The Civil War in the West by Earl E. Hess

Review By David Lady


The Civil War in the West by Earl E. Hess
The Civil War in the West by Earl E. Hess

This book was a happy surprise; what I took to be a straight chronological history of the Civil War between the Appalachians and the Mississippi is actually an extremely interesting study of the importance of logistics and Federal occupation policies to the outcome of the war in the west.

Dr. Earl J. Hess, the author, analyzes why the war in the west ended as it did. His theme is found in the introduction, where he writes “…the Federals made more astute use of their available resources for war making than did their opponents.” By resources, he means the Northern industrial base and the western transportation infrastructure (railroads, improved roads, shipyards and river vessels).

Dr. Hess has been a student of Civil War history since he was a teenager, and since 1989 he has taught at Lincoln Memorial University, in Harrogate, Tennessee. Dr. Hess has published nearly twenty books, over twenty journal articles, and more than a hundred book reviews for academic history journals. Among his books are Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign and The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee.

This book’s structure is largely although not strictly a chronological account of campaigns and battles. Dr. Hess looks at the logistical and transportation aspects of the military movements and maneuvers. He also covers the many problems Federal commanders faced as they sought to deal with rebellious civilians and guerillas, and to provide for thousands of blacks who chose to leave their plantations while utilizing this population of newly freed-men as laborers and later as combat soldiers. He includes three topical chapters: “Occupation,” “Administering the Western Conquests,” “Behind the Lines.” These emphasize what was happening in the wake of the armies; Federal forces had the job not only of pushing back the Confederate armies from contested territory but also of reclaiming a rebellious population which lived in the area. That job proved to be more complex and difficult than defeating enemy armies on the battlefield, and by the winter of 1863 the senior commanders in the West, Grant and Sherman, ceased to emphasize seizing territory but instead developed a policy of only temporarily controlling the area through which their armies passed, focusing on destroying the war-supporting factories, railroads, arsenals, and even cities in an effort to destroy southern ability and will to continue the war.

Dr. Hess succeeds in defending his theme, but he takes a consistently northern point of view. The book’s weakness lies in his not covering in similar detail Confederate logistics and civil policies in the west, and accounting for their insufficiency in supporting the war effort. He makes no more than passing reference to southern use of the railroads, and makes little mention of the considerable Confederate efforts to build a network of factories, arsenals, and depots in the lower Confederacy after the loss of Kentucky and most of Tennessee in the winter of 1862.

I owe a great deal to our fellow member, Bill Stadtlander, for loaning me this book. Dr. Hess has written a better than good military history that adds a great deal to our understanding the  important logistical and political problems of successfully conducting war over the vast and difficult-to-traverse western Confederacy. It is not so much Federal manpower and manufacturing but rather in the Federal solutions to particular logistical problems of winning the war in the southern heartland that we can find out how the North won the war. This book is well worth your time to read and study.


The Reviewer is; David Lady is a native of Washington, D.C. and grew-up in Virginia during the Civil War Centennial. His father took him to most of the Virginia battlefields, Antietam, and Gettysburg before he was thirteen-years old. His branch of the Lady family lived in eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia during the Civil War. Three ‘Lady men’ served in the 1st Tennessee Cavalry (United States Volunteers), and another served as Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Virginia Cavalry (Provisional Army of the Confederate States). David graduated from Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH with a degree in History. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1974, and during his thirty-three year military career he served as an Armor and Cavalry soldier. He and his wife Ellen reside in Huntsville, where he is employed on Redstone Arsenal with the U. S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. David has published thirty-two articles in Army Professional Journals, and has led groups of Soldiers and civilians on battlefield tours and military ‘staff rides’ to the Perryville, Fort Donelson, and Gettysburg battlefields. He is currently studying the Civil War in Eastern Tennessee and along the Kansas- Missouri border and is the Round Table Membership Chairman.