure-handed and detailed overview of military operations in the western theatre.--Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains

Everyone interested in learning about the war beyond the Appalachians should start with Hess's work. It is an outstanding overview of the Civil War in the West.--The Charleston Post and Courier

A comprehensive and thought-provoking history of the Civil War in the western theater. . . . A valuable asset to anyone hoping to make sense out of a complex subject and place it within the larger story in a meaningful way.--Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

This book will define the study of the Civil War's western theater for the foreseeable future and is highly recommended.--The Historian

Earl Hess has produced another fine study, this one long needed and much anticipated.--Civil War Book Review

Asserts a primacy to the war's western theater, establishes operations as a vital aspect of warfare, and defines mastery of logistics as a critical component of Union victory.--West Virginia History


In The Civil War in the West, Earl J. Hess offers a through account and compelling analysis of the challenges those in charge of the Union war effort faced in the West and how they overcame them. Impressively researched and informative, this is an outstanding addition to the Littlefield History of the Civil War Era.--Ethan S. Rafuse, author of McClellan's War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union and Robert E. Lee and the Fall of the Confederacy, 1863–1865

No historian is better equipped than Earl Hess to tell the important story of the Civil War in the West and none does a better job of explaining why it was important and how it decided the outcome of the broader conflict.--Steven E. Woodworth, author of Manifest Destinies: America's Westward Expansion and the Road to the Civil War

An excellent overview of the Civil War in the western theater. Covering all significant campaigns and incorporating subjects either ignored or only lightly touched on in other operational histories, this is a book of unusual breadth and depth.--William Shea, University of Arkansas at Monticello


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Product Details

  • Series: Littlefield History of the Civil War Era
  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1St Edition edition (March 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807835420
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807835425
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #781,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I confess to being on page 165 of the book when I wrote this review. Given the quality of Hess' research, analysis, and writing up to this point, I cannot conceive of any scenario in which the rest of this book falls below the high standards it has already set for itself. Quite simply, this is one of the best books on the Civil War in the West that I have read. Why say such a thing? Because Hess approaches the topic in a manner that few other historians have attempted. There are books aplenty on the battles and some on key campaigns, but most treatments of this subject have been lumped together with accounts of operations in the Eastern Theater as part of an account covering the entire war. Hess recognized this shortfall and has remedied it quite nicely with the publication of this book. For Civil War enthusiasts seeking a detailed tactical narrative, you are best advised to look elsewhere. Hess deals with most battles in a paragraph or two. He would have to do that to keep this book to a manageable size. The strength of this book lies in Hess' ability to weave together the seemingly disparate battles and campaigns while simultaneously injecting political and economic considerations into the mixture. He does this in sixteen chapters, with the main body of the narrative ending on page 306 (of 448 pages). The endnotes span fifty additional pages while the bibliography numbers 14 pages. For those who peruse the endnotes, be aware that they are generally limited to sources and do not include additional information not contained in the main narrative. Very well written and very well researched. An overdue and extremely welcome addition to any serious collection of Civil War history.
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Format: Hardcover
Can you really cover the Civil War from "The Appalachians to the Mississippi" in 392 pages?
Can the book be more than an "if it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" book?
Can the book get past the Forts, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Atlanta and March to the Sea formula?
The answer to these questions is YES.

Earl J. Hess is one of our best authors.
Starting with a sound understanding of the war, he adds excellent writing skills coupled with the experience to properly organize a book.
The result is informative, understandable and a pleasure to read.
The scope of this book may have tested his considerable skills but he passed with flying colors.

This is possibly the best one volume book on the subject and one that will be in bookstores for years to come.
The author presents this theater in a logical sequence with minimal backtracking.
He manages to include the problems caused by army politics and government interference within context.
Meridian, Forrest in Alabama, Mobile gets the space needed without detracting from the major campaigns.
This is one of very few books that includes the need to feed civilians and how the government dealt with freed slaves.
Conclusion is excellent and more than worth the price of the book. This chapter covers the differences between the North and South in the west.
Included is a look at the differences between the West and the East during the war too.

This is a serious history with a full set of endnotes, Bibliography, Index, Maps and Illustrations.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
...of a massive theater of the Civil War that is little known and even less written about by the scholars of the era. I was hoping for a little more depth and analysis on the subject but Hess is a writer with a clear, authoritative style that satiated my curiosity on the topic for the time being. I docked it one star for the complete and utter lack of serviceable maps other than the one, ambiguous "theater" map in the first chapter. I've never understood many publishers aversion to including maps in books such as this. It can't be a copyright issue so maybe they're under the misapprehension that most Americans can't read them. A major shortcoming IMHO but I recommended the book to those looking for an very readable overview of this fascinating and critical theater of the War Between The States..
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Hess provides an overarching narrative of the campaigns in the Western Theater in the American Civil War. It provides a little more detail than something like James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom," but this book somehow left me wanting more. It may be missing a strong thesis that ties it all together.

Hess describes the campaigns well, but military history buffs should know up front that Hess doesn't present detailed, regimental-level accounts of every battle, or even major ones like Shiloh and Chickamauga. That suited my purposes fine, but this doesn't promise to be a full-blown, definitive military history. In a concluding chapter, Hess argues that the Western theater was the definitive theater primarily because control of the Mississippi divided the South geographically. He also leaves the impression that Western generals and soldiers (especially Union ones) were better than their Eastern counterparts, although it's not consistently demonstrated throughout his narrative and he never really explains why this situation developed.

At the same time, what were the most interesting parts were those on the political and social aspects of the theater. In brief, as the Union forces marched into some areas, they encountered pockets of allies where you might not expect them. Too, how they handled the occupied civil population was a complicated matter, and this seems to be of great interest to Hess. His approach seems slightly revisionist, in that he generally portrays the Unionists as somewhat conflicted in how to treat Southerners in occupied places and exploiting the South's resources when they could. Inconsistent, ad-hoc policies toward freed black labor stand out in this regard.
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