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Does splitting the Eastern and Western campaigns work? - Battles and Campaigns - Civil War Talk - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Thu May 22nd, 2008 05:45 pm
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Kernow-Ox
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Over the last few weeks I've been trying to move away from my rather haphazard approach to studying the Civil War, in which I dart from one topic to another depending on mood, and am trying to find some way to  approach it in a more unified or ordered manner. For example, I can talk about Antietam, hold my own in debates about McClellan's tactical skills, argue about Shiloh and so on. In my mind, though, I see these as seperate topics. I'm starting to feel that if I'm going to make any attempt to understand the military campaigns properly, I need to conceptualise them into some sort of order - seeing how A leads to B, or why event Q mattered to event at battle  X and so on. As I'm starting to think about this, I decided to begin with the usual split between the Eastern and Western theatres of the war.

We tend to view the Western Theatre as a containing a seperate chain of events from those in the Eastern Theatre. Now, is this the correct way to conceputalise the war, or should we do more to see how what happened in one theatre affected events elsewhere? Certainly, changes in command and recalls to Washington spring to mind as one way in which the two theatres intertwined, but were there others?  Or is the distinction between East and West a good one to keep, until we get to Sherman's March to Sea?

(Not sure if this is the correct forum for such idle speculation - am happy to move it elsewhere)

Last edited on Thu May 22nd, 2008 05:46 pm by Kernow-Ox



 Posted: Thu May 22nd, 2008 08:15 pm
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Johan Steele
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Kernow, when I began my studies years ago I started w/ a few different books and son adopted a very similar haphazard approach and soon found myself confused. After some deliberation I opted to ignore the political BS and stick to the soldiers by reading the letters and diaries. This approach soon had me discovering that if I really wanted to get a lot out of the practice i would have to concentrate on one theatre or another and rapidly found myself concentrating on the western theatre. Reading what the men had to say about what was going onout east is a VERY intriguing way to see how the men thought the theatres coincided.

Picking up works on specific armies or Generals can be useful. Good Luck because I KNOW you'll get some interesting advice from the members here. In case you hadn't figured it out; we're all nuts.



 Posted: Fri May 23rd, 2008 12:44 am
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CleburneFan
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I quickly found that it was easier for me to divide the war into the Western Theater including the Trans-Mississippi and the Eastern Theater. But as time went on I found that there was so much of interest in the Western Theater including the Trans-Mississippi that I don't really have much time to read about the Eastern Theater except for my annual June reading of something about Gettysburg.

The other division of the war so far not discussed here is naval operations both Confederate and Union, river and ocean. I'm almost to the point of putting my Western Theater studies aside and just move on to naval operations for awhile.

The Civil War does lend itself to many ways of study. Instead of theaters, one could do, say, naval, land and combined operations. That contains three divisions.

One could do infantry, cavalry and artillery studies. I am partial to cavalry operations. One could concentrate for awhile on African-American troops and sailors.  You could study the war state-by-state.

You could study just political generals or just West Point generals or just VMI generals. Oh heavens, there are so many ways you can divide up the war to help get a better handle on it. But it doesn't have to be a hard and fast division. I find, too, that sometimes it is fun just to go with the flow and read a book or chase some idea that doesn't fit my neat categories.



 Posted: Fri May 23rd, 2008 02:03 am
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ole
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Ain't gonna work, Kernow-Ox, unless you get away from your computer. I try to study one campaign at a time, and I'd like to finish that campaign before I start another.

But then I read the boards and ziiiing! Someone comes up with a really good topic.

I do know what you mean -- kinda like a pinball bouncing around and controlled by someone else operating the flippers.

The important part, I'll suppose, is to read and study what strikes your fancy at the moment. And just accept that your fancy will change from time to time.

ole



 Posted: Fri May 23rd, 2008 02:23 am
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CleburneFan
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Ole, you have such a good point and I do agree with you. My mother keeps asking me when am I going to stop reading about the Civil War because I must "know everything" about now. But I always tell her the same thing. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know about the war. And , furthermore, I am sure I will NEVER know it all or even very much because there are so many different facets to the war not even to mention the political aspect of the war on both sides that was interwoven with the war.

While I do have a system of sorts to try to master all the material, I feel a catch-as-catch-can approach may be every bit as effective in the long run.



 Posted: Fri May 23rd, 2008 03:08 am
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TimK
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Kernow - I know what you are thinking, as I have tried to do the same myself. And for that matter, I'm still trying. However, every time I peel off a layer, I find about ten more layers that need to be peeled because of cause and effect. When I add the human drama - brother versus brother, incredible casualty rates, diaries and letters - I find that I, personally, cannot separate my studies into neat categories. I usually find myself, like ole says, feeling like a pinball. I may not remember this correctly, but didn't Shelby Foote start out to write a magazine article, and finished several years later with his trilogy? I have met people that only study Gettysburg. To them the only thing that mattered started on July 1 and ended on July 3, 1863. Frankly, I can't understand this thinking.



 Posted: Fri May 23rd, 2008 07:19 am
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fedreb
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Like most of you I too seem to go from battle to campaign to biography to theatre in random order, usually dictated by some new book or magazine article or research that appears. Whatever I may be reading at any time I always keep close to hand a day to day chronology of the whole war so that I can keep aware of where events are in relation to each other. I find it helps me keep things in perspective .



 Posted: Fri May 23rd, 2008 06:48 pm
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David White
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I think you almost have to pull the X-MS out of the western theater, since after Vicksburg/PH it was on its own anyway as Kirby Smithdom. Of course where does early Carolina action belong it is not east or west IMO.



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 Posted: Fri May 23rd, 2008 08:42 pm
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Kernow-Ox
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Thanks for the excellent replies. I rather like the idea of keeping a chronology, if only because I get a thrill when memoirs overlap.

David White - good point about early Carolina. Part of my reason for starting this thread was a sense that the natural compartmentalism of the war into east and west, and the ongoing arguments about which part won the war, always felt too simplistic (if you think too much about the east it's easy to get the impression that Grant appeared as some sort of saviour figure for the Union Army, ignoring his accomplishments on in the West). I currently feel unable
to pin down precisely why, however.



 Posted: Fri Jun 13th, 2008 12:24 am
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ArtorBart
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Hello, Kernow-Ox...

Shelby Foote, in his trilogy, does an excellent job linking what was happening in the east with what was going on in the west; linking what Richmond was doing to what Washington was attempting. He gives the fullest view of the war as I've read in many multi- and single-volume tomes on the ACW.

If you want to see the war via an almanac, try E. B. Long's
"The Civil War Day By Day : An Almanac, 1861-1865."

Compartmentalization is right; the Appalachians and the Mississippi River neatly and vertically divided the war into thirds {or even sixths if you want to count the north and south portions of each of the thirds!}.

And I'm not sure of the meaning of part of this thread's question: what is meant by "work?" What's to work out? Yes, separating the theaters does get a little dicey near the end of the war, when the Army of Tennessee does the loop-de-loop from Atlanta, to Nashville, and eventually into North Carolina.

Why the Confederacy wasted good men and some pretty good leaders way out west {Trans-Mississippi} I can't fathom. Probably Jeffn. Davis' fault; some generals were derelicts who couldn't lead east, west, or on the polar ice caps!

Just remember that all the theaters, including the NAVAL and AERIAL operations, were inter-related in some way {butterfly effect in American History?} to how the war twisted and turned and finished.

Artor"Keep On Readin'!"Bart



 Posted: Wed Aug 13th, 2008 07:26 pm
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The Iron Duke
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I would recommend Thomas Connelly's two volumes on the Army of Tennessee. His chapter on Johnston's removal during the Atlanta Campaign is some of the best reading I've ever found on the war.

Last edited on Wed Aug 13th, 2008 07:26 pm by The Iron Duke



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 Posted: Fri Aug 15th, 2008 02:09 am
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Wrap10
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Some very good points. As I think several folks have already suggested, there are so many ways to approach a study of the war, you could spin your head silly thinking about it. Dividing the war into East and West, and focusing on the campaigns in each theater, is certainly one way of approaching it, and a pretty good one at that. (Is there a bad way of approaching a study of the war?)

It's interesting, several folks mentioned having something of a 'haphazard' approach to learning about the war, and that probably describes me too. But as I'm sure you've all discovered, over time, you get to where you can start to see how things fit together in the larger picture, even with a less than systematic way of learning about it. And of course, we all reach the same conclusions about everything. ;)

One thing I think a study of the fighting in the East and West can help show, is the vastly different manner in which each major theater impacted the course and outcome of the war. I think you can do this by isolating the fighting in each theater, and see how it either helped or hurt the two sides.

For example, the fighting in the East clearly favored the Confederacy for the first three years of the war, and furthered the southern cause of independence. In the West, on the other hand, the fighting favored the Union, and furthered the northern goal of saving the Union and denying independence to the Southern Confederacy.

What's interesting about that, to me, is that if you view either theater in isolation, it can give a false impression of the war as a whole. Studying only the East, for example, can leave you wondering how and why the South lost the war, since, for at least the first three years, they were doing what they needed to do to win it. Which is to say, they were not losing. The war in the East to 1864 was a stalemate. Which favored the South.

By the same measure, a study of the Western Theater can make you wonder why on earth the North didn't win the war by 1864 at the absolute latest. Seemingly everywhere you turn when reading about the West, you encounter Union victory after Union victory, Confederate setback after Confederate setback. Even when things went well for the South in this theater, i.e., Chickamauga, it turned out badly for them in the end.

So for me, this really exposes what I think is the fallacy that one theater was more important than the other. In my opinion they were both important, but for different reasons. I think the fighting in the East goes a long way toward explaining why the war lasted as long as it did, and the fighting in the West basically explains why the North finally won it.

Learning about the two theaters separately, and then seeing how they each affected the war as a whole, can provide a very good lesson in my opinion. Even with our haphazard way of going about it all. ;)

Perry



 Posted: Sat Aug 16th, 2008 08:50 pm
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Captain Crow
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I've recently decided breaking the war down into a Theater/campaign/battle/units-leaders order allows me to gain a little clearer picture of whatever is grabbing my interest at the time. First a good overall study, then a more detailed campaign view, then the individual battles, and finally if any particular unit or leader intrigues me I study them as well. I don't always adhere to this formula since I-like many here-am prone to get distracted by something new that catches my fancy. Also this method depends on the availability of material at the time I begin. For instance I may not be able to find anything on a battle for a while so I go ahead and read about a unit. Or i might not be able to find a good detailed campaign study but I do have a battle book etc.



 Posted: Sat Aug 16th, 2008 08:52 pm
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Captain Crow
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I must also add that being able to tour the respective battlefield after all this reading is the absolute best way to gain a clear understanding of your intended subject.



 Posted: Sun Aug 17th, 2008 12:01 am
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The Iron Duke
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I agree Captain Crow. After touring Snodgrass Hill at Chickamauga it all makes sense as to why Harker would employ a reverse slope tactic to slow down the rebels.



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 Posted: Sun Aug 17th, 2008 05:18 am
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You might want to take a look at my Tennessee River campaign chapter at nymas.org -- scroll down, right sidebar -- for I go through all the campaigns in the Miss. Valley Especially read Karl Marx's evaluation -- he nails it on the head. Most also evaluate the army campaigns alone, but I think Anna Ella Carroll's analysis of how cutting the Memphis and Charleston RR would have flanked most remaining positions north on the Miss. shows you can't separate the victories of the two services.

To my mind, the interplay between E & W mostly had to do with "what ifs" in terms of reinforcements. As Bonekemper points out in his book on Grant and Lee, if Lee had detached and sent Longstreet to aid Johnston, Sherman may not have been able to take Atlanta in time to affect the November '64 election. If Stanton had not brought Hooker's Corps west at Chattanooga, TN might not have been able to be finally secured.

CKL



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