All Quiet on the Potomac Picture

David Frey's
  Civil War Rumblings

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About my Book - 2

On the other hand the premise of my curiosity became muddled after reading about John Bell Hood in November and December of 1864 when he chased Yankees desperately retreating toward Franklin, Tennessee, and soon afterwards toward Nashville. Maybe, I began to realize, pursuits were not always a simple, spirited maneuver guaranteed to bring success to the pursuer and ignominious defeat to the retreating army.

Soon it began to dawn upon me that our Civil War might have lasted too long with too many casualties than were absolutely necessary. As I reviewed battlefield descriptions I began to suspect battles alone, while generating ample fodder for untold numbers of writings and even movies, and while helping to create numerous legendary figures (as well as a plentiful number of goats) actually did not go very far in determining the war's eventual closure. My underlying thesis - which I attempt to investigate and test - evolved that our Civil War was not won or lost by the terrible carnage mutually inflicted on the battlefields but instead was decided in large part after battles when one side could have pursued, but didn't pursue, a fleeing enemy to render that enemy hors de combat. I also noticed that almost no Civil War books looked at retreats and pursuits within the larger context of trying to accomplish national objectives. Even books that focused upon specific retreats and pursuits gave little attention to how such maneuvers impacted the length of the war.

For several years I researched and drafted a manuscript about Civil War pursuits or the lack of same. My original working title was To Pursue or Not to Pursue -- What Took So Damned Long? My main effort was to examine the question of what took the Civil War so long? Was it pre-ordained to last approximately four years (probably not), or were there other reasons why neither side could land a knockout punch? Even before the war started each side anticipated the war would not last long but despite more than fifty terrible, bloody battles neither side could force the other side to quit and surrender. Instead the vanquished simply escaped to a safe haven to rest and resupply before fighting another day.

As the mighty scourge continued some generals began to realize that indecisive actions alone would not settle the conflict. Instead pursuits that either captured or destroyed the retreating enemy were necessary to convert indecisive battles into the war's conclusion.

But effective pursuits were easier said than done. Trying to take a fresh, unvarnished approach, I indentify, examine, and critique the unsuccessful commanders and their attitudes, ineptitudes, and even acts of downright insubordination. Finally I also credit two generals who, eventually seeing the need for decisive results, planned and organized pursuits to help finish four years of combat.

Now that Failure to Pursue has been published I can only hope others can share a better understanding of how wars are fought and commanded, how soldiers make sacrifices throughout the courses of campaigns, and how, for all the glory and romanticism that is often ascribed to armed conflict, wars take a terrible toil, much of which can, and should be, avoided and minimized.

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