The Awful Arithmetic Volume I
The Awful Arithmetic is a non-fiction book, in two volumes, about the Civil War. For those just entering a study of the war, The Awful Arithmetic covers the entirety of the conflict, from its true cause—which was neither secession nor slavery—to the intricate details of the war’s ending. More
The Awful Arithmetic is a non-fiction book, in two volumes, about the Civil War. For those just entering a study of the war, The Awful Arithmetic covers the entirety of the conflict, from its true cause——which was neither secession nor slavery——to the intricate details of the war’s ending. For those seeking greater depth in understanding the war, The Awful Arithmetic presents far more than a basic narrative will offer, leading readers to new layers and levels of the conflict that are seldom touched in conventional accounts, whether in written form or in other media.
Much that is taken for granted in most discussions is challenged, analyzed, and dissected in The Awful Arithmetic, and this analysis is based upon many varieties of documentation, including letters, general orders, official battle reports, autobiographies, biographies written by contemporaries of the subjects, memoirs of generals, speeches, and other writings produced by those involved in the events described. Many of these documents
illuminate controversies that raged in the course of the war, including direct challenges between generals on opposing sides, and in some cases, between generals who were ostensibly colleagues and allies.
Much use is made of the biographies written about Lincoln by his private secretary, John Nicolay, and his assistant, Jacob Hay, both of whom became notable diplomats in later years. They worked directly with Lincoln, in his capacity as president, day in and day out, served as his sounding board, and they were present at the momentous meetings and decision-making conferences that related to the prosecution of the war from the Union side.
The source of the title comes from another secretary to Abraham Lincoln about the reality of the war, and what it might take to win:
“We lost fifty per cent more men than did the enemy, [in the battle of Fredericksburg] and yet there is sense in The Awful Arithmetic propounded by Mr. Lincoln. He says that if the same battle were to be fought over again, every day, through a week of days, with the same relative results, the army under Lee would be wiped out to its last man, the Army of the Potomac would still be a mighty host, the war would be over, the Confederacy gone, and peace would be won at a smaller cost of life than it will be if the week of lost battles must be dragged out through yet another year of camps and marches, and of deaths in hospitals rather than upon the field. No general yet found can face the arithmetic, but the end of the war will be at hand when he shall be discovered.”
The Awful Arithmetic most of all shows how prophetic Lincoln’s words proved to be, and how his search to find that general finally came to fruition.
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