UNCERTAIN GLORY by John D. McKenzie

UNCERTAIN GLORY

Lee's Generalship Re-Examined
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A candid evaluation of Robert E. Lee's military career, penetrating the misty legends surrounding the ``marble man'' and the Lost Cause that grew after his death in 1870. At the end of the war, McKenzie points out, many Southern newspapers blamed Lee and Jefferson Davis, among others, for their defeat. But Southern historians, he suggests, came to dominate the study of the Civil War and gradually reworked Lee's image, turning him into an idealized figure, incapable of error. Early Southern victories, he reminds us, were won by the skilled use of defensive tactics applied against the hapless efforts of incompetent Union generals. McKenzie asserts that Lee, an engineer, had a genius for just such warfare, but that he had to be pushed by Davis and ``Stonewall'' Jackson to go on the offensive, where he was often less effective. Jackson emerges as the greatest Southern strategist, an innovative general who advised Lee against a war of attrition, arguing for attacks designed to cause maximum casualties to the enemy. But Jackson died, and Lee, applying Jackson's tactics in less favorable circumstances, staged massive frontal assaults at Antietam and Gettysburg, against strong defenses, that resulted in huge casualties. And as younger, more innovative and battle-tested Union generals (Grant, Sherman, etc.) emerged, their new strategies and tactics consistently outclassed the poorly staffed and supplied Southern armies. McKenzie argues that Jackson's tactics, if used early in the war, might have won more battles and foreign allies for the Confederacy, leading to a negotiated peace. But Lee was not the figure to carry out such a strategy, and he was further handicapped by an interfering, inept president, by ill health, and by a bureaucracy unable to provide sufficient food, clothing, and arms for his troops. McKenzie's first book offers a clear, concise, realistic rereading of Lee's career and strategic abilities. A powerful revisionist work. (12 b&w photos, 6 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 1997
ISBN: 0-7818-0502-3
Page count: 381pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1996