A Civil War Marketing Meme that Needs to Go

I was recently checking out some new titles on Amazon and came across Steve Woodworth’s forthcoming study of the western theater titled, Decision in the Heartland: The Civil War in the West (Praeger, 2008).  I’ve read a few surveys of the war in the west, including Woodworth’s last book which I thoroughly enjoyed so I will probably skip this one.  Unfortunately, the jacket description includes the typical selling point:

The verdict is in: the Civil War was won in the “West”–that is, in the nation’s heartland, between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Yet, a person who follows the literature on the war might still think that it was the conflict in Virginia that ultimately decided the outcome. Each year sees the appearance of new books aimed at the popular market that simply assume that it was in the East, often at Gettysburg, that the decisive clashes of war the took place.

Actually, anyone who has followed the “literature on the war” over the past few years cannot help but notice the sharp increase in studies that cover every aspect of the war in the west.  How many books need to be published before we can dispense with this little marketing ploy?

7 comments… add one
  • One could just as easily imagine a marketing ploy that would claim:

    “The verdict is in: “The Civil War was won at SEA – that is, in the nation’s blockaded coastal waterways and along the Father of the waters running unvexed to the sea. Yet a person who follows the literature on the war might still think that it was the conflict on land that decided the outcome.”

    Actually, there might be a legitimate grievance there, unlike with the War in the West.

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  • I couldn’t agree more.

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  • I follow the literature on the war to some extent and it seems to me that the notion the war was won in the West has been the conventional wisdom so long that you now have to argue that the war was won in the East to be considered a revisionist.

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  • I don’t think it’s just a marketing ploy … It may be how the author feels … Or it may very well be a ploy but an effective one. Some “western” guys I know just seem to have a chip on their shoulder that their theater doesn’t get much attention and they bristle at the mere mention of Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, or even big battles that get much less coverage (like the Wilderness). And if you think they have chips, well you should see some of the Trans-Mississippi guys!

    As caveat, I hang around mainly the educated general public (i.e. the types you find at your local civil war round table) and don’t know any name authors or academics who write about the West other than I once corresponded with Peter Cozzens — who was wonderful and didn’t seem to have the chip by the way. Just pointing out among “students” of the war, there is a little bit of sore feeling out there on the issue of east vs. west.

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  • Jenny, — Nice to hear from you. I tend to doubt that the description reflects Woodworth’s thinking as he is no doubt familiar with the vast literature on the war in the west that has been published over the past few years. I would suggest doing a few keywords on Amazon which should give you a sense of the amount that has been published over the past 10 years. I guess I would be much more sympathetic if this were a jacket description from before 1980.

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  • Kevin, I lurk regularly, I just rarely actually emerge from my cave. I’ve seen the big influx of western books from just browsing the shelves at Border’s — so not doubting you’re right. I’m more interested in the East, but I have several on the West. I own Woodworth’s “Six Armies in Tennessee” but admit I haven’t read it (I’m much more familiar with Cozzens, Sword, Daniels, Castel). The whole east-west thing among my civil war roundtable is very curious to me which is why I really replied … there’s definitely a simmering hostility among the guys who pride themselves on their knowledge of say Shiloh toward the mere mention of the east (especially Gettysburg). Again these aren’t academics or authors, but some of the people who shell out and buy Civil War books. They might be the types Woodworth (or perhaps the blame is better placed on the publisher) is trying to appeal to with statements like that.

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  • Jenny, — I prefer when you emerge from your cave. You are no doubt onto something in suggesting that the marketing is directed towards just those types mentioned. By the way I see the same thing at my roundtable. I suspect that part of the attraction is the sense that they’ve discovered something special that the Gettysburg nuts have missed. In the end, however, all they’ve found is another battle to obsess about.

    Congratulations on the good news on the health front.

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