Question of the Week: 10/16-10/22/17

In your opinion, what’s the best biography of a Union general? What makes it “the best”?

14 Responses to Question of the Week: 10/16-10/22/17

  1. I really liked Richard Kiper’s biography of John McClernand. It cut through some of the misconceptions and gave a fair presentation of McClernand. A politician for sure as we know, but a better battlefield commander than the common view.

  2. Although dated, I think ‘Education in Violence,’ by Francis McKinney, is the most thorough review of Thomas’ war career. This book covers the generals growth into greater responsibilities. Einholf’s ‘Virginian for the Union’ is also a fine biography, and places useful emphasis on Thomas’ personal growth as the general reexamines his attitudes toward slavery and African American soldiers and freemen during the war and the Reconstruction period.

  3. Almost too many to name. But here are three of my favorites:

    1) Lee Considered: Gen. Robert E. Lee and Civil War History by Alan T. Nolan. Although Lee was a brilliant commander, he was also human. Lost Causers have perpetuated the myth that he was a saint. Nolan’s book debunks many of the Lost Causers’ falsehoods.

    2) Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order by John F. Marszalek. Like Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, William T. Sherman was a great general, but also an odd bird. Marszalek portrays Sherman warts and all.

    3) The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War by Thomas B. Buell. Profiles six CW generals as battlefield commanders – U.S. Grant, R. E. Lee, George Thomas, John Bell Hood, Francis Channing Barlow and John Brown Gordon. Great stuff.

    I’m also looking forward to reading Ron Chernow’s new book on Grant. It just hit the book stores. Ex-Prez Bill Clinton wrote a glowing review of the tome in Sunday’s NY Times. Chernow is a superb history writer best known in recent years for his bio of Alexander Hamilton, which was made into a Broadway musical.

    P.S. David, thanks for the suggestions on Gen. Thomas. He’s one of my favorites, but unfortunately it’s tough to find good bios on him. Same goes for Andy’s choice. I always thought McClernand, while flawed, got a raw deal from Grant. McClernand’s biggest mistake: He didn’t fawn over Grant.

  4. Because the gunners “don’t get no respect”, I’d put forward ” No Disgrace to My Country: The Life of John C. Tidball” by Eugene Tidball – a nicely done work about a Civil War officer who later influenced the development of the US Artillery in the latter part of the 19th century. And that brings us to the other one – Edward Longacre’s biography of Henry J. Hunt – another highly important Civil War “redleg” who also played an important role, both leading up to and after the War.

  5. I’m going to offer Ethan Rafuse’s bio of McClellan, “McClellan’s War.” Much more even-handed than the one by Sears, Rafuse does the best job of explaining *why* Mac tried ti fight the war as he did. (And, yes, John Foskett, he is very hard on Mac for the “Glendale boat ride.”)

    1. Jim: That’s a good choice, And I’ve used Rafuse as well as other reliable sources in my ongoing dialogue with one of the more extreme McClellan apologists on the Internet. Rafuse funds no excuses for Mac’s mishandling of things on June 30.

  6. I believe the best biography is the next one I read! It is difficult to narrow down the list when so many outstanding works exist. My bias is towards analysis of performance as a senior military leader. I certainly would vote for “Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order” by Dr. John F. Marszalek though his book on General Henry Halleck, “Commander of all Lincoln’s Armies” should not be forgotten. John was a former instructor and is not only an exceptional writer but an outstanding educator. I thought S.C. Gwynne’s “Rebel Yell” presented an objective view of Lt Gen Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson military career…certainly a worthwhile read (I have James Robertson’s “Stonewall Jackson” sitting in my book pile.) Lastly, Bruce Catton’s book on Grant are exceptional…actually anything by Bruce Catton is exceptional.

  7. Hmm…Union general biographies?

    Two of my favorites:
    “In The Hands Of Providence” by A.R.Trulock is a good biography of J.L. Chamberlain. (I’ve outgrown my “Chamberlain crazy days” but I still enjoying reading sections of that book.) “The Boy General” is a relatively concise biography of Francis C. Barlow with good details on his role and command movements in battles.

    And I’m looking for recommendations for an outstanding biography for Grant. Thoughts?

    1. The Welch book is solid. A nice accompanying book is Chris Samito’s volume of edited letters “Fear Was Not In Him”

    2. I, personally, like Joseph Rose’s “Grant Under Fire”. Mr. Rose is an excellent writer and superb researcher. I recently met Mr. Rose and had a chance to thank him for this wonderful book. This is not a full biography and only covers the Civil War years, yet it is 798 pages. Most Grant books that I have read just plow the same ground again, Mr. Rose’s book covers areas that other authors have neglected. Thank you to the other commenters, great suggestions.

      1. Thanks, Larry. I agree that “most Grant books that I have read just plow the same ground again.” What is worse, however, is that these authors get so much wrong, both in regards to Grant and just in relating their respective stories. I’m going through Chernow’s biography now, which seems based rather heavily on secondary sources. His Grant not only gets the benefit of every doubt, he gets credit when he’s in the wrong.

        In one of his absurdities, Chernow mentioned how Secretary of the Interior Orville Hickman Browning asserted that General Grant’s first two cabinet attendances “have been marked by a rather ridiculous arrogance. He has been swift to deliver his crude opinions upon all subjects, and especially upon legal questions, as if they were oracles and not to be controverted.” Turning this into lemonade, Chernow prefaced the passage with the astounding claim that Grant “showed a self-assurance that antagonized some secretaries,” and he finished it by arguing how “Grant was no longer the bumbling clerk from Galena.”

        That’s not how history should be written.

  8. bob ruth
    Correct me if i’m wrong but I believe Gen. R.E. Lee was a Confederate General and not a Union one.
    You will spare NO chance to put down the South
    So bias
    As for the correct way to answer this weeks question I liked Meade Richard A Sauers .

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