Sunday, November 9, 2008


Confederate Struggle for Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West
by Alexander Mendoza; Texas A&M University Press, 4354 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-4354; photographs, maps; appendix; notes; bibliography; index; $32.95.

Confederate Struggle for Command by Alexander Mendoza is an excellent study of Gen. James Longstreet and his First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia when it was sent west in the Fall of 1863 to reinforce the Confederate Army of Tennessee, then locked in a desperate campaign with the Union Army of the Tennessee. It chronicles the successes and failures of Longstreet's command, along with his involvement in corrosive in-fighting among generals in Gen. Braxton Bragg's command.
The book covers the Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga, the unsuccessful Siege of Chattanooga, and Longstreet's failed Knoxville campaign. There are fine graphics and photographs as well as some campaign maps. It doesn't go into a great deal of detail about the battles, but the focus is on the command decisions and the personalities involved.
Mendoza does a fair and balanced evaluation of the entire situation and gives the reader a clear view and understanding of the challenges, successes and failures of the all those involved in that theater of the the war. Without doubt, Longstreet was one of the finest, most talented commanders of the war on either side. However, that doesn't mean he was without fault. Presenting such a fair-evaluation of Longstreet in no way diminishes him. It just made him more understandable and, in my opinion, enhances his reputation because he was able to continue on and make the most out of any difficult situation with which he was faced.
General Bragg and his subordinate generals were locked in a power struggle that did great harm to the Confederate war effort in the West. It is easy to blame President Jefferson Davis, in 20-20 hindsight, for not removing Bragg earlier. But it was obvious that all the blame didn't rest on Bragg alone, and finding a suitable replacement wasn't all that easy at the time, as the author points out. The book was well organized, and the writing succinct. This is history that can be enjoyed and understood by almost anyone interested in the War For Southern Independence. It made a very complicated campaign more understandable by touching on the various challenges, including geography as well as the human elements. My favorite part of the book was showing what stalwart heroes the veteran Confederate soldiers of the First Corps were. In spite of the incredible hardships and dangers they faced, these Southern patriots always gave their best. These men are emblematic of why the Confederate soldier has a worldwide reputation as being among the very best fighting men in all history.
The author, Alexander Mendoza, is an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas. He has a Ph.D. from Texas Tech University. This was a most enjoyable read.

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