LEE'S MISERABLES by J. Tracy Power


Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox
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A vivid history of the final year of the Civil War as experienced by Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, drawing heavily on documentary sources. Historian Power (Univ. of South Carolina) has examined some 1,200 letters and diaries by more than 400 officers and enlisted men of Lee’s Army, and uses them very effectively to give a human face to the war from the spring campaigns of 1864 up to Lee’s surrender in April 1865 at Appomattox. By going to the war’s true experts, the combat soldiers, Power undercuts the two most common flaws in Civil War studies: the glamour and romance with which some narratives are burdened and the dull emphasis on strategic studies, at the expense of the reality of combat. Instead, the reader experiences something of the common soldier’s loneliness and boredom, his yearning for loved ones at home, as well as the long hot marches, the overwhelming pressures and excitement of close combat, the widespread illness resulting from poor diets, the grief felt from the maiming and death of comrades, and the persistent hatred of the invading Yankees. The letters also demonstrate that as late as 1864 many soldiers still held an unduly optimistic view of the likely outcome. They also, of course, had an unwavering faith in Lee’s abilities. Power uses these sources to give a gripping portrait of the terrible, bloody battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, Sheridan’s victories in the Shenandoah Valley, the long sieges of Richmond and Petersburg, and the fall of Atlanta. He traces the increasing exhaustion and despair of the Southern combatants and noncombatants, and the growing realization that the war was lost—a realization mirrored in the swelling desertion rates in a once proud army. A first-rate, profoundly realistic addition to the enormous Civil War library, powerfully bringing home the experience of combat and defeat.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8078-2392-9
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998


by Tom Elmore