Updated: Jul 18
When studying anything, there are always books that are essential to being able to fully understand a given topic. That is no different when it comes to the Western Theater in the Civil War. In this series we will highlight some of the most important works that should be at the top of your list and in your Western Theater library. The first book in this blog series is Two Great Rebel Armies by Richard M. McMurry.
McMurry, one of the greats of Civil War historians, originally intended this to be an essay, but it just kept getting longer and longer. It’s still a short book, coming in at 155 pages, and even has “essay” on the cover, but it is jam packed with information that will leave your jaw on the floor. In the book, McMurry compares the Army of Northern Virginia with its beleaguered sister, the Army of Tennessee, and seeks to understand why the ANV experienced so much more success than the AoT. Was it leadership? Quality of troops? Supplies? The Confederate government? McMurry lays it all out in masterful fashion.
Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was the better army, McMurry concludes. However, the war was lost in the West as "the great Virginia battles and campaigns on which historians have lavished so much time and attention had, in fact, almost no influence on the outcome of the war. They led, at most, to a stalemate while the western armies fought the war of secession to an issue." The Virginia influence was strong, probably to the detriment of the western armies and the Confederacy itself.
As you build a Western Theater library, I highly suggest that you add this to the shelf first. You can read it in a day or two and come away much more enlightened on the Civil War. Order it, read it, and spread the word!
UNC Press has the first two chapters available online. Give those a read and the order the book! Click HERE.