Sunday, February 26, 2017

Book Review: The Quartermaster: Montgomery C. Meigs: Lincoln'sGeneral,Master Builder of the Union Army


The Quartermaster: Montgomery C Meigs
By Robert O'Harrow Jr. 
Copyright 2016 Simon & Schuster

It has been quite a while since my last book review, but I have finally finished reading another good book and have put together a few thoughts and comments about it.

The Quartermaster is simply an enjoyable book, featuring a smooth, easy-to-read writing style and flow that make it a fast read. O'Harrow is an investigative journalist and this book reads like a piece of journalistic writing instead of a normal history book, though that means no footnotes or endnotes. It does include  a section called "notes" at the end of the theme offers a glimpse of the sources the author his research seems to have been quite thorough and impressive

It tells a fascinating story about a man who may be one of the more under appreciated and unknown key figures in the Union's victory. Meig's name comes up frequently in general Civil War books, but usually only briefly or as a side story. This  book was the first lengthy treatment of Meigs I have seen, though that perhaps is more an indictment of my reading habits than of Civil War literature in general.     

Meigs was a talented and interesting  man and General. He often was gruff, serious, and perhaps even "self-righteous" as O'Harrow describes, but was also determined, ambitious, fiercely honest and loyal. He was an excellent organizer and manager and showed great creativity in many of his architectural designs and problem solving solutions. He also wanted to be well-known, in his lifetime and later, often leaving markers with his name and title on walls of his many architectural creations,  including the  Washington D.C. Aqueduct, the dome of the U.S. Capitol building and the Pension Office.His  opposition to corruption in the many contracts he entered, and in many of the military situations he witnessed, was a defining feature of his character and reputation. He kept a close eye on the financial   records he controlled and watched others in the military he did not want the government, his government, suffer due to profit-seeking contractors and office holders.

He also was anxious for any opportunity to hold a field command instead of his official duties, and this story demonstrates how he found such an opportunity, though not for long.

The Quartermaster is a fine book overall. It is a pleasant read, very informative and tells an enjoyable story of a very important man in the Union cause. In the pre-war years he was on good terms with Jefferson Davis and during the war became a trusted adviser to men like Abraham Lincoln and Edwin Stanton, and his department was respected by William Sherman. Would the Federal armed forces have still managed to win the war without Meigs' in place as Quartermaster General? We will never know for sure, but this book does show that this one man did make a difference for his side. 

I enjoyed  this book very much and gladly recommend it to anyone interested in the Civil War.

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