A highly partisan review of the career of an outstanding Confederate commander.
Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (1824-1863) was undoubtedly a gifted military tactician, but he commanded Confederate troops, in a subordinate position, for only a little less than two years. Based on this record, Alexander (MacArthur's War: The Flawed Genius Who Challenged the American Political System, 2013, etc.) proclaims him not just "by far the greatest general every produced by the American people," but also "one of the supreme military geniuses in world history." The author ably describes Jackson's leadership in battles from First Manassas to Chancellorsville. He contends that Jackson had recognized that new military technologies compelled changes in infantry tactics and had formulated a new theory of battle that could have won the war by crushing federal armies with minimal loss of Southern troops, a theory he repeatedly but unsuccessfully pressed on an unresponsive high command. Alexander has nothing good to write about anyone but Jackson. Jefferson Davis was "a decidedly third-rate leader," James Longstreet was "a very slow learner," and Robert E. Lee was "incapable of absorbing the most basic rules of warfare." Indeed, Alexander suggests that Lee only retained his position as an army commander, rightfully Jackson's, because he was a member of the Southern aristocracy. The author offers his acerbic critiques with the full benefit of hindsight and of information unavailable to commanders at the time, and he displays little understanding of the political constraints binding the Confederate leadership. Finally, Alexander’s summary of the outbreak of the war, which glaringly avoids any mention of the attack on Fort Sumter, raises the question of whether he has omitted from his narrative any inconvenient facts that might dim Jackson's overpowering glow.
Alexander’s over-the-top advocacy of Jackson's prowess and sour attacks on everyone else detract from an otherwise thoughtful analysis of the general's tactical insights.