Thursday, November 6, 2008

What Makes A Good Campaign History Book?

There is another fascinating piece to the Lost Cause mythology that we will soon be examining, and that is the emphasis that was and still is placed on the war in the Eastern Theater with the primary combatants being the Union Army of the Potomac vs the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. To the detriment of this bias has been attention to the fighting and events that took place in the Western Theater, which encompasses the Trans-Mississippi and Tennessee Departments (among others) of both North and South. I have a solid background in the battles in the West, but not on par with my knowledge of the fighting in the East. To remedy this, I have lined up a nice array of campaign histories which I will review as I work through them, the first of which is Wiley Sword's "Shiloh, Bloody April" which I recently finished and will review soon. To follow are works by Peter Cozzens and Noah Alan Trudeau, among others. There are multiple requirements to satisfy in crafting a complete and accurate campaign history. Here are a few which we'll be using in our analysis of these books.
1. establishing a good context for how the battle came upon the opposing forces, and what the goals of each army where for the campaign.
2. providing a succinct introduction into the personalities leading each force, their idiosyncracies, motivations, foibles, etc.
3. having plenty of accurate, detailed, and readable battle maps to follow the flow of the action, otherwise the regiments, brigades, landmarks, rivers, etc become one big jumble in the text.
4. presenting a complete order of battle as an appendix, to figure out which element was under who, and what the chain of command looked like.
5. giving a view into the common soldier's view of the fighting, ie, put the reader on the ground with the men in the smoke and fire. It's one thing to read a general's after-action report, but the real emotion and power comes in learning about how young men bore up under such extreme and terrifying circumstances.
6. balance, balance, balance. There must be equal attention paid to both sides. A good campaign history should be neither trumpeting the victors nor an apologia for the losers. These battles are so complex, it's importance that the errors and bravery on both sides have a moment of clarity.
7. having a clear presentation of the aftermath of the campaign; were aims met, was anything in particular precipitated by the action, where would the armies go from there.
Keeping these properties in mind will help give a foundation for analysis in moving forward with these texts; I know there are probably other thoughts, please add them by putting in a comment.

No comments: