Article Title

The Ongoing Civil War: New Versions of Old Stories


John Benson


The war after the war

Capsizing conventional views of history

The Civil War is one of the most debated and studied topics in American History. Bookstores are filled with glossy, narrative style books aimed at a general public who cannot get enough of them. Unlike the serious scholar who is dedicated to minutia and technical analysis, lay readers are attracted to cursory details and broad overviews. Rarely do modern books present up-to-date scholarship in a style attractive to the masses. In 1997 John Stanchak published Columbiad: A Quarterly Review of the War Between the States, which presented scholarly works in a form that was desirable and understandable to the lay reader. Regrettably, Columbiad lasted only four years. The Ongoing Civil War is a scholarly return to Columbiad's mission. Herman Hattaway, Professor Emeritus of History and Religious Studies at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and Ethan S. Rafuse, Associate Professor of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth Kansas have collected from today's distinguished scholars a number of essays that challenge previous views of the war and offer fresh ground for debate. In the process, Hattaway and Rafuse have provided scholarly materials that are easily understandable and enjoyable to both the scholar and armchair historian alike. Collected within The Ongoing Civil War are nine divergent essays addressing issues ranging from how professional historians have shaped our understanding of the war, to how the Official Records created a basis from which historians worked. Ethan Rafuse, besides being a co-editor, writes an exceptional essay comparing the military theories of General George B. McClellan and the Prussian, Carl von Clausewitz. Rafuse argues that McClellan's war strategy was based on two points. First, he insisted the North must fight for limited war aims that the president and nation agreed upon . . . Second, he believed that unless the actual fighting was short, the violence and emotion unleashed by war could bring about what Lincoln labeled a bitter and remorseless struggle' that would tear apart the nation's social and political institutions even if it could restore its territorial integrity. After making a case for McClellan's strategy to end the war quickly while preserving human life through meticulous planning, Rafuse shows how Clausewitz' theory that war creates hatred which promotes total warfare was principally McClellan's concern. Rafuse, unlike many, makes a good case for McClellan's wartime inactions. The essay is well footnoted, and interesting. Rafuse's efforts truly spotlight him as an intellectual historian of great promise. Equally appealing is Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones's essay on Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. Hattaway and Jones cast the often overlooked and much reviled Old Brains in a positive light, and make a case for his wisdom and service to President Lincoln. Halleck, according to Hattaway and Jones, made two major contributions to the war. First he was a proficient organizer who made Washington headquarters effective and coordinated the endeavors of the War Department's logistical bureaus. . . His second contribution was strategy. It was Halleck who advocated the opening of the Mississippi River and constantly kept the war in the west and east active so as to prevent Richmond from strengthening either region with spare troops from the other. Following the war, in an effort that is often overlooked, Halleck took the steps necessary for the compilation all of the military records from both sides into a useable reference work, now known as The War of the Rebellion: A compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Other essays include Michl J.C. Taylor's accounting of President Franklin Pierce's initial efforts to resolve the sectional conflict over slavery and eventual demise over criticisms of the Lincoln administration, Mark Snell's story of the Union logistics at the Battle of Gettysburg, and Noah Andre Trudeau's look at the compilation of the Official Records and its effect on the historical accounting of the war. The Ongoing Civil War is an enjoyable, informative read. Scholar and buff alike will be drawn to the intellectual arguments that may reignite the debate on many subjects. Footnotes are informative yet not overly taxing. Each author has been carefully selected and presents an informative, well-researched topic. In the introduction Hattaway and Rafuse lament their inability to include works by many other renowned historians. Hopefully this professional duo will produce a second book that includes those essays that were left behind. This book is certainly worth its price and should be placed on your bookshelf as soon as possible. John Benson is a Deputy District Attorney in Bucks County Pennsylvania. He is the past President of the Bucks County Civil War Roundtable and also lectures on the causes of the war. He is currently working on a biography on General Winfield Scott Hancock.