Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: The Grand Design

By Donald Stoker

Strategy is a topic often mentioned when discussing the Civil War, but it is rarely talked about in depth.  Strategy in the Civil War, however, is the sole topic of Donald Stoker’s hefty tome, “The Grand Design: Strategy and the U. S. Civil War.”

Before delving into the topic of strategy in the American Civil War, Mr. Stoker begins by giving an overview of military strategy prior to the Civil War by referencing works by military strategists Sun Tzu, Carl von Clausewitz and Antoine-Henri de Jomini.  He also differentiates policy, strategy, operations and tactics.  “How a battle is fought is in the realm of tactics.  Why a battle was fought is the arena of strategy.”

One theme that runs through the author’s narrative is Lincoln’s desire for the Federal Army to simultaneously attack its Confederate counterpart at different places, thereby not allowing the Confederate Army the opportunity to weaken part of its defenses while strengthening that which is currently threatened.  Mr. Stoker rightly observes that it wasn’t until Grant’s elevation to General-in-Cheif and his embrace of this strategy that ultimately won the war.

When strategies failed, or generals failed to implement them Stoker points out that Lincoln was not afraid to step in, which resulted in mixed and often negative results.  Once Grant was elevated to the command of the Federal army, and employed the strategy of continued simultaneous pressure against the Confederate army, Mr. Stoker observes Lincoln took a largely (but not entirely) hands off approach.

On the opposite side of the coin, Stoker demonstrates Jefferson Davis’ micromanagement of the Confederate Army, and its strategy of an offensive defense, is largely responsible for the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy.

This is not a book for the beginning student of the Civil War, nor do I believe it was intended to be.  The intended audience for Mr. Stoker’s tome, rather, is the serious student of the Civil War, and thereby is a “must have” for the home library of every one with a serious interest in the Civil War.  It is very well researched and easily read.  Though Mr. Stoker may draw some conclusions that a few in his audience might argue with.

ISBN 978-0195373059, Oxford University Press, USA, © 2010, Hardcover, 498 pages, Maps, Endnotes & Index. $27.95


Tim Kent said...

I can't wait to purchase this book. Sounds like an excellent addition to my library. Great review, Thanks.

Christopher said...

I'm in the midst of reading this right now and really enjoying it. Not only should every student of the Civil War, or American history buff, read this book, but it really should be required reading by all of the general staff and political leaders in this country. Very thought-provoking book. Great review! Cheers! Chris