Review: West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace

by James Durney on April 22, 2010 · 2 comments

West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace
Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh (author)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (October 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807832782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807832783

Building a million plus man army is a gut wrenching task.  In 1861, two nations set out to do this while fighting a civil war.  During the building process, any military experience becomes a critical asset.  Veterans of the War with Mexico, members of the militia, and graduates of private military schools struggle with half-remembered, misunderstood or just plain wrong ideas.  However bad they are better than no idea of what to do.  At ground zero stand the graduates of West Point, the only fully trained professional military either side has.  West Pointers set the professional standard for training and conduct during the American Civil War.  Their efforts convert ill-trained armed mobs into veteran armies.  Their military thinking controls the military direction and application of the armies they trained.  What they considered right and proper conduct became the right and proper way to fight the war.  West Pointers, for good or ill, controlled and conducted the American Civil War.  While they have nothing to do with the political decisions that lead to war, they have everything to do with waging that war.

Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh brings us a look at how West Point learned about war, trained the cadets and how these lessons applied during the Civil War.  Starting with the armed semi-trained mobs during the War of 1812, the author covers the development of America’s professional officers.  The War with Mexico vindicated the changes after 1814 giving the army a solid foundation while determining the direction taken into the 1850s.  West Pointers understanding of moral, leadership and logistics allowed armies to develop.  The daunting paperwork requirement of these armies was second nature to these men.  They, more than any group, stepped forward and brought order out of chaos.

This is a scholarly, well-footnoted book.  The author has many ideas that he supports with logical documented arguments.  40+ pages of footnotes with a 20 page Bibliography testify to the depth of research that went into this book.  However, this is a very readable book.  The author writes well, having an excellent readable way of presenting that never makes reading this book a chore.

This excellent background book will increase the reader’s ability to understand the decisions based on shared training and experiences that determined the direction taken.  This book truly tells us how “the old army thus served both in war and in peace”.

Editor’s Note: Jim is a highly ranked reviewer of American Civil War histories on many book seller’s sites.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg Rice April 24, 2010 at 6:01 pm

It wasn’t “two nations” it was one nation and several states in revolt…..

Reply

markacres April 25, 2010 at 9:17 am

James

Thanks for this fine review. I’ll be getting my hands on this volume ASAP.

Reply

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