Woodworth’s Nothing But Victory

I am now five chapters into Steven Woodworth’s new study of the Army of the Tennessee, Nothing But Victory. The book is roughly 650 pages long so the odds of me reading straight through are slim. So far so good. The book is well written and is effective in balancing between a Freemanesque top-down approach with coverage of the men in the ranks. The book is more narrative than analysis. (In some ways a nice compliment to Jeff Wert’s recent study of the Army of the Potomac, The Sword of Lincoln.) Woodworth has brought together an impressive amount of archival sources and he utilizes it throughout. As I know little about the Army of the Tennessee this is a great place to start. Coverage of battles does not sink into the mire of detail, but provides enough coverage to make sense of the ebb and flow of battle. The lack of maps, which has beenn cited by others as a deficiency is not a significant problem here, though their addition would have helped. All in all the book has a nice flow and if it continues perhaps I will get through it.

Woodworth teaches at Texas Christian University. I’ve read a number of his books, including Jefferson Davis and His Generals and his more recent study, While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers. Both are first-rate books. Woodworth does not hide his religious convictions and it apparently surfaces early in Nothing But Victory. In his evaluation of the Battle of Belmont and Grant’s performance, Woodworth has this to say:

There would be other low points in his career, but never, not even at Shiloh, would he feel the hot breath of complete disaster quite this close on his neck. That catastrophe had not engulfed Grant and his army that day owed much to Providence and much also to his own determination not to fail. He simply would not allow it. (56)

For some reason the word “Providence” is just a bit troubling. My dictionary defines it as follows: 1. foresight. 2. Economy. 3.a. Divine care and guardianship. Now, if I did not know anything about Woodworth’s background I would probably have interpreted it in terms of its secular meaning, but it is not clear. Perhaps Woodworth intends the meaning to be vague. This is not a significant problem by any measure but it bothers me just the same.

Woodworth also knows when to add a dash of humor. Chapter 5 covers the Fort Henry expedition. Woodworth sets it up by explaining the importance of controlling and protecting the residents of East Tennessee and the difficulties involved:

The first was that East Tennessee was a very difficult place to reach, especially from the north. The second problem was that the general whose sector lay next to East Tennessee, and therefore whose assignment it was to go there, was Don Carlos Buell, who gave no indication of going anywhere at all very soon. A George McClellan protege, Buell was much like his mentor save that whereas McClellan could look impressive doing nothing, Buell did nothing and simply looked stodgy. (65)

Humorous evaluation that no doubt fails to do justice to McClellan, but still makes the reading enjoyable. That’s it for now. Stay tuned for future installments.

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