cover image Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee 1861–1865

Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee 1861–1865

Steven E. Woodworth, . . Knopf, $40 (760pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41218-9

The Union's military effort in the first half of the Civil War remains essentially defined by the Army of the Potomac: earnest and willing, but consistently outfought and outgeneraled. A similar image accompanies the Army of the Cumberland, the second most familiar Union field army. But in the Mississippi Valley, the North developed an army that defeated all comers from Shiloh to Savannah, participated in the war's decisive battles from Fort Donelson through Vicksburg to Atlanta, and raised some of the war's finest generals.

Until now, the Army of the Tennessee has been relatively neglected—perhaps because it fails to fit the Union stereotype of triumphing by force rather than finesse. Woodworth, a historian at Texas Christian University who has written several books on the Civil War (Beneath a Northern Sky ; A Scythe of Fire ; etc.), corrects this oversight in what is arguably the best one-volume history written to date of a Civil War field army. Combining impeccable scholarship and comfortable style, Woodworth describes a force whose tone was set by volunteer regiments from the farms and small towns of the Mississippi Valley: Iowa, Illinois, Missouri. Already accustomed to hard work and rough living, these men readily learned how to march and fight.

Though Woodworth credits the army's unique combination of steadiness and aggressiveness to its first commander, Ulysses S. Grant, he details how the Army of the Tennessee learned war from other masters as well: West Point graduates, like William Sherman and James McPherson; civilian corps commanders, like "Black Jack" Logan and Frank Blair; and hundreds of field and company officers who learned their craft on the job and who led by example rather than by order. They made the Army of the Tennessee the Union's whiplash in the West and one of the three or four most formidable large formations in America's military history. (Oct. 28)