Book review: General Lee’s Army

When I was asked to review Joseph T. Glatthaar’s latest book, General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse, my first impression was, “What? Yet another book on the Army of Northern Virginia?” While not as abundant as books on Gettysburg or Abraham Lincoln, there have been plenty of previous works that dealt with Robert E. Lee and his men. However, this new work quickly changed my mind. It is, quite simply, the most complete overview ever written on the Army of Northern Virginia. Brilliantly researched, using a variety of primary sources not often used in other contemporary works, this book offers page after page of fascinating new information that adds depth to the historiography of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.

Glatthaar of course deals with the battlefield combat prowess of the ANV and its legendary campaigns and fights, as well as its leader and his subordinates. More importantly, he studies the men of the army, as well as the impact their military service had back on the home front.  Tucked in between chapters dealing with the various campaigns are some real gems — chapters that deal with a diverse range of topics that considerably add to the overall portrayal of what life was like for Lee’s army.

These include treatises on religion and morality and their impact on the ANV’s morale and spirit; discipline and issues within the ranks; infighting between leading officers; early recruits contrasted to the replenishments of 1862 and beyond; supply and logistics; desertion and reasons why; arms and ammunition; blacks within the Confederate ranks; and medical care. In effect, Joe Glaathaar touches on virtually every aspect of the Army of Northern Virginia in this magnificent work that is sure to become THE authoritative book on Lee and his troops.

The book is hardback, and at 600 pages is quite hefty, but is very readable and it flows well. Published by the Free Press (a division of Simon & Schuster), the book is a must have for any Civil War buff interested in understanding the most celebrated army in Southern U.S. military history, and for we descendants of Yankee soldiers, it provides an excellent look at the vaunted force that our ancestors faced at Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, and at the rag-tag depleted force of the trench warfare and Appomattox. Appropriately subtitled “From Victory to Collapse,” General Lee’s Army is a masterpiece of modern scholarship.

ISBN 0684-82787-5

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