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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.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon May 3, 2010
Keegan has provided a fully realized and masterful account of the Civil War. He obviously knows his history and is able to draw connections between what happened in the Civil War and how it foreshadowed the fighting in the First World War among other things.

I was surprised, however, at how much narrative momentum was wasted in extended analyses and meditations on different aspects of the war. Keegan is less interested in telling the story of the war than telling a story about what the war means, which has its benefits, but also results in unnecessary dullness in a popular history in my opinion.

His insights on why the Civil War didn't lead to socialism gaining a strong hold in America were quite interesting, though and there is enough of that sort of thing to make this worth reading, despite the occasional dull and perhaps self-indulgent passage.
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Just a few words on how much I enjoyed reading this book.

Extremely well written and organized, it both takes the reader on a unique trip through the War from its various competing participants' perspectives, and optimizes the splendid research done in creating the journey and presenting the weighty insights which Mr. Keegan has to offer.

Job Well Done!
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on April 23, 2015
John Keegan's resumé as a military historian is almost certainly without parallel—his work is often the first material I try to track down when breaking into a new era or subject of military history.
With that being said, this was not one of his stronger pieces of work. Several ideas, while all important in their own way to the understanding of the conflict, are repeated ad nauseam right from the get go (you will become VERY well acquainted with the importance of Virginia's rivers and the Mississippi VERY quickly, and will be reminded of them every few pages). His prose tends to digress as his analysis deepens, often taking the form of run-on-sentences that require the reader to look over them a second time.
The last few chapters are much more interpretive, which is quite helpful to new students of the Civil War given Keegan's extensive knowledge. However these chapters come across as patchy or rushed in certain areas. For example, in his analysis of the competency of both sides' generals, Keegan completely fails to even mention Confederate General James Longstreet, Lee's senior corps commander for most of the war and one of the conflicts most able and controversial generals.
Finally, the books length is a serious issue. Too much is attempted (a complete narration of the wars events from beginning to end, plus the authors analysis of the War) within only 365 pages.
Overall, the book shawn in several areas— unique facts and stats, and a welcome focus on the role of geography in the war are some of its strongpoints.
However, the book feels too scatterbrained, rushed, and at times vague for it to truly be of use on its own, or even as an auxiliary source, to the reader. Many other books on the subject attempt to accomplish the same goals as this work, with much more successful results. Nice to have, but far from a necessary buy... something I never thought I would say in regards to Keegan's work.
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on March 16, 2012
This book is as much a review of political economy in the mid 19th century USA, as it is a military history of the American Civil War. It is a must-read for any serious student of the history of USA. Keegan explains how the war created, or directly anticipated, all modern USA institutions and politics, and how it set in motion social changes that are still a work-in-progress today. Although it was the last major war fought with highly accurate and powerful muzzle-loaded rifles, albeit with a limited rate of fire, the enormous Confederate and Union losses anticipated those of the First World War - yet European generals learned almost nothing from it. May the Americans never have to go through this again. My one complaint is this: the format of the book is smaller that other Keegan's books I have, and the size of the font is too small - I had to use a bright light and a magnifying glass now and then. Still, this is not a one-pass-through book; put it in your library, you will keep coming back to it for years.
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on February 20, 2015
Really interesting, but it is a little bit too technical in some moments. There is heavy descriptions of armies movements during battles. The first third is more sociological and historical and as well for the end, but the rest is quite detailled and technical.
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on October 1, 2015
A very complete and well written book. It's the kind of book that makes you want to write to the author.
The insight about the part of the mountains and their effect on stream flow made much of the strategy
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