One of the many things distinguishing my book from the other 60,000 volumes on the U.S. Civil War is its focus on strategic decisions and their effects.
For example, when Abraham Lincoln removed George B. McClellan from his post as general in chief in March 1862, Lincoln reorganized the Union’s departmental structures and placed Henry Wager Halleck in command of the west.
At this moment Halleck had two primary options for acting against the enemy: He could drive on Corinth, Mississippi, and the Confederate army massed there under P.G.T. Beauregard, or he could follow McClellan’s plan and take Chattanooga and push deeper into the Confederacy.
The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, when advising commanders to go after enemy centers of gravity (by which he meant sources of strength), includes among them the enemy’s army. But he also says that sometimes an opening may arise that is so advantageous that a commander should ignore the enemy’s center of gravity and seize it.
Such was the Union’s situation in the west that in the spring of 1862; Halleck could strike the enemy’s main western army or seize Chattanooga. Doing either would crack the South’s strategic position in the west and lay the groundwork not only for the capture of the Deep South, but also Union victory.
Halleck, in his inimitable fashion, chose to do neither. He marched on Corinth, but he aimed at the city as a valuable point, as a rail junction. This was a gigantic strategic blunder. He took the city—eventually—but he failed to destroy the Confederacy’s western army. Moreover, he also gave the Confederates time to secure Chattanooga. It would be October 1863 before the Union took Chattanooga. It didn’t have to be this way.