Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia occupy a special place in both our history and mythology. For many, this is the American Civil War. Either glorify or demonize, the man and his army are the subject of a library full of books. Jeffery Wert is no stranger as he steps fearlessly into this arena. Books on this subject can draw fire from both sides, placing an author in the middle of an ongoing battle. Wert has an almost lyrical style that is equally informative and fun to read. While not terse, he tells the story without unnecessary words. Add an ability to use respected historians, original sources with his intelligent observations make for an excellent book.
This history covers the time from Lee assuming command outside of Richmond to Gettysburg, an oft-told tale that Wert tells in a fresh vigorous way.
This is not a detailed slog through battles, army politics and supply problems.
This is not a detailed tactical study of the battles.
This is a very solid overview of the months when Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia became the embodiment of the Confederacy. The book maintains a real balance between detail and story. The level of detail adjusts to the needs of the story and never slows the story. This is very necessary, as these are busy months with multiple stories. We focus on the relationship between Lee, his officers and the men. On how they grow together and how they learn the limits of the other.
This is not the mythic story but a hard honest look full of truth. The author maintains a balance between admiration and history. The myth is not allowed to take control but this is the foundation of the myth. Presentation of the battles is from the army perspective. Decisions and discussions are equal to the fighting and more important to our story. The result is a unique look at Lee, Longstreet & Jackson at work. We get a chance to see how Rhodes, Gordon, Early were able to prosper and how others failed.
Physically this is an attractive book with usable maps and good illustrations. The book has a full set of endnotes, index and bibliography as expect in a serious history.
Jeffery Wert is one of our best authors and this is one of his best books.
on August 10, 2011
The Confederate defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg has often been referred to as the turning point of the American Civil War. Since Robert E. Lee assumed the command, the Army of Northern Virginia won a string of battle victories: the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam (not a victory, but a tactical draw), Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Up until its defeat at Gettysburg the Army of Northern Virginia seemed nearly invincible.
So how is it that in mid July 1863, Robert E. Lee's army should find itself defeated and retreating from Pennsylvania back to Virginia? Jeffry D. Wert attempts to answer that question. His book, "A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph, 1862-1863" begins with Robert E. Lee's assumption of the command of the Army of Northern Virginia in June of 1862 and traces through its defeat at Gettysburg. This is not a blow by blow account of each of the battles, but rather it is an amalgamation of scholarly interpretations by noted historians of Lee's generalship, his tactics and his strategy.
Wert distills the insights, opinions and historical interpretations of such noted historians as Gabor Borritt, Peter Carmichael, Thomas Connelly, Gary Gallagher, Joseph Glatthaar, Joseph Harsh, Robert K. Krick, Donald Pfanz, George Rable, Ethan Rafuse, and Steven Woodworth into a single tome. Wert ably demonstrates that Lee's aggressive and daring tactics and his bold strategy, the offensive defense, cost the Army of Virginia its life blood. With each succeeding battle the army's officer corps, as well as its rank and file, was being decimated.
"A Glorious Army" is well researched and Mr. Wert's narrative is easily read. However, its one drawback is his constant references to other historians: "Robert K. Krick has argued . . ." "Undoubtedly, as Harsh maintained . . ." "The historian Douglas Southall Freeman concluded . . ." These references not only stop his narrative dead in its tracks, but I believe serve only as a thinly veiled attempt to avoid charges of plagiarism that have so often been launched towards noted historians in the last decade or so. Wert's narrative would have been better served by making these citations in his end notes instead of inserting them into body of his text.
There is no new material in Wert's book. It is not a book for well read students of the war, nor do I believe it is intended to be. "A Glorious Army" is rather a book for those who may be new to the study of the war, and with the sesquicentennial anniversary of the war and its events, there are sure to be many people who would find the book useful in their understanding of the Confederate viewpoint of the war's Eastern Theater.
Robert E. Lee is one of the great military leaders in U.S. history. He was a graduate of West Point - second in his class - and a veteran of the Mexican-American War. Winfield Scott thought so highly of him that he offered Lee the command of the US army when the Civil War began. Yet after thirty two years of military service, Lee resigned and joined his state - Virginia - and the Confederacy. When he assumed command of the soon to be named Army of Northern Virginia in June of 1862, he was still an "unknown" force - nicknamed "Granny Lee" by his troops. He was described to Southern artilleryman Porter Alexander as, "audacity itself". And audacious Lee was - he and his army the focal point of the Confederacy and the Civil War until April 1865 and his surrender at Appomattox.
The author chronicles Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia from June of 1862 until late summer 1863 - the Confederacy's high water mark during the war. This includes the Seven Days Battle, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. During this time Lee was constantly retooling his army and commanders, constantly looking to gain the battlefield initiative, defying military odds by splitting his army for attacks, and up until Gettysburg - winning. Following this strategy, Lee was also losing irreplaceable manpower.
And that's one of the many Robert E. Lee "enigmas" - his short term strategy of an "all-out" victory in one battle - of which he had several - led to the final demise of his command as the South simply didn't have the men or the resources to fight such a war.
The author provides a good military overview of this period of the war from the Confederate perspective - although I found many of the battle scenes confusing - a lot of names and brigades, etc., are thrown into the narrative that prove difficult to keep straight. If you are familiar with this history there is nothing "new" here. (Although Wert does provide a stark but realistic military analysis of Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet and Lee - particularly the last day at Gettysburg for the latter.) On the other hand if you are Civil War novice, A Glorious Army is a good starting point in gaining an understanding of Robert E. Lee and his army during this critical juncture of the Civil War.
on July 7, 2011
A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph, 1862-1863, Jeffry D. Wert, Simon and Schuster Inc., 384 pp., 29 b/w photographs, 9 maps, notes, bibliography, index, $30.00.
Advancing his work on the Stonewall Brigade, J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet, July 3 at Gettysburg, and the Army of the Potomac, Jeffry Wert sets forth a well paced and balanced story of a year in the life of the Army of Northern Virginia. Covering the familiar ground of June 1 1862 to July 31 1863 in the eastern theatre, Wert provides his own perspective on Lee's and his army's virtues along with those of other historians. One of the strenghts of this work is Wert recognition and reliance on others' interpretations. Throughout the book Wert presents and discusses the insights of Gabor Borritt, Peter Carmichael, Thomas Connelly, Gary Gallagher, Joseph Glatthaar, Joseph Harsh, Robert K. Krick, Donald Pfanz, George Rable, Ethan Rafuse, Steven Woodworth and several others.
From June 1862 when Robert E. Lee assumed command and through the near diaster in Pennsylvania, the Army of Northern Virginia's officer corps became severely depleted. After each campaign, Wert dwells upon the specifics of dead and wounded regimental, brigade, division commanders. Not only were the ranks of the enlisted men suffering but the commissioned officers were being lost. Lee nearly constantly struggled to locate the talent and put it in the best situation.
A Glorious Army is not a review of the campaigns and battles. Wert sets forth an analysis of theatre strategy, army leadership and how the rank and file coped with the demands of the campaigns. Lee's reorganization of the army in June 1862 was not satisfactory; an army of divisions was difficult to coordinate. The emergence of Longstreet and Jackson as wing commanders in the Second Manassas and Maryland campaigns came as a necessity and not necessarily from the mind of Lee.
As the talent rose to the occasion, wing and later corps staff officers were organized. Lee, Longstreet and Jackson found talent to make their commands efficient. The Maryland Campaign of 1862 reveals their struggles. The lost copy of Order 191 was a duplicate sent to D. H. Hill from Jackson. Hill did not miss it because he had received a copy of Order 191 from Longstreet.
With clear and concise prose Wert makes is accessible the conflicts in the command structure and the exasperation of Lee, Longstreet and Jackson who continually lose their best division and brigade commanders to the battlefield. Wert does not neglect the enlisted men in the least bit. At times the commanders gave marching orders that drop soldiers out of the ranks. Indeed, the army lost crucial percentages of soldiers to the miles of Virginia's roads. Second Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, and Gettysburg saw a great deal of physical exhaustion among the enlisted before and after the battles.
Wert shows that Lee's audacity and aggression brought victories, high casualties and a near disaster at Gettysburg. But, as Wert reviews Lee's options and evaluates his choices. How brilliant were the victories? How mediocre was the generalship of the Army of the Potomac? Wert sets the parameters but does not force his conclusions on the reader. A few events are unaddressed in A Glorious Army. Gettysburg is cut short on July 3. There is no mention of the Pennsylvania Reserves assault on Houck's Ridge and the Wheatfield after the Pickett/Pettigrew/Trimble Charge. Neither is Farnesworth's charge mentioned. The retreat from Gettysburg is covered on one page. Wert does dwell on the drastic loss of division and brigade commanders and hints at these loses may be irreplaceable. A study of the fall 1863 Mine Run campaign is not offered. CWL would not be surprised if in late 2012, Wert offers a study of the Army of Northern Virginia from 1863-1865. If so, CWL welcome Wert's study of the final year of Lee and his glorious army. Though, CWL would also welcome a biography of George Gordon Meade from Jeff Wert.
on July 2, 2011
Over the years I have read many histories of the Confederacy, the campaigns, the generals, etc. but I never, until reading "A Glorious Army", did I truly understand the reasons why, and how, JEB Stuart "went missing" for the critical days of the Gettysburg campaign. Wert's book goes into interesting detail about this and many other aspects of Lee's Army during the chronological period covered in the book. But, the book is one which will be most enjoyed by a person who is already knowledgeable about Lee, his Generals, the campaigns, and the Army of Northern Virginia. Well worth reading.
on October 11, 2013
The Confederate victories in the Eastern, or Virginian theatre of the American civil war during Lee's initial two years as commander, were an eerie combination of the general's lack of battlefield coordination and the Union's tentative mismanagement. Every major battle of historical Southern significance during the Peninsular Campaign between the York and James River in Virginia, followed by the Fredericksburg fiasco on the Rappahannock in late December 1862 under General Burnside, rebuffed the Union thrust toward the capital of Richmond but were nevertheless considered victories for the forces of Union General George McClelland. Mechanicsville and Gaines's Mills, Malvern Hill, Glendale, and Cedar Mountain are not battle locales that come readily to mind in discussions of major encounters in 1862, but were massive slaughter pens when it came to tallying both Southern and Northern casualties totaling 55,000. Only the Battle of Antietam in Maryland, still called the single bloodiest day of the conflict, is rightly heralded as stifling the Rebel efforts for final victory.
Significantly, the stalemate at Sharpsburg as the South called Antietam Creek, negated any Confederate acclaim gained at the Second Battle of Bull Run at Manassas Junction nearly a month earlier.
Six months after the shooting gallery humiliation on Mayre's Heights at Fredericksburg, Lee's forces gained a stunning victory a few miles west on the Rappahannock at a one-tavern town called Chancellorsville where Lee and Stonewall Jackson turned the greatest flanking movement in military history while outnumbered easily by 62,000 troops. Lee gambled and won, lost Jackson to friendly fire, and began to think of his veterans as invincible, truly a glorious army.
Gettysburg, of course, changed all that. With victory in hand on the first evening of Wednesday, June 1, Lee did not follow through with orders to General Richard Ewell, who had just arrived from Harrisburg, to take Cemetery Hill, and later, nearby Culp's Hill. Mistake. On the second day, while Ewell and subordinate commanders Early and Johnson pondered and pried Culp's Hill, Lee's "Old War Horse", James Longstreet, failed until late afternoon to initiate the battle plan to wrap up the Union forces on Little Round Top and got involved in bloody miasmas at the Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, and Devil's Den, thanks also in large part to the foolhardy gain-for-glory efforts of Union General Dan Sickles. Another mistake, or mistakes. Surely, Lee still believed, his glorious army would prevail tomorrow.
And, of course, tomorrow came, and if Lee's persistence against the advice of Longstreet had not prevailed, we history buffs and school children would never have heard of George Pickett, whose valiant effort in no-man's land between Seminary and Cemetery ridges on Friday the 3rd, the third day at Gettysburg, were doomed to inglorious failure from the get-go.
We also may never have heard of another Confederate pretty boy in James Ewell Brown Stuart, JEB Stuart, widely regarded as the best cavalry leader ever to ride a horse but who got lost in his mission to guard the right flank of Lee's glorious Army of Northern Virginia in its purpose to end the war, this horrible war, in Pennsylvania.
This book is truly a glorious read.
on August 5, 2011
For more than a quarter of a century I have been a student of the American Civil War and just when I start thinking that all the stories have been told, along comes a book like A Glorious Army. Few details are new to be sure. But it's in the telling of this well-known tale that compelled this reader to hold fast to story. Wert's prose, driven by his far-ranging perspective, is really the key factor here.
Reminiscent of Barbara Tuchman and David McCullough, to name just two of our finest historians, the focus in A Glorious Army is on the human side -- decisions are not made in an emotional vacuum, nor are they taken without an appreciation of the consequences, at least not by men such as Lee, Longstreet, Johnsotn and the others in this riveting and fascinating study.
My only complaint, and it is a trivial one, is I would have liked more maps to allow me to follow the geography of the story a bit more closely. Notwithstanding such mundane quibbles, this is what superb historical writing is all about.
on April 28, 2011
Robert E. Lee has been described as "audacity personified." In " A Glorious Army" Jeffrey D. Wert, author of many fine books on the American Civil War, has done an excellent job in chronicling the story of Lee and his fabled Army of Northern Virginia.
Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia following the wounding of Joseph E. Johnston in fighting near Richmond. The date was on June 1, 1862. Lee had been known as "Granny Lee" for his affinity to dig trenches as protection against the enemy. He would baffle his critics, mystify his opponents and become one of the great military captains of all time. He did so by utilizing a strategy of flanking his enemy and using his brilliant mind to defeat Union commanding generals George McClellan; John Pope; Ambrose Burnside and Joseph Hooker. The great battles waged by Lee in the thirteen months between June 1862 and Confederate defeat at Gettysburg on July 1-3 are:
The Seven Days-Lee defeats McClellan forcing the Yankees to retreat from the Richmond area.
Second Manassas-Lee defeats John Pope on August 29, 1862 in a battle in which Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet proved worthy lieutenants to the great Lee.
Antietam-September 17, 1862 is the bloodiest day in American military history. Lee retreats following the stalemated battle against George McClellan's blue legions.
Fredricksburg-Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia defeat Ambrose Burnside on December 13, 1862. Union defeats marks the low point of Northern morale leading President Lincoln to state "If there is a worse place than hell then I am in it."
Chancellorsville-Lee's greatest tactical victory as Stonewall Jackson marches his whole corps against the Union Army. Jackson is mortally wounded.
Gettysburg-Lee is finally defeated by the Army of the Potomac in the war's worst battle from July 1-3. Lee's assaults against the Union troops on Cemetery Hill is a total defeat. The army never recovered as Grant took command and drove for Richmond during the Overland Campaign culminating in Lee's surrender on April 9 at Appomattox.
Lee was the best Southern General! His daring cost the South over 90,000 casualties. Southern hopes depended on his success and when he failed the Confederacy was doomed.
Wert has provided an excellent bibliography for his book. Wert also quotes extensively from first hand accounts by participants in the various battles he describes in details. This book is excellent as a refresher on the battles for Civil War buffs who may have let their book collections collect dust. It is also a fine introduction to the Civil War for neophytes of the military history of the Civil War. Wert is one of the best popular writers on the Civil War. This is a valuable addition to my own extensive Civil War library. Well done!
on February 5, 2013
An exceptionally well written review of the successful military campaigns which provided needed hope for the confedercy during the early years of the war in the East. The superb leadership of Gen'l Lee and his most trusted generals, Jackson, Longstreet and Stuart, and the ingenuity, courage and raw audacity demonstrated byLee as he out-generaled the Union commanders in battle after battle even with his out-numbered and less equipped army. Until and even after Gettysberg on occasion the Northern army seemed cursed with bad luck and bad leadership, often magnified by Lee's superior strategies.
on April 6, 2013
I've been a Civil War buff for as long as I can remember. Wert's writings are the twist or details that other authors skim and omit to suit their story. Wert puts it all out there, you get the whole picture. Deffinite recommend!