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.

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