Birth of Command, the first volume of Russel H. Beatie's "Army of the Potomac" trilogy, discusses the situation of the Union Army around Washington, D.C., before the Civil War broke out and the first months of the War. General Winfield Scott was the general-in-chief, one of the great Mexican War heroes, and his army was not ready for any war. It was spread throughout the country with most of it fighting Indians. The army was not numerous, either, and it had only a few general officers. The general officers the army did have were old, like General Scott.
As the Southern States began to secede from the Union, many of the officers and soldiers would leave the Army and join the Confederate Army as it formed. Many of the potential general officers and other officials were from the South, and many went with the South. Robert E. Lee is a prime example of this; he had been Scott’s choice to lead the Union Army into combat.
Lincoln, Scott and others in the government had a hard time raising an army to confront the Confederacy - it was hard enough to get enough troops to protect Washington. There were some Southern sympathizers still working in the government who tried to prevent the raising of an army, so other secretive means had to be employed to raise a proper army. Lincoln called upon the states to raise militias, then he called for volunteers. General Irvin McDowell was put into command of the Army that was to protect the capitol: the Army of Northeastern Virginia, which later became known as the Army of the Potomac. Ironically, the Confederate’s army was called the Army of the Potomac until its name was changed to that of the Army of Northern Virginia. The Union Army was not ready to confront the Confederates at the Battle of Bull Run or Manassas. After that rout, General George McClellan was given command, which is where volume one ends and volume two takes up.
For a history book in the academic sense, this is an interesting and easy book to read. Beatie uses new and old sources for his series, some of which have never been published before. He has many footnotes and a thorough bibliography, and several maps keep the reader aware of where things are happening. There are photographs of the main commanders discussed with a short introduction to each of them at the beginning of the book.
If the Confederates had pushed on after the Battle of Manassas, most likely they would have eventually captured the capitol. The Union Army was routed and unprepared to deal with that situation yet. But luckily for the Union, the Confederates did not push on because they had their own problems.
This set is a must for any Civil War collection especially since it deals with the commanders of the main Union Army.