With Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 Dr. Steven E. Woodworth

With Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 Dr. Steven E. Woodworth continues to show he is an excellent writer. This is a long book, 641 pages. It took me about thirty two days to read it. Woodworth’s writing is a refreshing, narrative style. His goal of giving attention to all levels of the army from private to general was accomplished. The thoughts, actions, and attitudes of the soldier he sought to communicate rang clear in his writing.

My initial thought was this may be the definitive work on the Civil War in the west. My undergraduate degree in history included course work in US Military History, Antebellum History, Civil War and Reconstruction. I am well read in the area of personal memoirs and definitive biographies of key persons in the US Civil War. My point in sharing my background is this – Dr. Woodworth certainly heavily leaned on the Personal Memoirs of US Grant. I had read that book recently so it was very fresh in my memory. It would have been interesting to see more sources from the southern soldiers who fought the Army of the Tennessee. In some battles I found that some of the other Union Armies’ contributions or lack of contribution were not covered in the detail I would have enjoyed. I believe this is a definitive work on the Civil War in the west.

With the above opinion stated, I still strongly recommend the book and will read it again. Steven Woodworth’s writing style is so enjoyable that I fear academic historians may be jealous of him as has happened with other best selling historians.

The story of how the army develops is shared with many sources. I was distracted initially by all the footnoting, but after a while ignored most unless I was curious about the statement. It was interesting to learn of the training and the logistical skills of the leadership – Grant and Sherman.

Some may think there is too much focus on General Grant prior to the fall of 1863. Grant was such a key figure that the coverage is merited. At times the author seems like a Grant apologist. Maybe some writers have diminished Grant’s contribution. Having a great, great, grandfather who served and died in the Army of the Tennessee I have had interest in learning what I can of the grand army. I learned new information on Grant. So my time was well spent.

I found the treatment of General Henry Halleck leadership role over Grant enlightening. I was previously unaware of General John A. McClernand and his never ending politicking and rumor spreading. Seeing the roles of General like Dodge, Hampton, McPherson and Logan sowed the seeds for further reading on some of these men.

The narrative made feel like I was there with the army as the moved from Cairo to Fort Henry and Fort Donaldson, to Shiloh, to Corinth, to Vicksburg and that whole complex campaign including Port Gibson, Jackson, Champions Hill and Vicksburg and Meridian.

The battles around Chattanooga were as clearly explained as I have every read. The coverage of the Atlanta campaign and movement through Georgia were excellent. I would love to see a book by him on just this campaign. It had points of view and information I have not encountered. I twice have lived in Georgia (mid 1970’s as a new second lieutenant and early 1980’s fresh with Master’s in hand living in Atlanta). I was always amazed at how Georgia natives acted as if Atlanta fell last week and the foraging was still happening. His narrative on the march across Georgia was enlightening. Woodworth’s account of the movement from Savannah through South Carolina is rich in detail that rivals any other resources known. We understand why South Carolina was divested by the Sherman’s army. Then the march through North Carolina, the way Logan keeps Raleigh from being burned and then ultimate the movement to Washington, DC and the May 24th pass in review was well done.

I did not find just another retelling of the history of the Army of the Tennessee. It is a fun to read narrative written by a good story teller. Thank goodness this is not just another dry lengthy, dry historical paper. History can be well written and interesting. He made it interesting by sharing the soldier’s thoughts, emotions, and victories through the liberal use of diaries. We learned the heart of the Army of the Tennessee. We understand why and how it fought and how it developed esprit de corps.

I recommend adding this book to every library of those with an interest in the US Civil War. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski


Joseph Balkoski’s book on Omaha Beach is a great historical resource like his book Utah Beach. Omaha Beach tells the story of when largely untested American troops assaulted the German army’s Atlantic wall. This is a great read covering the events of the day almost minute by minute. It reads like a great documentary. This is not written in the format of a memoir. Balkoski relies mainly on primary sources such as after action reports, unit journals, and citations to create his blow by blow narrative. He includes the invasion’s diplomatic and strategic context. Omaha Beach is the closest the modern reader can get to experiencing the Normandy landings firsthand.

Sprinkled throughout the battle account are the accounts of those in the battle. It is a classic. It is a must for any D-day library. It also included comprehensive lists of all Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross winners at Omaha Beach. It has: the Order of Battle, unit casualty list for the first twenty-four hours, unit organization of a 30man assault boat unit weapons, and equipment carried in the assault by a typical soldier, and a series of detailed maps allowing the reader unparalleled insight into the minute-by-minute combat on Omaha Beach. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in November 2005.

Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landing And Airborne Operations On D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski


Joseph Balkoski’s book on Utah Beach is a great historical resource. This is a very good read covering the events of the day almost minute by minute. It reads like a great documentary. This is not written in the format of a memoir. Readers who love first person hubris memoirs may find it lacking action.

Balkoski relies mainly on primary sources such as after action reports, unit journals, and citations to create his blow by blow narrative. Sprinkled throughout the battle account are the accounts of those in the battle. It is a classic. It is a must for any D-day library. Read in October 2005 by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Beyond Band of Brothers by Major Dick Winters with Colonel Cole C. Kingseed


I read Beyond Band of Brothers by Major Dick Winters & Colonel Cole C. Kingseed, the World War II memoir of Major Dick Winters this week. I just finished reading it. I borrowed it from The Colony, Texas Public Library. While reading Band of Brothers is note required before reading Beyond Band of Brothers, I highly recommend reading Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brother’s first. Why? Beyond Band of Brothers reminds me of watching a DVD listening to the director’s or producer’s commentary. You have the story, but you get the commentary behind the story. This is the story of Dick Winters who served as a platoon leader, executive office, and company commander in Easy Company, 2 Battalion 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and then as executive officer and battalion commander of, 2 Battalion 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

On D-Day, Dick Winters parachuted into France and assumed leadership of the Band of Brothers when their company commander was killed. He led them through the taking out the artillery on D-Day that was pounding the causeways on Utah Beach, Market Garden, through the Battle of the Bulge, the attack on Foyand Noville, and into Germany, and to Haguenau. They liberated a death camp and captured Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s alpine retreat, and served as occupation forces in Austria. Briefly, on active duty during the Korean War, Winters then lived on a small Pennsylvania farm and was a highly successful businessperson. Beyond Band of Brothers is Winters’s memoir, based on his wartime diary, but it also includes his comrades’ untold stories. Most of this material is being released for the first time. He explains the cohesion behind the Band of Brothers and the comradeship that is war’s only redeeming quality, the debilitating effect of combat, the horror of seeing friends killed and wounded, and the key qualities that have made him a role model of cool-headed leadership under fire and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross. Dick Winters gives a good talk on leadership in his chapter “Reflections.”

Beyond Band of Brothers is a moving tribute to the human spirit by a man who earned the love and respect of the men of Easy Company. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler

The Battle of An Loc by James Wilbanks


Here is a review I wrote on the book “The Battle of An Loc” by James Wilbanks for the Military History Book Club. A must have book for anyone with an interest in Viet-Nam. This is a very good read. The Battle of An Loc was a major battle of the Vietnam War that lasted from April 13 to July 20, 1972. It culminated in a decisive victory for South Vietnam’s Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The struggle for An Loc was one of the most important battles of the war. It saw the introduction of conventional warfare and tanks by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The ARVN forces halted the NVA advance towards Saigon. It delayed the war’s end by three years.

The author, James Wilbanks, was present and wounded at An Loc. This is not only his account, but gives insights from the North Vietnamese and US Advisor’s after action reports plus other communist documents. The role of the unending US air support, the bravery of the US air crews, and the orchestration by the Forward Air Controllers to the battle’s victory for the ARVN and US Advisor’s is covered in warranted great detail. The inability of the NVA to have armor and infantry work together in more conventional warfare is clearly brought to light and documented. Wilbanks gives insights into Richard Nixon’s Vietnamization’s perceived success by the politicians and its ultimate failures. This is a must have read and must have addition to the library for anyone with interest in the war in Viet-Nam. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in January 2006.

Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II by Charles B. MacDonald

Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II by Charles B. MacDonald. I highly recommend Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II by Charles B. MacDonald. At just 21 years of age, Captain Charles B. MacDonald first commanded I Company, 3 Battalion 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division from October 1944 to January 1945 and later G Company, 2 Battalion 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division from March to May 1945. This memoir was written in 1947 when recollections were still sharp. It resulted in a very detailed account of what it was like to take command of a line infantry company and lead it into battle. The book gives us template for writing a personal military memoir.

It is by far the finest memoir of any junior officer in World War II. Charles MacDonald does a great job of keeping his focus on his own experiences. He does not speculate or waste my time by giving conjecture on the big picture. We only have first hand information from the events of his personal participation. He sticks to what life was like for a junior officer in command of an infantry company, sleepless, hungry, dirty, stressful, and very dangerous. He takes us from the Siegfried Line in the Ardennes, through the Battle of the Bulge, and to the end of the war in the Czechoslovakia.

This book is a must-read for all army officers who seek to command at company-level and it is informative for military historians as well. It is still required reading at West Point and on the company level officer (second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and captain) recommended reading list by the U.S. Army today. Upon this book’s publication in 1947, Charles B. MacDonald was invited to join the U.S. Army Center of Military History as a civilian historian, the start of a career during which he wrote three of the official histories of World War II in Europe and supervised the preparation of others. The book is simply the best. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler in June 2006.

American Soldier by General Tommy Franks

President Bill Clinton promoted General Franks to fours stars. President Clinton also appointed Tommy Franks as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Central Command beginning in July 2000. General Franks served in that role through July 2003. In between was 9/11.

Tommy Franks led the American and Coalition forces to victory in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The part of American Soldier covering these wars are the most interesting because they combine military maneuvers, politics, action, and commentary. This does not mean that the rest of his autobiography is dull. They are not. General Franks’ writing is clear and engaging and his insider’s perspective is informative and interesting.

In addition to his years as a war general, his memoir covers his childhood, his early years in the Army, his tours of Vietnam, his return to college to complete his degree at the University of Texas at Arlington, and how he considered retirement before being called up as commander of Central Command.

The “good old boy” from Midland, Texas rings throughout the book. We also see the diplomacy of General Franks. He provides insights into many of the people he interfaced. Those looking for criticism of persons in political office will be disappointed. Many will see his expressing admiration for his own staff, for President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in particular, but he also has high respect for the office of the president leaving no criticism for Mr. Clinton or Mr. Bush. He lets us know he was surprised by the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that no WMDs were used against American troops under his watch. American Soldier is a compelling book giving significant insights on the war on terrorism from the point of view of both warrior and diplomat. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in November – December 2005.