Civil War Book Review: This Great Struggle: America’s Civil War

by James Durney on June 15, 2011 · 1 comment

This Great Struggle: America’s Civil War
by Steven E. Woodworth

A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph 1862-1863 by Jeffry D. Wert

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (April 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0742551849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742551848

Write a one-volume history of the American Civil War.  Be sure to consider the politics on both sides, the home fronts, personalities and objectives.  Do not forget to include Great Britain, the blockade-runners and the rams.  We want you to include chapters on Reconstruction and on causes too.  This must be a military history that covers all the major campaigns and make sure to mention the more important secondary campaigns.  Oh, by the way, the text must be under 400 pages, we need about 40 pages for the index, sources and notes.  Most authors would have tried to nicely say, “This is impossible!” so as to not upset the publisher.  The excellent social history “Battle Cry of Freedom” is 952 pages while the best military history “The Longest Night” is 992 pages.  This book cannot offer the depth of information found in those book BUT it provides an intelligent overview of the subjects.

Woodworth manages an inclusive narrative that is well paced and constantly moving.  We effortlessly move from theater to theater, from war to politics to social issues and back to war throughout the book.  The organization is so logical that each move seems natural and necessary.  We receive enough information to attain a basic understanding of a subject and place it in the overall context of the war.  This is a history of American Civil War from the 1850s through the 1870s.  The design is to be inclusive but not detailed.  A detailed book like this would run thousands of pages and require a body builder to carry it.

Woodworth stays with the modern interpretation of the Civil War history placing slavery as the central theme.  He is honest enough to fairly note different interpretations and not be dismissive of them.  This is a stalemate in the East, victory on the Mississippi and cautious advance in Tennessee military history.  The treatment of the personalities is fair and no one walks on water.  This is not a story of heroes and villains but of people at war.  Leaders make mistakes and fail throughout the book.  The Trans-Mississippi is important in 1861 and early 1862.  After the Battle of Pea Ridge, very little happens that changes the course of the war.  The book reflects this by looking at what is important and what is not.

Is this book worth reading?  YES!  For those new to the Civil War, this is the best general history of its size.  For the experienced reader, this book is an enjoyable review.  It puts the vital, very important, important and not important events into place and keeps this perspective.  One of the best things is Woodworth’s ability as a writer.  His prose is clean, direct and very intelligent.  He can lecture while seeming to talk and make anyone enjoy history.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Patricia B. Swan June 15, 2011 at 10:03 am

In my view, James has nailed this review precisely. This book is the best overview of the Civil War that I’ve read and, probably, the best I can imagine. Sure there is a minor error in detail in a couple of places, but overall it is remarkably “spot on!” This is my current pick as a gift to get friends and relatives interested in the Civil War.

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