Monday, May 9, 2011

Tuesday in Decatur: Emory M. Thomas and "The Dogs of War, 1861"

Retired University of Georgia professor, historian Emory M. Thomas, will be speaking about his new book, The Dogs of War, 1861, tomorrow night at the Decatur library beginning at 7:15 p.m. In The Dogs of War, Thomas draws upon his lifetime of study to offer a new perspective on the outbreak of America's defining crisis.

In 1861, Americans thought that the war looming on the horizon would be brief. None foresaw a four-year bloodbath that cost the lives of more than half a million people. In his recent review of Thomas's book, Jim Cullen remarks on the ultimate lesson of the study: the unexpected costs of having been unprepared for war, and some surprising contemporary echoes in Iraq.

"Thomas makes some skillful juxtapositions between the miscalculations of Americans at the outset of the Civil War, and those of the Iraq War in 2003. He makes a chilling comparison between a memo from Brigadier Janis Karpinski, who presided over Abu Gharib prison, and one from Henry Wirz and Andersonville. The message is clear: almost by definition, going to war means getting blindsided. It should be avoided -- whatever your aims -- at almost all costs.

.. To paraphrase William Goldman's famous maxim of the film business, nobody knew anything, even those who were presumed to know, then and since. That included politicians, the professional military, and rank and file volunteers -- who were volunteers to a great extent precisely because they didn't know what they were getting into."

Thomas highlights the delusions that dominated each side's thinking. Lincoln believed that most Southerners loved the Union, and would be dragged unwillingly into secession by the planter class. Jefferson Davis could not quite believe that Northern resolve would survive the first battle; once the Yankees witnessed Southern determination, he hoped, they would acknowledge Confederate independence. The decisions of the two leaders, in turn, reflected these widely held myths.

Thomas weaves his exploration of these misconceptions into a tense narrative of the months leading up to the war, from the "Great Secession Winter" to a fast-paced account of the Fort Sumter crisis in 1861.

Emory M. Thomas's books demonstrate a range of major Civil War scholarship, from
The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience and the landmark The Confederate Nation, to definitive biographies of Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart. For more information about Tuesday evening's appearance contact the Georgia Center for the Book.

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