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The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195373059
ISBN-10: 0195373057
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Editorial Reviews


"Finally, a Civil War study that reveals why strategy mattered to Union victory. Clearly and forcefully, The Grand Design shows how the Union learned to use its military force in pursuit of its political objectives."-William L. Barney, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, author of The Making of a Confederate

"A superbly written, well-researched, and detailed analysis of how the Union's strategy-simultaneous strikes at the Confederacy's critical points and at its center of gravity its army-destroyed the South's capacity to fight and helped lead to its defeat. Stoker's first-rate study revives the role of strategy in the conversation on why the Union won the Civil War." --Howard Jones, University of Alabama, author of Mutiny on the Amistad

"Donald Stoker breaks with a a generation's worth of cliches in this stimulating and persuasive demonstration that the Civil War's crucial contrast was not between ideas or resource bases. It involved strategy. The war was decided when Lincoln's generals were able to execute his policies while their Confederate counterparts failed to respond to Jefferson Davis's uncertain trumpet. As good a book on the Civil War as I've read for a decade."--Dennis Showalter, author of Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the 20th Century, and former president, American Society for Military History

"Stoker's grand overview of strategy is a welcome introduction to the big picture of the Civil War. Too often, the American Civil War is read as an ill-fitting string of tactical incidents, determined almost entirely by the personalities of successful generals. Looked at in Stoker's bird's-eye fashion, the large-scale strategic picture, as well as the large-scale strategic mistakes, finally begin to become clear."--Allen C. Guelzo, Director, Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College, author of Lincoln and Douglas

"Donald Stoker's book offers a new way of looking at both the military and political history of the Civil War, and does so from a strategic vantage point far above that to which we have been accustomed. The Grand Design represents and important advance in our understanding of this momentous event."--Steven E. Woodsworth, Texas Christian University, author of Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 and co-author of The Oxford Atlas of the Civil War

"Stoker makes a signal contribution to understanding the dynamics of the war by carefully defining policy, military strategy, operational strategy, tactics, and other political and military terms and showing the interactions, for example, of politics and strategy, in explaining Abraham Lincoln's development as a successful commander in chief and Jefferson Davis's failure to capitalize on Confederate advantages. General readers will profit from Stoker's clear explanations and sensible arguments, while more seasoned scholars will find his delineation of strategic concepts useful."--Library Journal

"Mr. Stoker has written a fascinating study of why strategy mattered in the American Civil War. With excellent maps at important points in his narrative, he clearly leads the reader through the conflict. He also makes it evident that Lincoln masterfully managed the resources at his disposal; and his counterpart did not. Mr. Stoker's work should be on the shelf of anyone interested in the American Civil War. "--NY Journal of Books

"The Grand Design examines how Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis identified their political goals and worked with their generals to craft the military means to achieve them--or how they often failed to do so. This is not a book for the causal history reader. For those who wish to drill down, this is an excellent book and worth reading."--The Order of Civil War Obsessively Compulsed -- Informed Amateurs Blog the American Civil War

"Stoker examines all aspects of the war, blending political and military details very successfully, to assert his belief that the war's outcome boiled down, primarily, to President Lincoln's superior strategic plan."--Confederate Book Review

"Despite some doubts over the book's fundamental perspective, one cannot praise too highly the depth and acuity of the analysis that Stoker deploys in a trenchant and refreshingly well-written book, mercifully free of dreary jargon. Stoker touches upon most of the debates among Civil War historians. He downplays the overall significance of technology, arguing that it mainly affected tactics, not strategy, though such an assertion underestimates the strategic significance of railroads. ... Yet there can be no denying that henceforth no historian of the subject can afford to ignore Stoker's views, and the legions of Civil War readers must be prepared to have their horizons stretched."--Brian Holden Reid, Civil War Book Review

"Military-minded Civil War aficionados will find much appeal in the treatment of strategy emphasized in this book."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"... lucid discussion of Civil War geography and its strategic connections to the operations of opposing armies. The Grand Design provides readers with a handy guide to Civil War strategies and strategists. It makes a convincing case that the North won the war in large part because Lincoln and the best of his generals were better strategists than their counterparts in Dixie."--James M. McPherson, North and South Magazine

"It is increasingly difficult to say anything new about the Civil War, given its treatment at the hands of so many historians with so many different points of view. Yet Stoker's book on the changing strategies of the military and civilian leaders in the North and South during the conflict casts a fresh light on what remains the most decisive and harrowing war in U.S. history. Stoker presents us with a picture of what Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis and their respective generals thought they should be doing, and with the advantage of hindsight, he evaluates the strategic concepts on both sides of the divide. Students of the Confederacy will find it interesting that he criticizes both Davis and General Joseph Johnston. The study of grand strategy is undergoing a much-needed revival at American universities; this clear and incisive book is a useful addition to the syllabus."--Foreign Affairs

"Superb examination of Civil War strategy. Of the numerous books on the American Civil War, few have explored in depth the critical role of strategy in determining the outcome of this nation's bloodiest conflict. On the eve of the sequicentennial of that war, Donald Stoker fills that gap with a superb examination of the larger employment of military power beyond the battlefield."ARMY Magazine

"For the Civil War buff: As we head into the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States, armchair historians will want to keep up with the sesquicentennial. There is no shortage of excellent guides to the conflict. A recent one that I've enjoyed dipping into is The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War, by Donald Stoker. Rather than a blow-by-blow account of battles and operations, it describes the strategic objectives of North and South and how civilian and military leaders tried to realize them."--National Review Online

"The Grand Design is not for your basic Civil War buff, but it is an intense read on tactics, operations, and strategies that lead you to a deeper understanding of what we were really fighting for and how chance, vision, and perserverance actually led to the restoration of our country."--Sacramento Book Review

"This book will most likely generate controversy. The author has written a study that merits attention. He crafts the work with extensive use of correspondence between the governments and their generals as the civilians and military officers wrestled with the difficulties of implementing strategy. While not everyone will agree with the author's judgments and conclusions, Stoker's book is well worth reading."--Civil War News

"The Grand Design is an excellent look at Civil War strategy with lessons that can be applied today."--Military Review

"A fast-paced, engaging and lively book in which personality constitutes not the least of the contributory elements that together comprised the strategic approach adopted by each side in the Civil War, and as such it is a book as much geared toward the general reader as designed to inform those whose interest is primarily in military history." -- Journal of American Studies

"Stoker takes his readers on a fascinating tour of the big picture that offers lessons on military theory that are accessible to the layperson. Within this book are surprising, but well argued, assessments of the successes and mistakes of familiar Civil War figures." - The Civil War Monitor

About the Author

Donald Stoker is Professor of Strategy and Policy for the U.S. Naval War College's program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (July 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195373057
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195373059
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.6 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #940,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James W. Durney VINE VOICE on August 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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