Book Review: “The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail”

“The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail”: The Civil War of Captain Simon Perkins Jr., a Union Quartermaster. By Lenette S. Taylor. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2004. xvi, 264 pp. Cloth, $35.00, ISBN 0-87338-783-x.)

A curiously neglected sub-genre within the abundant body of Civil War literature is that which recognizes the important, indeed critical, role played by logisticians in support of the land armies that ranged across a continent from 1861 through 1865. A modern military axiom declares boldly that “amateurs study tactics, while professionals study logistics”. Even so, there are scant comprehensive scholarly works devoted to Union or Confederate supply systems and even fewer that examine the efforts of individual quartermaster, commissary, or ordnance personnel whose existence was essential to the conduct of successful military operations. Lamentably—though perhaps inevitably—the trumpet blast and the roar of musketry continue to trump the army invoice, the railroad schedule, and the bill of lading as topics ripe for serious historical inquiry. Lenette S. Taylor, in “The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail”, details the day-to-day activities of a heretofore-anonymous Federal quartermaster officer; in so doing she has created an important study in what remains a fledgling field. Continue reading Book Review: “The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail”

Book Review: A Politician Turned General

A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut. By Jeffrey N. Lash. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2003. xii, 300 pp. Cloth, $49.00, ISBN 0-87338-766-x.)

In recent years, readers of Civil War history have enjoyed a spate of works detailing the lives and contributions of so-called “political generals,” those elected officials, North and South, who received important military positions in recognition of partisan service to their respective sections. Books by James Hollandsworth and Richard Kiper have, for example, presented nuanced looks at Nathaniel P. Banks and John A McClernand respectively, two of the more notable politician-soldiers employed by the Union. As a practice, the awarding of general’s stars to rank amateurs strikes most modern students as at best cynical politicking, and at worst as a monstrous roll of the dice—many soldiers paid dearly for these battlefield neophytes’ lack of military acumen. Yet it must be remembered that military professionalism, now accepted as an article of faith in Western culture, was a nascent phenomenon during the middle nineteenth century. Early American society generally held career officers at arms length, preferring, in a paean to republican simplicity, the presumed talents of the virtuous citizen-soldier, one who dutifully left his civilian post to provide sagacious leadership in a military setting. Moreover, political generals, as Thomas J. Goss cogently argues in his important study The War within the Union High Command, played a vital role in garnering and maintaining national backing for war. To the growing list of quality volumes on such figures as Banks and McClernand we now include the work of Jeffrey N. Lash, whose A Politician Turned General examines the lesser-known (but no less controversial) Stephen A. Hurlbut.

The author’s chief contribution to the literature is one that, on the surface, appears to be purely semantic, but is in fact essential to understanding Hurlbut’s long and tumultuous Civil War career. Continue reading Book Review: A Politician Turned General

Book Review: The Cleveland Grays

The Cleveland Grays: An Urban Military Company, 1837-1919. By George N. Vourlojianis. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2002. x, 150 pp. Paper, $12.00, ISBN 0-87338-678-7.)

Within the military history genre, regimental and other small-unit studies retain a popularity perhaps second only to campaign volumes and “battle books.” Interestingly, early regimental histories appeared en masse on the American scene while the Civil War still raged, providing veterans and home readers accounts of epic deeds performed on blood-stained fields from Manassas to Missionary Ridge and beyond. Over the next one hundred years, the basic format remained nearly unchanged: “Regimentals” (as they are widely known) recounted in painstaking detail the stories of camp and battle, with scant mention of the social, political, and cultural forces that called these men, often hailing from a single community, to duty in defense of their homes. In fine, such studies provided precious little context of the world from which the soldiers came, serving instead as quintessential “pot-boilers,” accounts that stirred arguments among rival units and latter-day adherents rather than encourage meaningful understanding for subsequent generations of scholars, students, and enthusiasts.

The past thirty years, however, have witnessed the advent of truly integrated small-unit works, volumes that are as much community studies and social histories as they are military tomes. George N. Vourlojianis, assistant professor of history at Cleveland’s John Carroll University, attempts to contribute to the “new military history” in producing The Cleveland Grays, a reworking of his own 1994 Ph.D. dissertation. This reviewer took encouragement from the book’s first sentence, one that modestly decreed it a “work on a bit of Cleveland history” (ix) rather than a mere institutional or chronological narrative. Continue reading Book Review: The Cleveland Grays