Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Review - "From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865" by Charles Knight

[From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865 by Charles R. Knight (Savas Beatie, 2021). Hardcover, 8 maps, photo gallery, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xviii,504/576. ISBN:978-161121-502-1. $39.95]

It's become a common refrain in reviews of reference books on this site to lament the lack of wider appreciation of both the value attached to premier-grade examples and the often staggering research effort that went into producing them. Of all the sub-genres of Civil War publishing, reference books are among the least likely to garner popular acclaim for their authors, book award consideration, or more than modest sales figures. However, the best of them can certainly become stars in both avocational and professional research circles. That will almost certainly become the fate of Charles Knight's From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865.

The material is arranged in monthly chapters, each having a brief narrative preamble. Within each chapter, readers get daily entries headlined at the top by full-date designation, day of the week, and primary location(s) of Lee during that 24-hour time span. Typically ranging in size from one to four large paragraphs, daily installments address what concerned Lee most that day; what his activities were (or where he traveled); any interesting documented anecdotes; who the general met with in person; who Lee wrote to either professionally (through issuing orders, submitting official requests, communications with government leaders, answering military correspondence, etc.) or personally (to friends, acquaintances, and family members); and often what the weather was like that day (thanks to Robert Krick's invaluable reference book Civil War Weather in Virginia). Bouts of illness and symptoms of more chronic disease affected Lee's performance of his command duties on numerous occasions during the war, and those episodes are also noted. Cognizant of the impossibility of pinning down the precise hour of any given event, Knight instead either reasonably opts for more general time intervals such as 'morning,' 'afternoon,' and 'evening,' or does not hazard a guess.

Offering far more than mere source identification, the volume's richly expansive explanatory notes contain a great deal of background information, evidence evaluation, and interpretation of conflicting references. Further aiding the reader, these notes are placed at the bottom of each page. If they were the same font as the main text, they would easily take up two or three times the space of the daily entries, so there is often a lot to digest within them. To arrive at all this information, the author scoured manuscript and newspaper archives and examined a large host of published primary and secondary sources. At the very back of the book the reader can find a similarly expansive index of names, events, places, units, and more. As an example of how comprehensive the tally of subheadings can get, the Lee section alone fills five double-columned, tiny-print pages. Of course, one would expect Lee to have the grandest index entry, but that scale of effort put forth exemplifies the author's commitment to providing details and making them as user accessible as possible.

As one of the individuals who most shaped the course of the conflict, a day by day record of Robert E. Lee's Civil War assumes enhanced value and importance. What emerges from the text is a clear picture of the daily duties, activities, and stresses (physical and mental) involved in leading a large Civil War army. One can readily imagine the cumulative effects of those responsibilities on the declining health of a previously vigorous man in his late 50s. Certainly, anyone writing about Lee's Civil War career, be it a full biography or any other serious study involving the general, will find this volume to be an essential research tool. Given that Lee commanded the Army of the Northern Virginia during the great majority of its existence, the book also will make life easier for a whole host of upcoming researchers and writers of the campaigns and battles fought by the Confederacy's premier fighting force. Highly recommended.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Drew Glad you enjoyed this one and thanks for the in-depth review. It is one of the most important books we have ever published, and one of the handful I am particularly proud of having developed with an author. Charlie did a magnificent job. --Theodore P. Savas

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  2. Thanks for the review, Drew. With all the years of research that went into this project, it is much appreciated.
    Charlie Knight

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  3. Excellent book ! I can imagine all the research that went into this. Bought my copy when it first came out and so glad I did. Really enjoying it !

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