Everything you ever wanted to know about the Army of Northern Virginia.
Ironies abound in this thick but highly readable tome from Glatthaar (History/UNC-Chapel Hill; Partners in Command: The Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War, 1993, etc.). The wild enthusiasm following secession produced far more volunteers than the Confederate army could handle, but conscription became law in less than a year. Dissenting from the argument that Confederate soldiers fought for ideals we cherish today, the author states bluntly that Robert E. Lee’s men knew they were defending slavery. Historians traditionally emphasize that only one in 20 Southerners owned slaves, but Glatthaar points out that this neglects men who lived in households that included slaves: nearly half of enlisted men and virtually all officers. Even nonslaveholding soldiers took it for granted that Northern efforts to restrict slavery were a vicious attack on Southern freedom. For them, the idea that blacks deserved freedom was proof of Yankee insanity. Assuming command in June 1862, Lee vaulted from obscurity to acclaim during bloody battles that drove Union forces back from Richmond. He was an intelligent, aggressive general, perhaps too aggressive for a leader whose army had limited resources. When the fortunes of war favored him, Lee won great victories but always against weak opposing generals. Like Hannibal before and Rommel after him, his triumphs ended when he faced a competent adversary, in this case Ulysses S. Grant. While Glatthaar deals adequately with the battles, he shines in writing about the soldiers themselves. He finds the catchphrase “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight” to be exaggerated; poor, comfortable and prosperous men joined in equal numbers. Most gripping are the depressing details of the South’s persistent failure to supply Lee’s army: Soldiers often starved, dressed in rags and marched without shoes.
A unique, often controversial description of Lee’s soldiers, their background and the conditions under which they fought.