Thursday, March 6, 2014

Where the South Lost the War by Kendall D. Gott

Where the South Lost the War describes the events of the Fort Henry and Fort Donelson campaign. Kendall Gott's analysis earns its place among other books on the campaign by virtue of his discussion of the attack on For Henry and emphasis on the Confederate operations during the campaign.

Battle of Fort Henry
The author begins by covering the developments leading up to the attack on Fort Henry.  He explains the capture of Fort Henry and the Union raid of February  6-12 on the Tennessee River. As expected, the majority of the book deals with the Union victory at Ft Donelson. Gott devotes a chapter on each of the first three days of the attack (February 12, 13, and 14) and two chapters to the actions on February 15. The descriptions are complemented by a fine collection of seventeen maps.

General A. S. Johnston
This book is appropriately titled Where the South Lost the War because it focuses on the series of bad decisions that lost these two strategic positions.The thing that separates this book from others on the campaign is the author's analysis of the series of Confederate mistakes, which virtually make a gift of the forts to Grant's forces.  Gott places most of the command errors at the feet of General A. S. Johnston. However, there is plenty of error to go around especially the decisions made during February 15-breakout attempt.

General C. F. Smith
General U. S. Grant receives little credit for the victories.  The defeat at Fort Henry is due more to the placement of the works and flood conditions than Foote's gunboats.  The loss at Donelson is from the command structure and indecisiveness. Grant's moment of fame is ordering General C. F. Smith's attack on the Confederate right. Smith's leadership and the bravery of  his Second Division wins that part of the battle. Smith's protégé  and former brigade commander, General Lew Wallace, is also commended by disobeying orders and helping to stiffen resistance on the Union right.

Gott concludes that the Union victory or Confederate defeat was the critical turning point in the war.  He says the victory gave "the nation and the world confident assurance of the United States' ability to restore the national union." The triumph "lifted the spirits of the nation" and "showed that the nine months of continuous drilling and disciplining of troops and preparing them for war were not spent in vain." Gott also raises the question of how Johnston's army might have done at Shiloh. "One can only speculate upon the outcome of that battle, and indeed the war, had the bulk of the 21,000 soldiers of Fort Donelson also been present [at Shiloh]."

Kendall D. Gott retired from the US Army in 2000 after serving as an armor/cavalry and military intelligence officer. He graduated from Western Illinois University in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in history and earned a master's degree in military history through the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leaven worth, KS in 1998. He was an adjunct professor of American and World History at Augusta State University and Georgia Military College for three years before becoming a military historian in the Combat Studies Institute.

We rank Where the South Lost the War

For additional comments on the this campaign, please see THE Turning Point of the Civil War.

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