Book Discussion on Master of War

This is Benson Bobrick speaking to the Civil Round Table of New York in 2009.

The video’s description reads, “Benson Bobrick talked about his book Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas (Simon and Schuster; February 10, 2009). In his book he recounts the military career of Union General George H. Thomas, known as the ‘The Rock of Chickamauga,’ who the author argues was the most successful general during the Civil War.

“Mr. Bobrick contends that Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman minimized General Thomas’ efforts to inflate their own. He responded to questions from members of the audience.

“This event was hosted by The Civil War Round Table of New York at 3 West Club in New York City.”

I was not impressed.  He starts off with the self-serving, ludicrous nonsense about “speaking truth to power.”  He’s not speaking truth to power, and if he thinks he is, then he doesn’t know what the phrase means.

It gets worse.  He next makes the claim that “No man was more responsible than Thomas for Union victory in the war.”  That comes as a surprise to anyone who’s ever studied the Civil War.  Thomas was more responsible than Grant, than Sherman, than Lincoln?  Not in this universe.

His claim that Grant only battered his way to victory with overwhelming force shows he doesn’t have the first clue about Civil War history.

The massive ignorance shown in this video is appalling.  He has no idea of a subordinate commander’s responsibility to his superiors, and he has no understanding of Grant’s ability as a general.

George H. Thomas was an outstanding general and commander, but Bobrick can’t allow Thomas to stand on his own.  He has to try to denigrate two other officers, showing that he doesn’t really understand his subject.  He also doesn’t understand how history is done.

Bobrick claims that Grant developed an animosity toward Thomas because, in Bobrick’s words, Thomas “practically superseded Grant at Corinth.”  The original source for this was Thomas’ widow, Frances, in an 1881 letter.  Bobrick’s use of this claim shows no competence in evaluation and use of sources.  Here’s how a real historian treats this letter:  “Well after the war, as she assessed the nature of her husband’s sometimes rocky relationship with Ulysses Grant, Frances Thomas offered her views on the origins off their personal difficulties.  She explained that in the aftermath of the fighting at Pittsburg Landing and the subsequent advance on Corinth, ‘Genl Thomas was placed in command of a column in Genl Grant’s place [and] he wrote me that Genl Grant did not like it.’  Noting her husband’s desire to ameliorate any bitterness on his colleague’s part, ‘after the fall of Corinth he (Genl T) went to Genl Halleck and asked to be put back in Genl Buell’s army, as he did not wish to stand in Grant’s way.’  Even so, as far as she was concerned, the damage had been done.  ‘Genl Thomas always felt that Genl Grant never forgave him.’  Of course, aside from the distance in time from these events, such an appraisal also came from an individual whose opinions were colored by circumstances in the interim as well as her relationship with one of the principal protagonists.” [Brian Steel Wills, George Henry Thomas:  As True as Steel, p. 151]  Note how Professor Wills words his passage and provides the context that it was years after the fact, something ignored by Bobrick, and that Mrs. Thomas’ opinions were likely influenced by other factors, something else ignored by Bobrick.  Professor Wills makes no effort to read into Grant’s heart and declare what motivated him in the absence of direct evidence, unlike Bobrick.

This video is a prime example of how history is not done.


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