Saturday, September 27, 2014

Booknotes III (Sept '14)

New Arrivals:

1. Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase by Berry Craig (UP of KY, 2014).

With no previous book length studies of the Jackson Purchase in the Civil War, it's a bit unusual to have two released in the same year.  Given the region's reputation as the South Carolina of Kentucky, it's no surprise that both Dan Lee's The Civil War in the Jackson Purchase, 1861-62 [my review] and Berry Craig's Kentucky Confederates focus on the Confederate perspective. Craig's study possesses the archival research its antecedent lacks and seems to take more of a political history approach to the topic than Lee's military-centered examination.  So far, I like it.

2. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynn (Scribner, 2014).

I read somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of a pre-pub version of the book. Written in a popular style, the sections that I made it through didn't conjure up any surprises, but neither did they contain have anything particularly galling. Peter Cozzens's jacket blurb proclaims it to be the best Jackson biography he's ever read but I am skeptical of it supplanting Robertson's classic. Robertson's bio is well known for its admiring tone and we get some of that vibe here, too.


  1. Drew: It would be great if somebody could actually write about Jackson without falling victim to the Stonewall hype. First Kernstown, Front Royal, Port Republic, Seven Days, Cedar Mountain, Brawner's Farm, second day at 2BR, the gap in his front at Fredericksburg - that's a pretty consistent record of tactical mediocrity (as opposed to his conceded talent for operational maneuver). Yet his biographers seem generally unable to look at these events with complete objectivity. Robertson addresses the Seven Days mostly in terms of fatigue and covers Jackson's absurdly poor relations with subordinates but the overall tone is excusing. The excerpts of this one don't promise anything better.

    1. I would like a new book that's not a biography but just a focused treatment of Jackson's generalship. For such a short career, there's a lot to work with as Jackson performed the entire range of roles - close subordinate, semi-independent and independent.

    2. Actually, based on the Table of Contents, this appears to literally be a "military biography" since it begins with April, 1861. I agree with you on what is needed but this entry may come closer to that than the usual bio. The limited excerpts which I accessed did appear to provide some military analysis. It's promising enough that I may pick it up.

  2. In fairness, I should amend my post. A further look at the accessible excerpts on Amazon suggests that the author's assessment of Jackson's handling of tactics may be more objective than I had presumed. So we'll see.

  3. Thanks for the info on Gwynn. Should be interesting to read. I wondered how he would compare to Robertson, Vandiver, Chambers, Henderson, etc.

    Actually one of the most biographies that was critical of Jackson was Byron Farwell's but it was hurt by not having footnotes or endnotes (which was his style).



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