Tom Watson Brown Book Award

The Society of Civil War Historians gives an annual Tom Watson Brown Book Award for the best book published on the causes, conduct, and effects, broadly defined, of the Civil War. This includes, but is not exclusive to, monographs, synthetic works presenting original interpretations, and biographies. Works of fiction, poetry, anthologies, and textbooks are not considered. Jurors consider nominated works’ scholarly and literary merit as well as the extent to which they make original contributions to our understanding of the period.

The prize is presented at the SCWH banquet at the Southern Historical Association annual meeting, where the winner delivers a formal address that will be published in a subsequent issue of the Journal of the Civil War Era.

2016 Winner of the Tom Watson Brown Book Award:

Earl HessThe Society of Civil War Historians and the Watson-Brown Foundation are pleased to announce that Earl J. Hess, Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History, Lincoln Memorial University, is the recipient of the $50,000 Tom Watson Brown Book Award for 2016. Hess received the award for his book, Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness, which was published by the Louisiana State University Press in 2015.

For decades, military historians have argued that the introduction of the rifle musket—with a range five times longer than that of the smoothbore musket—made the shoulder-to-shoulder formations of linear tactics obsolete. Author Earl J. Hess challenges this deeply entrenched assumption. He contends that long-range rifle fire did not dominate Civil War battlefields or dramatically alter the course of the conflict because soldiers had neither the training nor the desire to take advantage of the musket rifle’s increased range. Drawing on the drill manuals available to officers and a close reading of battle reports, Civil War Infantry Tactics demonstrates that linear tactics provided the best formations and maneuvers to use with the single-shot musket, whether rifle or smoothbore.

The linear system was far from an outdated relic that led to higher casualties and prolonged the war. Indeed, regimental officers on both sides of the conflict found the formations and maneuvers in use since the era of the French Revolution to be indispensable to the survival of their units on the battlefield. The training soldiers received in this system, combined with their extensive experience in combat, allowed small units a high level of articulation and effectiveness.

Unlike much military history that focuses on grand strategies, Hess zeroes in on formations and maneuvers (or primary tactics), describing their purpose and usefulness in regimental case studies, and pinpointing which of them were favorites of unit commanders in the field. The Civil War was the last conflict in North America to see widespread use of the linear tactical system, and Hess convincingly argues that the war also saw the most effective tactical performance yet in America’s short history.

The Watson Brown Book Award jury consisted of Gary W. Gallagher, John L. Nau III Professor of History, University of Virginia; Lorien Foote, Professor, Texas A&M University; James Marten, Professor and Chair, Marquette University; and Tad Brown, President of the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc. Tad Brown will present the award to Hess at the Tom Watson Brown Book Award dinner, which will be held on Thursday, November 3 at the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association in St. Pete Beach, Florida.

2016 Nomination Information:

The Society of Civil War Historians solicits nominations for the Tom Watson Brown Book Award for books published in 2016. Publishers are asked to send books, along with a cover letter nominating the work for the Tom Watson Brown Award, directly to the four prize jurors no later than January 31, 2017. Only books published in 2016 will be considered.

All genres of scholarship on the causes, conduct, and effects, broadly defined, of the Civil War are eligible. This includes, but is not exclusive to, monographs, synthetic works presenting original interpretations, and biographies. Works of fiction, poetry, and textbooks will not be considered. Jurors will consider nominated works’ scholarly and literary merit as well as the extent to which they make original contributions to our understanding of the period.

Lesley Gordon, Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History, University of Alabama, will chair the prize jury. The other members are John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and Joan Waugh, Professor & Vice Chair for Academic Personnel, University of California, Los Angeles. Tad Brown, President of the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc., will serve as a non-voting member of the jury.

The winner will be announced by August 1, 2017. The prize will be presented at the SCWH banquet at the Southern Historical Association annual meeting, where the winner will deliver a formal address that will be published in a subsequent issue of the Journal of the Civil War Era.

Nominated books with cover letters should be sent to:

  • Tad Brown, President, Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc., 310 Tom Watson Way, Thomson, GA 30824
  • Lesley Gordon, Department of History, University of Alabama, Box 870212, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
  • John David Smith, 912 Henley Place, Charlotte, NC 28207
  • Joan Waugh, 475 North Greencraig Road, Los Angeles, CA 90049

The deadline for submissions is January 31, 2017. 

Previous Tom Watson Brown Book Award Winners:

2015: Shauna Devine, Research Fellow at the Schulich School of Medicine and an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Western Ontario, for Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science. (The University of North Carolina Press, 2014)

2014: Ari Kelman, Professor, University of California, Davis, for A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek (Harvard University Press, 2013).

2013John Fabian Witt, Allen H. Duff Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School and a Professor of History in the Yale History Department, for Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History (Simon & Schuster, 2012).

2012Gary W. Gallagher, John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia, for The Union War (Harvard University Press, 2011).

2011Mark W. Geiger, a 2011-12 Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University Library of Congress and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, for Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 1861-1865 (Yale University Press, 2010).

2010Daniel E. Sutherland, Distinguished Professor of History, University of Arkansas, for A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War  (University of North Carolina, 2009).