General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse, the latest offering from Joseph Glatthaar, is making the blogger review circuit. As of this date, the only full blogger review I’ve seen is John Hoptak’s, but I believe reviews are in the works by Patrick Lewis and Dmitri Rotov. I received my review copy about two weeks ago, but won’t be able to read it until I finish Marion Armstrong’s “Unfurl those colors!” McClellan, Sumner and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign, (which is, by the way, a very good corps level and below tactical study that loses cohesiveness as its analysis expands to higher levels). So I’ll have a more in depth review in a few weeks when I finish the book, but for right now here’s an overview based on the prologue, table of contents, notes, and bibliography.
Joseph Glatthaar (at right from Simon & Schuster) is the Stephenson Distinguished Professor of History and chair of the Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His previous book length studies on the Civil War are The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman’s Troops in the Savannah and Carolina Campaigns (1985), Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (1990), and Partners in Command: Relationships between Civil War Leaders (1994). As you can see, Glatthaar doesn’t crank these things out like Hershey’s Kisses. It’s been 14 years since he’s written a full length Civil War book, and from what I’ve heard he’s spent most of that time working on General Lee’s Army.
Glatthaar announces in his Prologue that General Lee’s Army is a study of [that] “sinewy, tawny, formidable set of men” (at left in Frederick, MD) as well as their “brave and skilful” commander, Lee. His intent is to tell, through the story of the Army of Northern Virginia, the broader story of the entire Civil War, because if you understand why [Lee’s] men fought, what hardships they endured, how they managed so much success against the vastly superior enemy, how they came close to winning, and why they lost, you understand fundamentally the war itself. He attempts to do so by relying primarily on contemporary accounts of about 4,000 soldiers, using a statistically representative sample of Lee’s men in order to guard against cherry-picking evidence. He seeks to examine the army from the top-down and from the bottom up in order to develop important issues that influenced the motivations, attitudes, feelings, and conduct of officers and enlisted men throughout the course of the war.
Advance word on this book was that it would update D. S. Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants, but a look at the table of contents tells me that’s not quite accurate. Chapter titles like Why They Enlisted, Becoming Soldiers, A Failure of Discipline, Camp and Recreation, Religion and Morality, Home Front, and Desertion imply that there is a significant social component to Glatthaar’s analysis. Keeping the Army Together, Supplying the Army, Arms and Ammunition, Medical Care and Manpower indicate that logistics is also a focus. Command topics include Clashes with the High Command, Lee in Command, Taking War to the Enemy, Lee’s Officer Corps and Army Culture, Combat, Lee and the High Command, Preparing for the Spring Campaign of 1864, The Trenches and The Grind of War. These overlapping topics are covered within the framework of the history of the army’s operations from the days preceding the adoption of its famous name to its surrender at Appomattox.
The bibliography runs from page 543 to page 581. Twenty-two of these thirty-nine pages list manuscript sources. There are also sixty-four pages of end notes, nineteen maps, and two photo sections. What does all this tell you? Well, quite honestly, it tells you nothing – in fact I’ve heard some disturbing things about the citation methodology employed. I’m more concerned with quality, but some folks are really into this kind of quantitative information, so I’m giving it to them. Happy now?
How well does Glatthaar succeed in this ambitious project? Like I said, I haven’t read the book yet. I’ll give you my thoughts when I have. But in the meantime, if you have actually finished General Lee’s Army, I’d love to know what you think of it. Does it provide valuable new insight, or is it the same old story with new anecdotes?
See an UPDATE to this post here.