A well-crafted study of Robert E. Lee’s storied Confederate army, “composed,” as the author writes, “of moral men fighting to preserve an immoral system.”
Walsh, a retired publishing executive and Civil War enthusiast, does a good job of placing the actions of Lee’s army in the larger context of Civil War strategy, showing how its successes and failures influenced the development of engagements and campaigns in other theaters. Still, his focus is largely on the famed battles in which the Army of Northern Virginia fought—Manassas, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg—and the men who led that army into the pages of history. At the outset, it appears that Walsh is interested only in the lives and legends of dashing leaders such as Stonewall Jackson, Pierre Beauregard, and, of course, Robert E. Lee himself; but as his narrative progresses, he moves away from the musty great-man approach and takes the sorry lives of common soldiers into account, writing affectingly of such critical battles as Second Manassas, when Lee’s badly equipped front line were reducing to throwing rocks at the Federal enemy and yet somehow managed to win the clash. Walsh ably portrays the misery attendant in a steady regime of worm-eaten hardtack and punishing fire, in braving diseases such as typhoid fever and malaria (which, he notes, killed far more Confederate soldiers than did enemy bullets) and foraging for meals in a ravaged countryside. Throughout, he writes admiringly of the Army of Northern Virginia’s bravery and tenacity, which held right through the closing hours of the war, even as he examines more critically the various causes of Lee’s defeat—Jeb Stuart’s “egotism,” James Longstreet’s “intransigence,” and Richard Ewell’s “inadequacies” among them (though, as George Pickett would add, “I think the Union army had something to do with it”).
Solid and smoothly written, and sure to be of interest to Civil War buffs.