A few years ago, Edward H. Bonekemper III wrote a short book arguing that the audacity of Robert E. Lee imposed an impossible cost on the Confederate Army, dooming it in any prolonged contest. The volume was called How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War. I noted when it came out that,
He subscribes to the prevailing battlemindedness in CW historiography and takes it down to the next level of primitivism, which is statistical analysis. This makes for a a final stop at a place where Lee ranks far, far below Bragg in capability. Thus the "novelty" of this work, its special thrill, is that it applies the current wisdom against the leading beneficiary of the current wisdom, Mr. Robert E. Lee.
The simplistic metric of battles won or lost dominates ACW thinking and is key to saleability of personalities and events.
In his Lee book, Bonekemper did revive a useful analytic tool to try to measure one aspect of "quality" in generalship; that is "hit ratios." Considering hit ratios (damage taken versus damage inflicted), the results are astonishing when set beside current ACW wisdom. For example, in terms effective combat violence, there is no soldier in McClellan's league on either side of the Civil War except for Grant, and Grant arrives near McClellan's numbers only if you include surrendered troops as if they were direct combat casualties. (Please see the linked table for numbers.)
Bonekemper used hit ratios to help substantiate his view that Lee was a poor general well regarded by his president who enjoyed a popularity that insulated him from his mistakes.
Well, Bonekemper has written a new book about Grant's career: A Victor, Not a Butcher: Ulysses S. Grant's Overlooked Military Genius. I would have thought he would flip the coin and use numeric analysis to measure the higher quality of Grant's generalship. This review suggests, instead, that he abandoned analysis for storytelling:
Bonekemper's descriptions of Grant's Overland and Appomattox Campaigns are exceptionally reader friendly and easy to follow. As a military writer, the author has that gift of simplifying complex maneuvers and making them understandable.
That's marching backwards. But there's a little silver lining:
... not since Dr. Jeffery Hummel's seminal study, Freeing the Slaves and Enslaving Freemen, have I read a book so generous with its bibliography, notes, and appendices all of which are required by serious students of the war!
Hmmm. Have to find this book. Will report back promptly.
UPDATE | Visited the B&N here in Baltimore after writing this. They actually have Bonekemper's book in a special display. Down to brass tacks:
Citations: Overwhelmingly secondary sources, even including authors who write from secondary sources themselves (e.g. McPherson).
Strength figures: They play a large role in each chapter but are not cited. Lots of zeroes, very round numbers.
Casualty figures: An appendix carries tables comparing estimates made by pop historians for each engagement. Very interesting. The author gives his own "best estimate" but fails to comment on how each individual best estimate was calculated.
Storytelling: Omnipresent, but the author keeps each chapter short.
Bibliography: Nothing special.
Impulse buy rating: No sale. (Updated at 1:45 pm)