Monday, November 25, 2019

New and Notable: The Leadership Team of Lee and Jackson

The reviewer is Dr. Kathleen Logothetis Thompson who earned her PhD in Nineteenth Century/Civil War America from West Virginia University, and also holds a M.A. from WVU and a B.A. from Siena College. Her research is on mental trauma and coping among Union soldiers and she is currently working on her first book, tentatively titled War on the Mind. She currently teaches history at several colleges and universities and leads tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Kathleen was a seasonal interpreter at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park for several years and is the co-editor of Civil Discourse.

The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the ConfederacyThe strength of this book is a well-researched and well-written narrative that seamlessly combines military strategy and human lives together in a way that is compelling for both historians and general readers. The writing is not heavy or full of military jargon that might leave a reader bogged down, which makes the book enjoyable to read. The themes of command, strategy, and leadership come across strongly throughout the book and typically Keller is careful with his post-war sources to expose biases and Lost Cause rhetoric. This book would be perfect for a reader who is looking for a scholarly approach to the Lee-Jackson partnership, one who is trying to analyze Confederate leadership and military strategy, or even one who is looking for a good read about Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. 

A critique of the book is that while Keller looks at Lee and Jackson through the particular lens of command and leadership, he does not make a radically new argument about these two men. Much of this history has been researched and written about before, and Keller is just highlighting certain aspects to analyze why this partnership grew so strong and how it affected military strategy in 1862 and 1863. For those who are well versed in the history of these campaigns and in the careers of these two men, much of this information will be familiar. I think the most compelling part of the analysis was the chapter in which Keller pulls away the Lost Cause rhetoric to show that Southerners at the time reacted in those ways to Jackson’s death.

He also delves into the “what if” question that historians usually avoid. He does a pretty good job navigating that fine line in his chapter about Gettysburg, but chooses to close his book with an imagined vignette of “what did not happen,” where a one-armed Jackson rides with Lee and crosses the Mason-Dixon line on their way towards Harrisburg, PA (247-248). While it is a more compelling narrative, it would have been stronger to end on a more scholarly note instead of playing into fantasies that are usually held by Lost Causers. 

The entire review is located at A Civil Discourse.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

New and Noteworthy: Illinois Soldiers In Their Letters, in Their Words

In Their Letters, in Their WordsIn Their Letters, in Their Words: Illinois Civil War Soldiers Write Home,  Mark Flotow, editor, Southern Illinois University Press, 320 pages, 12 illustrations, 2 maps,  bibliographic notes, bibliography, index, October 2019, $26.00.

From The Publisher: A vital lifeline to home during the Civil War, the letters of soldiers to their families and friends remain a treasure for those seeking to connect with and understand the most turbulent period of American history. Rather than focus on the experiences of a few witnesses, this impressively researched book documents 165 Illinois Civil War soldiers’ and sailors’ lives through the lens of their personal letters. Editor Mark Flotow chose a variety of letter writers who hailed from counties throughout the state, served in different branches of the military at different ranks, and represented the gamut of social experiences and war outcomes.

Flotow provides extensive quotations from the letters. By allowing the soldiers to speak for themselves, he captures what mattered most to them. Illinois soldiers wrote about their reasons for enlisting; the nature of training and duties; necessities like eating, sleeping, marching, and making the best of often harsh and chaotic circumstances; Southern culture; slavery; their opinions of commanding officers and the president; disease, medicine, and hospitals; their prisoner-of-war experiences; and the ways they left the army. Through letters from afar, many soldiers sought to manage their homes and farms, while some single men attempted to woo their sweethearts.

Flotow includes brief biographies for each soldier quoted in the book, weaves historical context and analysis with the letters, and organizes them by topic. Thus, intimate details cited in individual letters reveal their significance for those who lived and shaped this tumultuous era. The result is not only insightful history but also compelling reading.

Preface ix
1. A Lifeline of Letters                                      2. Illinois Citizens Become Soldiers
3. Camp Life and Bonding with the Boys         4. Soldiering
5. Managing Affairs from Afar                         6. Seeing the Elephant
7. Southern Culture through Northern Eye       8. Officers, Generals, and “Old Abe
9. Debility and Diseases                                  10.  Writing the Indescribable as P.O.Ws 11. Soldiers No More
Appendix A: Soldiers’ Brief Biographies
  Appendix B: Chronology of the Civil War
   Appendix C: Quoted Soldiers, by County of Origin

Endorsements:  “Words matter, and by allowing Illinois soldiers to speak for themselves, the Civil War comes alive anew. Flotow helps us envision the ‘real war’ that Walt Whitman observed would ‘never get in the books.’ The editor’s fresh approach provides an intimate and illuminating portrait of the war and those who fought it. In Their Letters, in Their Words is a superb addition to Civil War literature.”—Stephen D. Engle, author of Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union’s War Governors

 “Flotow has done a fine job of linking together, as well as comparing and contrasting, the comments of 165 Illinois soldiers on a wide variety of Civil War subjects. The result is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read for anyone with an interest in the Civil War.”—Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein, author of The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine