Sandy on Hubbell, 'Conflict and Command. Civil War History Readers, Volume 1'

John T. Hubbell, ed
James Sandy

John T. Hubbell, ed. Conflict and Command. Civil War History Readers, Volume 1. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2012. 336 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-60635-118-5.

Reviewed by James Sandy (Texas Tech University) Published on H-CivWar (April, 2015) Commissioned by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz

An Unusual Fondness for War

“It is well that war is so terrible—we should grow too fond of it” (p. 1). The immortal, yet often disputed, words of Robert E. Lee echo across the annals of history as a poignant indication of a peculiar fascination. Historians and the public alike exhibit an insatiable appetite for warfare, its heroes, their stories, and warfare’s oft-debated meaning and value. War fascinates the American mind, and no conflict is a better example of this than the American Civil War. Recent years have seen an explosion of scholarship concerning the war, an impressive ongoing addition to the already vast mountain of literature. John T. Hubbell’s edited collection Conflict and Command is part of the multivolume Civil War History Readers collection, which gathers the most influential journal articles published over the past fifty years and presents them in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Conflict and Command is the first volume in this series and offers fifteen articles on military aspects of the conflict previously published between 1965 and 2008 in the journal Civil War History. Topics discussed range from specifics like motivation, leadership, and strategy to larger issues of psychology, morality, and ethics.

The collection begins with Drew Gilpin Faust’s piece on the fascination that Americans have with warfare. The introduction to this review was inspired by Faust’s well-written and evocative essay. Lee’s words capture the essence of Faust’s argument that Americans have been and will always be morbidly intrigued by the harsh brutalities of warfare and its consequences.

Mark E. Neely Jr.’s “Was the Civil War a Total War?” approaches a seminal ongoing discussion concerning the conflict. Historians have long argued about how to characterize the war, and have labeled and unlabeled it as both the first total and the first modern war.[1] Neely dissects the main characteristics that have informed both sides of this debate; he analyzes issues of conditional surrender terms from both sides and examines the role of noncombatants. His analysis is framed by the words of prominent individuals from the conflict, including Abraham Lincoln, Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as a long list of historians who have entered the debate.

Along with Neely’s work is Marvin Cain’s “A ‘Face of Battle’ Needed,” which offers a complete overview of another staple of the Civil War historiography: soldier motivation. Cain’s piece is a comprehensive analysis of scholarship on soldier motivation published since the early 1940s. His thorough analysis of previous publications allows readers not only to garner the big picture of this particular historiography but also to witness the beginning of the cultural turn within the field overall. As Cain turns to his discussion of John Keegan’s Face of Battle (1976), whose title he borrows for his essay, the reader sees how this particular scholarship departs from traditional military history narratives and begins to embrace issues of culture and society in its arguments. Motivation of Civil War soldiers enjoys a deep scholarship, whose construction Cain lays out nicely. Works like Neely’s and Cain’s add a depth of scholarship to this collection, which make it a powerful tool for those wishing to familiarize themselves with the field.

Hubbell’s collection contains a wide array of works targeting specific individuals and moments throughout the war. The opening phases of the war are examined through pieces like Edward Hagerman’s “The Professionalization of George McClellan and Early Civil War Field Command” and Ethan Rafuse’s “McClelland and Halleck at War.” Hagerman and Rafuse capture early struggles and painful lessons learned by the Union’s most prominent generals. Their essays address issues of modernity and the totality of the war. These pieces from a Union perspective are mirrored by corresponding Confederate counterparts in Grady McWhiney’s “The Confederacy’s First Shot” and Richard McMurry’s “The Enemy at Richmond.” Joseph Glatthaar’s “Everyman’s War” investigates a possible class divide within the Confederate population. The collection comes to an end with McWhiney’s “Who Whipped Whom?”—a careful examination of the Confederate defeat and the tactical and strategic reality behind that defeat.

Hubbell artfully brings together the essays in Conflict and Command. The pieces flow quite well and play off one another magnificently. A collection of this kind, and presumably future volumes of Civil War History Readers, will serve as a useful tool for historians and the public alike. As this collection brings together previously published articles in Civil War History, it is unavoidable for some of these pieces to seem a bit dated. All of the essays discuss historiographies that have seen much evolution since their original publication. This small issue in no way takes away from this collection’s breadth and application; it simply comes across as mildly dated to someone with an up-to-date knowledge of existing historiographies. The strength of this collection lies in that very structure, as the book and those to follow will allow a new generation to interact and understand a multitude of Civil War historiographies at different moments during their formation, making this series and its first entry a functional and valuable contribution to the field.


[1]. The idea of the Civil War as a total war forms one of the more vibrant and contested topics of the field, and several seminal works have approached this issue, chief among them: Mark Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Daniel E. Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); and Charles Royster, The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans (New York: Knopf, 1991).

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Citation: James Sandy. Review of Hubbell, John T., ed, Conflict and Command. Civil War History Readers, Volume 1. H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews. April, 2015. URL:

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