Friday, April 11, 2008

General Lee's Army. . .


I received an email from Simon & Schuster last week asking whether I'd be interested in doing a blogreview of General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse, by Joseph T. Glatthaar. I agreed without hesitation, and earlier this week--on April 9, of all days--the book arrived in the mail. (April 9 being Appomattox Day, of course).
Although I certainly have not yet finished the book, I have been able to make it through several chapters, and I must say that so far, this is an excellent work. From the prologue and from the extensive and quite impressive bibliography, it is evident that Glatthaar did his homework; in fact, Glatthaar states that he has been working on this book since 1989. It is a history of the Army of Northern Virginia from the top-down AND from the bottom-up, covering all four years of the war. It's focus is on the soldiers themselves: who they were, where they came from, why they fought, etc. It is a social and military history, not just a rehashing of the familiar story of military campaigns and maneuverings. I am particularly interested in this work because when I was in grad school, my master's thesis analyzed the influence of a soldier's socio-economic status on his wartime experiences. I sampled the soldiers of the 48th PA, and painstakingly analyzed the 1860 census records to determine the household and marital status, age, occupation, wealth, etc, of those who served in the regiment. Glatthaar has employed the very same methodology in his work, albeit on a much, much larger scale---I focused on a single regiment, he an entire army! I am looking forward to see how Glatthaar utilized his findings and research throughout the rest of the book. . .
Those dwindling few who still believe "slavery had nothing to do with the War of Northern Aggression," and that Confederate soldiers were merely "fightin' for their 'rats,'" may want to stay away from this book. Glatthaar not only demonstrates that slavery caused the war and was the foundation for the Confederate States of America, he also argues that a good percentage of Lee's men--from the lowly infantry private to the aristocratic officers--had a vested, personal interest in the peculiar institution, and that many of them fought for its preservation.
The book is nearly 500 pages, and I still have quite a ways to go. . .I will post my thoughts on the entire work just as soon as I finish.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I took a look at this book today and all I can say is "Wow". I've always been interested in the logistics of Civil War armies, (must be from living near City Point and being stationed at Fort Lee, Home of the Army Quartermaster Corps). It is a neglected area of study but Glatthaar devotes a whole chapter to the ANV's precarious supply situation. Lee actually considered withdrawing the ANV from the Rappahannock in January 1863 due to the poor condition of the Richmond-Fredricksburg-Potomac Railroad. He also includes a map of the railroads of the eastern Confederacy showing the different gauges of the rail lines. If the rest of the book is like this then this will become a classic.

John C. Nicholas

John David Hoptak said...

John. . .
I am thoroughly enjoying it. It's so refreshing to read an entirely objective account of the Army of Northern Virginia for once. No blatant hero-worshipping here and no Lost Cause garbage.
I told you you're gonna want to buy this book.