Book Review: With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North


by Carol Reardon

Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Pp. vi, 178. Notes, biblio., index. $30.00. ISBN: 0807835609

Well known for her insightful works in Civil War history, Prof. Reardon (Penn State), takes a hard look at the traditional notion that officers educated at West Point were steeped in Jomini’s theories of war. 

In With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other, based her contribution to the Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era, Reardon examines the Academy’s curriculum, the reading of cadets based on USMA library records, the writings of American officers, and other documentation, as well as critical analysis of their campaigns.  She concludes that, while familiar with Jomini, most American officers were not slavishly devoted to him.  In fact, she notes that most experienced soldiers were well aware of Jomini’s shortcomings, among them his emphasis on genius and his formulaic approach to warfare.  They could see that Jomini had failed to address or even comment on many common problems encountered on campaign or in combat, said little about human factors, such as combat exhaustion, and knew nothing of mid-nineteenth century "modern" technology, such as rifles and railroads.  We today think of some of these problems in Clausewitzian terms, such as the fog of war and friction, despite the fact that hardly any Civil War officer had even heard of the Prussian baron.  While Reardon focuses on Union military leadership, it seems reasonable to apply her conclusions to Confederate leadership as well, given their shared educational and career backgrounds.

With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other will prove rewarding reading for those interested in the conduct of operations during the Civil War.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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