Wednesday, May 27, 2009
From the Shelves of the Paco Library
I’ve got two from the American Civil War, today, both of which I highly recommend.
They Called Him Stonewall, by the eminent Civil War historian Burke Davis, is a comprehensive biography which includes much original research and provides perhaps one of the best overall assessments we have of this brilliant, but undeniably eccentric, Confederate general. He was one of the South’s best tacticians, perhaps best known for the Valley Campaign, during which his army of 17,000 men inflicted five defeats on three separate Union forces totaling over 60,000 troops that had been sent to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to destroy him.
As to his eccentricity, Davis captures one example immediately:
“He sat, incongruously sucking a lemon, on the outskirts of the village of New Market, Virginia, this spring day in 1862, surrounded by his troops, who rested after a brief noon meal. Wry-faced and pensive, he dealt with his everlasting lemon, evidently oblivious to all else.
No one knew where the fruit came from, but it was always on hand. He spent half his time with one of the yellow skins gleaming in his beard, and his men had been waved into combat with his half-sucked lemons, as if by the baton of some imperial marshal…It was one of the least of his mysteries, vaguely connected with the nervous indigestion and cold feet of which he complained.”
A struggling, but determined, student at West Point, Jackson first saw action during the Mexican War, winning several promotions. After the war, he became an instructor at the Virginia Military Institute (an unpopular one, as a matter of fact), and was present at the execution of radical abolitionist, John Brown. He began the American Civil War as a drill master, and finished as a Lieutenant General. His death by friendly fire after the battle of Chancellorsville deprived the Confederacy of one of its chief military assets, and was a great blow to Southern morale.
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The American Civil War - a two-volume set which includes a history of the war by Ralph Newman and Otto Eisenschimmel (with an introduction by Bruce Catton), entitled The American Iliad, and a monthly calendar of important events for each year of the conflict, in addition to short biographies and photographs of the war’s major military and political leaders, entitled The Picture Chronicle - is a wonderful general introduction and basic reference work. The first volume is largely a collection of first-hand accounts by the people who were there, so there is an immediacy about the book that makes for very compelling reading.