A Review of Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Civil War by James M. McPherson

By Patrick Bray
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2016, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This review was originally published in The Charger in January 2016.


James McPherson has done it yet again: published an insightful, fair, and very readable book on the Civil War. This time his subject is the wartime presidency of Jefferson Davis, a man whose reputation over the years has had more ups and downs then a stretch along the Appalachian Trail. In his introduction McPherson acknowledges the challenges of writing about a person who has occasionally been portrayed as a tragic hero, but more often has been a target for scathing criticism.

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A Review of April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2004, 2007, All rights reserved

Every once in awhile, a Civil War book makes it to the bestseller lists, appealing to a broader audience than history fans. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was one such book, in its day. So was Shelby Foote’s magnificent trilogy, The Civil War. And so, too, is Jay Winik’s April 1865: The Month That Saved America. Winik’s book was on The New York Times bestseller list for quite awhile, and President Bush was seen with it tucked under his arm not long after 9-11.

However, I come not to praise Winik, but to bury him. April 1865 just isn’t a very good book. The author has neither the writing skills nor the commitment to historical accuracy, unfortunately, to craft a good book about that momentous month.

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A Review of Tarnished Eagles: The Courts-Martial of Fifty Union Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels by Thomas P. Lowry

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 1999, 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This review was originally published in The Charger in the Fall of 1999.


It comes as no surprise to anyone who reads about the Civil War that not every regimental colonel was as heroic, wise, or noble as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. For that matter, not even Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain always was, although he came pretty close. When the war broke out in 1861, armies were raised in a hurry on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, and commanding officers were appointed with sometimes only the most meager qualifications. Many were political appointees in state-raised units, more skilled at maneuvering in smoke-filled back rooms than on the field of battle. In command of troops, some did well, most did adequately, but many failed.

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A Review of How Few Remain: A Novel of the Second War Between the States by Harry Turtledove

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 1999, 2010. All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Charger in 1999.


I enjoy Civil War alternative history, or “what-if,” books. At their best, these books challenge our perceptions of the war in intriguing ways, but remain historically plausible. These books show us how things might have gone, for want of this nail or that bullet. At their best, such books give us a good plot, solid characterization, and a few nifty twists on history as we know it.

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A Review of The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer by Douglas C. Jones

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 1999, 2010. All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Charger in 1999.


George Armstrong Custer seems to have an unbreakable hold on the American imagination.

He was a gallant cavalier during the Civil War, the northern counterpart to J.E.B. Stuart’s elan and bravado, and he became a seasoned frontier warrior and nemesis of the Sioux after the Civil War. He was headstrong, impatient, sometimes arrogant, always ambitious. Some historians think that Custer had his eye on the presidency when he and a contingent of his beloved 7th Cavalry were overwhelmed by Indians near the Little Bighorn and, on June 25, 1876, killed to the last man.

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A Review of The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War by Thomas B. Buell

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2001, 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This review was originally published in The Charger in the winter of 2002.


When I was in the Roundtable contingent which visited Richmond in 2000, I noticed Dan Zeiser reading a thick book with one of Julian Scott’s fine old Civil War paintings on the cover. When Dan finished the book, he lent it to me, and I’m glad he did.

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A Review of Justice in Blue and Gray by Stephen C. Neff

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2013, All Rights Reserved

Every now and then I get into arguments with people about the law of war.

“There’s no such thing as the law of war,” they say (or words to that effect). “War is hell. Anything goes. The only thing that matters is winning.”

“Oh, really?” I reply. “So you’d have no problem with, say, an officer ordering his men to kill all the unarmed civilians in a foreign town they occupy after it surrenders? Or, as a matter of policy, to always shoot prisoners after they surrender? Or work them to death in a concentration camp? Or torture or rape them? That’d all be fine, right, because there’s no law of war?”

“Uh…no,” they reply.

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George H. Thomas Gets What’s Coming to Him — A Review of Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2011, All Rights Reserved

George H. Thomas gets what’s coming to him. A thorough but readable new biography, that is! Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas by Benson Bobrick is worth a look for anyone who wants to know more about Gen. George Henry Thomas. “The Rock of Chickamauga” was one of the greatest Union commanders of the Civil War, but has too long been lost in the shadows cast by U.S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Phil Sheridan.

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A Review of The West Point History of the Civil War

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2016, All Rights Reserved

Who better to write a book about the Civil War than the faculty of the U.S. Military Academy? Well… yes and no.

The West Point History of the Civil War, edited by Clifford J. Rogers, Ty Seidule, and Samuel J. Watson, is a big, handsomely illustrated book. Intended to be the first in a series of authoritative, West Point-approved books on our country’s major wars, it is an impressive – but far from flawless – volume.

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A Review of How Robert E Lee Lost The Civil War by Edward H. Bonekemper III

By Stuart Kay
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2012, All Rights Reserved

Robert E. Lee

The number of books published concerning the Civil War or some aspect of that conflict is staggering. Books continue to appear on a regular basis which shows no sign of diminishing in the foreseeable future. Even here in England a quick tour of my local book shop revealed no fewer than 28 Civil War and related titles. For this reason, without extensive research of primary material, it is very hard for an author to come up with anything that has not been covered before. The potential author is therefore faced with conducting painstaking primary research, covering a less prominent aspect of the conflict, or, alternatively places a novel interpretation on existing well-covered fields of research, in an attempt to distinguish their book from all the others on the shelf. Edward Bonekemper’s book is clearly one of the latter.

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