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Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation.

Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation. By Earl J. Hess. (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2017. Pp. 280. $45.95.)

Military historians, particularly historians of the American Civil War, acknowledge the importance of logistics to any serious study of conflict. Yet, until Earl J. Hess's study, the subject of Civil War logistics has most often been relegated to an ancillary space within the larger historiography of the war.

Logistics, while essential to the conduct of military operations, lacks a certain popular appeal. Hess's study is all the more valuable, then, for making what might seem a dull or overly technical subject accessible to both scholarly and general readers alike. He defines logistics as "the transportation of men, material, food, and animals in support of military operations in the field" (xi), and confines his later analysis within these boundaries. Hess acknowledges the importance of supply and procurement of material, but he chooses to exclude those issues in the interests of clarity, brevity, and focus.

Under the larger umbrella of Civil War transportation, Hess identifies four major means by which Northern and Southern armies moved men and material: land transport via railroads, river transport by way of steamboats, coastal or littoral shipping by steam and sail, and finally, land transport with wagons and pack animals. Hess finds, unsurprisingly, that Union war planners enjoyed advantages in all four of these logistical areas over their Confederate foes, a disparity he attributes largely to antebellum Northern expertise in organization, management, and infrastructure development.

Hess points out the complex and vast challenges both sides faced in moving armies and material, and he properly analyzes the many problems planners had to overcome to achieve their goals. In particular, Hess emphasizes Confederate efforts to disrupt Union supply and logistics efforts on the Western waterways, and he illustrates how both sides were able to use railroads to shift military forces across vast distances with surprising speed and flexibility, with important implications for the conduct of the war. Hess properly refrains from overstating the centrality of logistical considerations in analyzing the war's ultimate outcome. Throughout the study, however, Hess persuasively demonstrates that logistics is an area that historians should pay greater attention to in their assessment of military operations in the Civil War.

Hess's Civil War Logistics is a welcome addition to the literature, and a valuable examination of a sorely-neglected topic in need of thoughtful consideration.

Lee University

Andrew S. Bledsoe

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Author:Bledsoe, Andrew S.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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