Friday, October 10, 2008

"Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J.E.B. Stuart"

Jeffry Wert is no stranger to Civil War biography and his new book Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart (Simon & Schuster, 2008) is another fine study of a prominent Confederate general. While the Civil War years are by far the book's main focus [less than fifty pages are devoted to Stuart's early life and pre-war U.S. army career -- readers looking forward to an in-depth look at the Virginian's frontier cavalry service will likely be disappointed in that regard], the book has both familial and military elements. Stuart was a very religious man with a marriage marked by devotion on both sides. His wife, Flora, became an ardent defender of the general's legacy after his untimely death, details of which are examined in the book's final chapter. Overall, Wert's study is primarily a military biography, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. Excelling at all aspects of Civil War cavalry operations, Stuart is definitely one of those Civil War officers whose reputation holds its own under the objective scrutiny of modern eyes. That said, Wert does not shy away from taking strong stands on controversial issues; as an example, he is very critical in the traditional manner of Stuart's role in the Gettysburg campaign [in contrast to the arguments presented in the new standard work on Stuart's Ride, Plenty of Blame to Go Around].

Wert's research into unpublished primary sources is phenomenal. Close to 300 manuscript items and collections from repositories located all around the country were consulted. The maps, drawn by well-known cartographer George Skoch, are fairly numerous, and detailed enough for the reader to follow Stuart's Civil War movements and battles. As always, Wert's writing is clear and engaging. The significant elements of the better Civil War military biographies are present here, and it's safe to say that Cavalryman of the Lost Cause is the best J.E.B. Stuart treatment to date.

[add. - others on the web have weighed in already, first John Hoptak and most recently Paul Taylor]

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