Book Review: Training, Tactics and Leadership in the Confederate Army of Tennessee: Seeds of Failure

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by Andrew Haughton

London: Frank Cass, 2000. Pp. 261. Notes, biblio., append., index. $49.50. ISBN:0-71446-5032-3

This book examines some of the lesser studied aspects of the Civil War, namely training, the tactics on which the training was based, and leadership, especially at the lower levels of command. Haughton ultimately concludes that training and the failure to adapt essentially Napoleonic tactics to the tactical circumstances that pertained in the west doomed the Army of Tennessee to failure.

Haughton logically begins by examining some of the previous explanations for the Confederate defeat, as well as the notion of Southern military prowess. In a very close and penetrating analysis of the historical literature, Haughton convincingly debunks the notion of Southerners being naturally prone to the martial pursuits. He also dismisses many of the standard explanations for the military demise of the Confederacy. Having done that, Haughton then begins his examination of what he argues is the cause of the Confederate defeat, namely training and tactics.

Haughton argues that early on in the war Confederate commanders remained wedded to linear tactics based solely on William J. Hardee’s 1855 manual. As time went on, commanders failed to rectify problems with training. While training, or drill, improved in both frequency and quality at the company and regimental levels, drills at the brigade, division, and corps levels remained almost unknown, at least until 1864. Haughton also points out the lack of target practice given infantry, another deficiency not remedied until 1864. In terms of command, Haughton tries to minimize attention to the well-covered disagreements between Braxton Bragg and his senior officers. Instead, he concentrates on officers at the company and regimental level. Early on officers were elected, a system that did not always produce the best leaders. Bragg, while stuck with this system, did try to mitigate its worst effects by instituting a board of examinations to screen prospective officers for their fitness for their respective posts.

Haughton’s analysis does fall short in some places. He understates, for example, the importance of higher command. The problem at Shiloh was not so much linear tactics as it was P.G.T. Beauregard’s battle plan, which proved hopelessly complex for the largely inexperienced Army of Tennessee to manage. While Haughton argues that linear tactics proved incapable of sustaining an offensive and that the army was unable to develop better tactics, he is at a loss to explain the second day at Chickamauga. There Longstreet, massing a force of eight brigades in a deep column, was able to achieve a decisive result. While Haughton does not overplay the effect the so-called “fatal order” had in disrupting the Union line, he cannot explain how Longstreet was able to accomplish this, even though the troops had absolutely no training for it.

The lack of maps in the volume is a major deficiency. The book is extremely well-researched and reasonably well written. Although Haughton’s arguments have their flaws, his approach is fresh. This is a very good addition to anyone’s Civil War library, although the price is pretty stiff.

Reviewer: R.L. DiNardo, USMC C&SC   


Buy it at Amazon.com




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