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Review: Donald Stoker's 'Grand Design' captures the heart of why Union won Civil War

It is refreshing to read a Civil War book that steps back from the bloody battlefields and considers the overall strategy, both North and South. In The Grand Design, Donald Stoker, professor of strategy and policy at the Naval War College Monterey, has written an excellent study of the war. In addition to discussing clearly the imperatives that pushed political leaders and generals in Washington, Richmond, Va., and the field, Stoker concludes his chapters with summaries of the effectiveness of the moves ordered and undertaken.

He also offers his view on why the Union won when "victory was not inevitable." Union resources played a part, but resources, he writes, do not win wars. "The key reason was not individual heroism or personal courage," abundant on both sides.

Rather, "The Union triumphed in the end because it managed to develop strategic responses that addressed the nature of this particular war and the character of this particular enemy and then set about implementing them for as long as it took to achieve their political objective." His final sentence: "The Confederacy never did — and perished."

That analysis appears throughout the book. Stoker writes that Gen. George B. McClellan mostly sat in camp instead of leading the Army of the Potomac. The hard work of fighting and killing fell to Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. Only Sherman understood early on that the war required the breaking of the South's spirit through massive destruction of lives and property.

Stoker credits Abraham Lincoln with not losing sight of his goal of restoring the Union. Jefferson Davis, on the other hand, sought too much in wanting independence. Stoker questions Rebel forays into the North: Even if the Confederates won those battles, they still had to return South; what did they gain? Stoker has written a valuable addition to any Civil War shelf.

Jules Wagman, last book editor of the Cleveland (Ohio) Press, reviews books in Jacksonville.

The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War

By Donald Stoker

Oxford, 498 pages, $27.95

Review: Donald Stoker's 'Grand Design' captures the heart of why Union won Civil War 08/21/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 21, 2010 4:30am]
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