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North against South
on May 1, 2010
The American civil war is often seen as the first modern war. It saw many battles where thousands of infantry man, charging a well entrenched enemy, would be slaughtered by the fire of powerful rifles. There were no machine guns yet, but this war gave a foretaste of the murderous battles to be fought in Flanders during WW I. It also saw a war fought on the scale of half a continent, a war that neither side could win in a single battle. Like the wars of the twentieth century, it turned into a war of attrition that the Confederacy had no hope to win.
North and South were set on a course to war, and both Union and the Confederacy engaged in the war with enthusiasm, but neither side had prepared for this war. Before deciding to lead the army of Virginia, Robert Lee had been offered the command of the Army of the Union. The Confederate generals, Lee and Stonewall Jackson, were to lead a very successful defensive war in Virginia, but they never could device a winning strategy for the South. In the meantime, the campaign west of the Appalachians allowed the rise of brilliant generals, like Grant and Sherman, for the Union. Grant, who hated wars, was nonetheless determined to fight. His victory at Vicksburg, one day after Gettysburg, insured the control of the Mississippi river for the Union and cut the Confederacy in two. It opened to Sherman the road of Atlanta and Savannah. From then on, it was only a question of time for the Union army to reach Richmond.
This book on the American civil war demonstrates why John Keegan is rightfully considered the best military historian today. Not only, does he provide a crystal clear analysis of the development of the war, but he also makes the reader feel what the men who fought this war, the Johnny Rebs or the Billy Yanks, felt. The reader can almost hear the sound of gunfire, feel the hunger and the cold, and wonder with John Keegan what kept those men fighting for four long years.