Before we get into Bruce Catton this week, I'd like to set the stage with a brief demonstration of how military history dominates and completely distorts our view of the course of the civil war. Consider the following quotes, from a new book, "The War within the Union High Command" by Thomas Goss:
[Considering the] "background and appointment of famous West Pointers like Halleck, George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, and William T. Sherman to general officer rank will reveal the convoluted political and military calculations that dicated their promotion." (p 52)
"... who was actually selected had a lot more to do with old-fashioned political patronage than with any systematic consideration of level of experience or of command aptitude." (53)
"Most officers understood this patronage system." (54)
"President Lincoln became personally involved in so many patronage deals that he had to ask Secretary of War Simon Cameron to send his blank nominations to be laid before the Senate. Lincoln made so many appointments to brigadier general that he admitted to the secretary that he had forgotten many of the officers' names." (55)
"Both during the antebellum period and during the war, regular army officers cultivated patrons, actively sought political sponsors to support advancement and promotion, lobbied Congress for corporate interests, and made use of the press to influence policy." 22
Your reaction to these quotes will tell you something. To the extent one has a military interpretation of events, these comments are obnoxious. Catton is astonishingly military, as we will see, allowing little cracks in the story mortar to be filled with the occasional political anecdote.
As Goss suggests, however, a predominantly military interpretation of events is worthless to our understanding of the American Civil War.