by Anne J. Bailey
Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2000. Pp. xviii, 225.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $32.00. ISBN:0-8032-1273-9
The Chessboard of War is the latest in the series The Great Campaigns of the Civil War published by the University of Nebraska Press. It is the first work to deal with both campaigns in the “west” during the autumn of 1864, John B. Hood’s disastrous operations in Tennessee, and William Tecumseh Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”
Recent scholarship has focused much more on John B. Hood’s disastrous Nashville campaign, with Wiley Sword’s The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah – originally published as Embrace an Angry Wind – being the most notable work. In The Chessboard of War Anne J. Bailey shows how these two campaigns were in fact very closely linked.
The pattern for the campaigns was determined by both Sherman and Hood. In the aftermath of the fall of Atlanta, Hood decided to raid Sherman’s lines of communication, which were then based on the rail lines into Tennessee. After a couple of fruitless attempts to bring Hood to battle, Sherman decided to ignore Hood altogether. Dividing his forces, Sherman sent what considered a sufficient number of men under George Thomas to hold Nashville. Then, after persuading both Grant and the Lincoln administration, Sherman took the rest of his men and moved away from his lines of communication to march through the heart of Georgia to Savannah.
Sherman’s decision left Hood with two options, neither of which was very palatable. He could follow Sherman, nipping at his heels, or he could strike north for Nashville. Hood chose the latter, apparently after but little consultation with either his military superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard, of Jefferson Davis.
Bailey is a fine writer, and the story of the two campaigns is told quite well. The book is marked by crisp and readable prose. While there is no real need here to go into the accounts of the actions at Franklin, Nashville, and Savannah, all of which are well-known, Bailey’s take on some of the major figures involved is worth a look.
Unquestionably the most complex of these people was Sherman himself. Like so many of his contemporaries, Sherman was not above taking credit for the deeds of others. He went so far as to boast to his wife Ellen that credit for the victory at Nashville should go to him, as it was a clear confirmation of the wisdom of his strategy. In contrast, one person who can certainly be said to have gotten the short end of the stick was George Thomas. Hectored by endless telegrams from Lincoln, Stanton, Halleck, and Grant, when Thomas finally did attack, to virtually destroyed the Army of Tennessee as a military force, he received scant credit for all of his efforts.
Like many of the books in this series, there is very little that is new here for the specialist. However, for the Civil War novice, this book is an excellent starting point for the study of these two campaigns.