In 1861, Americans thought that the war looming on their horizon would be brief. None foresaw that they were embarking on our nation's worst calamity, a four-year bloodbath that cost the lives of more than half a million people. But as eminent Civil War historian Emory Thomas points out in this stimulating and provocative book, once the dogs of war are unleashed, it is almost impossible to rein them in.
In The Dogs of War, Thomas highlights the delusions that dominated each side's thinking. Lincoln believed that most Southerners loved the Union and would be dragged unwillingly into secession by the planter class. Jefferson Davis could not quite believe that Northern resolve would survive the first battle. Once the Yankees witnessed Southern determination, he hoped, they would acknowledge Confederate independence. These two leaders, in turn, reflected widely held myths. Thomas weaves his exploration of these misconceptions into a tense narrative of the months leading up to the war, from the "Great Secession Winter" to a fast-paced account of the Fort Sumter crisis in 1861.
Emory M. Thomas's books demonstrate a breathtaking range of major Civil War scholarship, from The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience and the landmark The Confederate Nation, to definitive biographies of Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart. In The Dogs of War, he draws upon his lifetime of study to offer a new perspective on the outbreak of our national Iliad.
This book has several odd theses. Thomas is a bit of a revisionist and a "Monday morning quarterback". The first half seems dedicated to implying that everyone back then was pretty stupid and romantic about "war" and all that it entailed. Thomas paints with a broad brush and makes it seem as though both the North and South were filled with nothing but ignorant political and military leaders, media/journalists, clergy and civilians who expected any conflict to be resolved in about a week's span with complete victory and hardly any casualties. I think the time period of the 1800s had a different method of communication, whereby hyperbole and drama was used quite a bit... this is the period that produced Samuel Clemens after all. My other thesis peeve with Thomas is that he interrupts his dull narrative and inept analysis to link what he thinks are mistakes in the administration of the Civil War with mistakes in the administration of the Iraq war(s). The second half of the book is just a compilation of odd events and characters, none of which or who are very interesting.
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Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
The Dogs of War is of interest to those who who read a lot about the Civil War, although it doesn't really have any information that is new. The conclusions the author draws are interesting, however.
How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?
Perhaps a different reader. This one was rather dull.
Could you see The Dogs of War: 1861 being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?
No, this is not destined for being filmed.