Book Review: General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse


by Joseph T. Glatthaar

New York: The Free Press, 2008. Pp. xv, 600. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN:1416596976

General Lee's Army is an analytic "biography" of the Army of Northern Virginia.  It examines the life and works of the army from the outbreak of the war -- even before it was formed -- through Appomattox, almost exactly four years later.

This is a complex work, and while much in it is not necessarily very new, Prof. Glatthaar (Chapel Hill), deserves credit for intertwining several major themes, providing a readable and informative over-view of the life of the ANV.  There is a look at the organizational and professional evolution of the army from the Spring of 1861 to April of 1865.  Various chapters focus on high strategy and command relationships, arms, camp life, equipment and supply, religion and morals, the army and the home front, race, medical care, recruitment, desertion, and much more.  This is followed by several chapters that deal with operations, largely from the Confederate perspective, that throw light on the army as a military instrument. 

Then there are some interesting insights and analyses.  For example, examining the social background of the troops recruited in each year of the war, it is clear that those who joined early tended to be wealthier and had strong ties to slaveholding, while those recruited (i.e., conscripted) later were usually poorer, with weaker ties to slavery.  We also find that Southern cultural norms created a number of problems in the officer corps; while gallantry was a given, attention to administrative detail was often lacking, leading to problems in the management and supply the army.  There is also a very candid look at the effect the stress of protracted campaigning had on Robert E. Lee's personality and command style. 

While its heft may discourage some, General Lee's Army is a work that any serious student of the war will find rewarding.                                

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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