The Confederate War: ,

Gary W. Gallagher, Author
Gary W. Gallagher, Author Harvard University Press $27.5 (232p) ISBN 978-0-674-16055-2
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
In a book based on the 1995-1996 Littlefield lectures at the University of Texas at Austin, Gallagher confronts a paradox arising from recent decades of Civil War scholarship. Working back from the South's defeat, historians have developed a picture of a society doomed from the start by a failure of will, lack of national feeling and an inappropriate military strategy. But the Confederacy came close to winning the war at several points. Had the Union flank been turned on the second day at Gettysburg, or had Atlanta not fallen before the 1864 presidential election, argues Gallagher, the war almost certainly would have ended in Southern independence. Gallagher draws on contemporary records to examine the will of the Southern people, their spirit of nationalism and the military strategy of the Confederacy before concluding that the South lost only because it was overwhelmed by superior military and economic force. Gallagher, a professor of history at Pennsylvania State University, tends to take his sources too much at face value, though: wartime exhortations may not be the most accurate indicators of true beliefs. Gallagher is at his best when dealing with military strategy, convincingly showing that Southern generals did the best they could. The hole at the center of this work is a reluctance to discuss the formative issue of slavery. While Gallagher often refers to it, he fails to grapple with its implications. Readers will end up convinced that Southerners indeed fought hard for their nation, but will be unclear about what they were so fired up to accomplish. Forty halftones. History Book Club selection. (Sept.)