Robert E. Lee and the Fall of the Confederacy, 1863-1865, Ethan S. Rafuse, Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, 283 pp., maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, $35.00
The generalship of Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy's greatest commander, has long fascinated students of the American Civil War. In assessing Lee and his military career, historians have faced the great challenge of explaining how a man who achieved extraordinary battlefield success in 1862-63 ended up surrendering his army and accepting the defeat of his cause in 1865. How, in just under two years, could Lee, the Army of Northern Virginia, and the Confederacy have gone from soaring triumph at Chancellorsville to total defeat at Appomattox Court House?
In this reexamination of the last two years of Lee's storied military career, Ethan S. Rafuse offers a clear, informative, and insightful account of Lee's ultimately unsuccessful struggle to defend the Confederacy against a relentless and determined foe. Robert E. Lee and the Fall of the Confederacy describes the great campaigns that shaped the course of this crucial period in American history, the challenges Lee faced in each battle, and the dramatic events that determined the war's outcome.
In addition to providing readable and richly detailed narratives of such campaigns as Gettysburg, Bristoe Station, Spotsylvania, and Appomattox, Rafuse offers compelling analysis of Lee's performance as a commander and of the strategic and operational contexts that influenced the course of the war. He superbly describes and explains the factors that shaped Union and Confederate strategy, how both sides approached the war in Virginia from an operational standpoint, differences in the two sides' respective military capabilities, and how these forces shaped the course and outcome of events on the battlefield.
Rich in insights and analysis, this book provides a full, balanced, and cogent account of how even the best efforts of one of history's great commanders could not prevent the total defeat of his army and its cause. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in the career of Robert E. Lee and the military history of the Civil War.
Ethan Rafuse is associate professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff college at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His previous books include McClellan's War: the Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union, George Gordon Meade and the War in the East, and A Single Grand Victory: The First Campaign and the Battle of Manassas. Text From Publisher
CWL: Rafuse states the purpose of this book is "to explain how Lee and the Confederate cause went from . . . [the] triumph of Chancellorsville to complete defeat in 1865." Did Lee's aggressive strategy and tactics destroy his army? Or was it the course of nature when the Army of Northern Virginia was out manned and outgunned? Or was the best regimental, brigade, division and corps leaders dead by 1863 and few quality replacements available? Did Jefferson Davis play a major role by ignoring logistical problems that brought about the demise of General Lee's army?
Rafuse also states that "this study will not only consider matters on the Confederate side, but will also devote considerable attention to decisions and actions taken by Lee's counterparts on the Union side." As George Pickett said regarding the outcome of the Grand Assault at Gettysburg, "I believe the Union army had something to do with it." Rafuse confesses that the working title of the book was Robert E. Lee and The Triumph of the Union. He was convinced by friends that the title might be confusing to some readers, and CWL adds might anger others.
2009 appears to be the year of re-examining Lee and his army. Joseph Glathaar's General Lee's Army From Victory to Collapse arrived in May and re-invigorated the topic and moved it forward. CWL will have both Glathaar's and Rafuse's work on the Top Ten of 2009 list. Rafuse has been busy. Before 2009 closes, his Antietam, South Mountain, and Harpers Ferry: A Battlefield Guide should be available December 1. In Robert E. Lee and the Fall of the Confederacy, 1863-1865, Rafuse tips his hat to his 'good friends and colleagues. Steven Woodworth, Brooks Simpson, Carol Reardon, Mark Grimsley and Chris Stowe; also, among his friends and colleagues are John Hennessy, Donald Pfanz, and Chris Calkins of the National Park Service. CWL has read books by each of these, with the exception of Stowe, and appreciates their scholarship and fine narrative voices.