A Civil War specialist revisits the glory days of one of the most splendid fighting forces ever assembled: the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV).
After the bitter defeat at Gettysburg, the Confederate army, its officer corps severely depleted, never regained the momentum it had achieved since June 1862 when Robert E. Lee assumed command. But what a run they had. At the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and even the bloody stalemate at Antietam, the ANV fashioned a brilliant string of military successes that changed the course of the war in the East. In the process, Lee and his gallant army came to embody the Southern cause, keeping alive the possibility against long odds that the Confederacy might survive. Assessing the ANV’s legacy, Wert (Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J.E.B. Stuart, 2008, etc.) eschews the tick-tock of battle in favor of analysis of the big-picture, how the army was led and how the rank and file responded. Nimbly sifting the oftentimes conflicting judgments of a wide array of historians and making vivid use of primary source documents, the author demonstrates how everything—the good and the bad—began with Lee. He immediately reorganized and disciplined the army, improved communications, delegated broad authority to his senior commanders, particularly the steady, reliable James Longstreet and the eccentric, audacious Stonewall Jackson, and relied on a talented cadre of brigade and regimental officers to implement his relentlessly aggressive battle plans. Convinced the South could never prevail relying on a passive, defensive strategy, Lee constantly took the fight to the enemy, even as the battlefield victories bled his forces. Wert covers it all—the blunders, the exceptional maneuvers, the irreparable losses, all the exquisitely difficult choices facing a general whose bold calculations always prevailed until, finally, they didn’t.An energetic, evenhanded assessment that gets at the heart of Lee’s genius and the heroic achievements of the army he so ably led.