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Cascoly Books - The Bloody Crucible of Courage



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The Bloody Crucible of War
: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War by Brent Nosworthy

First, this is a difficult book to place - I found it while browsing in a bookstore, and it fully met my expectations, but it's not for the general audience, and probably not even the general Civil War reader. Two key groups who would most benefit from this book are Napoleonic and Civil War re-enactors and gamers. The latter would include both computer, board and miniatures players, and the book directly addresses problems each of those genres faces in verisimilitude. For example, the discussions of placement of artillery and types of ammunition bring forth considerations that are ignored by most games on the market, especially the psychological effects.

Nosworthy sets out to write the definitive book, but falls short; but it's certainly the best attempt yet. He starts with the decades before the war, examining practices in Europe, and finishes with several excellent chapters which stand alone as essays. These discuss the place of the Civil War in military history and thinking. The discussions of tactical doctrine are enlivened by vivid anecdotes. This relieves the potentially dreary theoretical passages, but the jumps can be disorienting. Sometimes the anecdotes are on point, other times, their usefulness is questionable. It needs better editing, both on this scale and to fix the numerous smaller typos and editing problems.

Despite these misgivings, I'd highly recommend this book -- he examines many 'myths' of the Civil War, such as the diminished role of cavalry; the effectiveness of edged weapons; the rifled versus smoothbore controversy for both artillery and small arms. (If these topics don't pique your interest, the book's probably not for you). The bayonet discussions in particular are novel - while agreeing with the consensus view that bayonet wounds were rare, he makes the stronger argument that bayonet ATTACKS played a key role in many actions. The rifle-smoothbore discussions also provide an excellent view of the historical transitions and adjustments from the French Revolutionary army thru Napoleon and the Civil War to the German domination in 1870. He tries to overturn many long held truisms about the Civil War, but the evidence he presents varies in its persuasiveness. At the least, though, he provides alternatives for what is often by hindsight thought of as obvious -- e.g., the long discussions of rifled and breech loading weapons are shown to have many more considerations, such as difficulty of aiming (muskets fire at the level, while rifles fire on a parabolic curve and require more precise attention). Of sidebar interest too, is the dominance of Scientific American in the military debates of the 1840-60's. Its current emphasis on theoretical and cutting edge advances in pure science obscures the fact that it in the 19th century a much stronger emphasis was on the engineering and mechanical arts.


This book is both larger and smaller than it seems at first glance and heft -- it's 750 pages long, but the print is larger than average and the paper is thick, making for a pleasant tactile feel. In content, the book wanders, sometimes dealing in broad strategic and tactical analysis, other times dropping down to the minutiae of combat anecdotes.

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Map - 2005 - Battles of the Civil War
Map - 2005 - Battles of the Civil War
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