General Lee’s Army

4 05 2008

General Lee\'s Army

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.

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12 responses

4 05 2008
Drew W.

Yes, the method [huge meandering paragraph, single citation listing a dozen sources] vastly overburdens the reader interested in delving deeper. It’s not uncommon either, which is unfortunate. My copy is sitting on my shelf unread, so I haven’t had the chance to determine for myself how egregious the offense.

5 05 2008
Harry Smeltzer


It’s a disturbing trend, to be sure, and can in no way be viewed as a “good thing”. I’m sure the publisher will be blamed.

9 05 2008
Mike Peters


Putting the footnote dilemma aside, I am enjoying Glatthaar’s latest.

I heard Joseph Glatthaar speak on this subject almost 2 years ago. He shoots holes in some long held myths. The conflict was not, as some would have us believe, “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” Also, there was widespread support for slavery across the board & not just from the aristocratic upper class. Glatthaar also contends the Rebel cause was not lost because the Union had more material & a numerical advantage.

Based on the lecture & what I’ve read so far, I would recommend the book.


13 05 2008
Out, Damn’d Spot! Out, I Say! « Bull Runnings

[…] making my way through Joseph Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army (see here).The first four chapters, while they had lots of really good information, were a real chore to […]

29 05 2008
Dimitri Rotov

Puts me into a state of heightened crankiness. Am currently tabulating the research methodology outrages for a second post. First super-grumpy post is here:

29 05 2008
Harry Smeltzer


With 200 pages to go, I’m finding the book to be a mixed bag. Some good info on the makeup of the army, the soldiers’ reasons for joining up and fighting, their lack of discipline, their vandalism in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania – in those respects, not your father’s ANV – I doubt we’ll see this book raffled off at any SCV meetings. But in other ways the tale is sometimes shockingly conventional – dare I say wrong – in a DS Freeman sort of way. For instance, Glatthaaar states that the Confederate armies were outnumbered at First Bull Run, Seven Days, and Cedar Mountain. Hmmm…

And yes, the footnotes leave a whole lot to be desired. As for the research methodology, sample sizes, etc…, I haven’t tried to wrap my brain around that yet. A man’s got to know his limitations.

30 05 2008
Drew W.

It bugs me that historians continue to assert that McClellan significantly outnumbered Lee during the Seven Days, when the available evidence shows them to be roughly even at worst and more likely outnumbered by the Confederates when taking into account the Richmond defense forces (militia, heavy artillery, organizing units, other fixed units etc.).

30 05 2008
Harry Smeltzer


The most recent work on the topic of numbers in Seven Days is Leon Walter Tenney’s 1992 GMU master’s thesis. I believe he had the numbers as 100K for the AotP, and 110K for Lee.

30 05 2008
Drew W.

Yep, that’s the research I was getting at. Tenney has some methodology holes (e.g. he takes some regimental strengths from pre-Williamsburg returns listed in the O.R. and carries the same numbers over to the Seven Days) but they are good ballpark figures.


28 06 2008
Society of (Mostly) Civil War Historians Part II « Bull Runnings

[…] got me to thinking about some issues raised in Joseph Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army (see here and here) about an inherent lack of discipline among males in Southern society and in the army.  If […]

10 01 2009
Leftwich’s Gun Crew’s Rebuttal « Bull Runnings

[…] Bull Run persists, showing up as recently as Joseph Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army (see here and here).  And a new Lost Cause publication states that the Rebels faced the largest army ever […]

22 01 2009
Bull Runnings

[…] on the topic of reviews, I sent an email to Joseph Glatthaar (author of the book I discussed here and here)  the other day, and he was kind enough to respond helpfully.  He went above and beyond […]

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