January 26, 2015

Saint Stonewall of Jackson — S.G. Gwynne swings and misses on yet another bio

Type your summary here Type rest of the post hereRebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall JacksonRebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Once again, as with previous book, Gwynne had taken a charismatic figure of American history, and delivered some good insights, but made some major, elemental errors at the same time, along with doing some major punch-pulling on interpretive history.

In "Empire of the Summer Moon," it was giving Comanche chief Quanah a white man's last name that he never had, and knowing better than to do that, being a Texan.

This time, the main factual error, or constellation of errors, in this book is promoting Jackson at the expense of James Longstreet, basically indulging old myths about Old Pete.

He perpetuates the myth that Longstreet was somehow "less than" or that Lee was often disappointed.

He also gets something flat-out wrong when claiming Lee had both promoted to lieutenant general on Oct. 10, 1862.

Longstreet's promotion was a day earlier, and Gwynne either should have known it and was lackadaisical in not actually knowing it, or else he's deliberately perpetuating a falsehood.

Indeed, most modern histories that don't have such bias make clear that Longstreet's earlier promotion was deliberate, by Lee's design.

Also, at 2nd Manassas, confuses D.H. Hill with A.P. Hill in one reference. He later corrects that, but it really shouldn't have been made in the first place. (And, per an ongoing lament of mine about the book industry, it shouldn't have gotten past copy editors, either.)

Gwynne does show that Jackson's cantankerousness toward fellow officers started long before the Civil War. He also notes that he had too much secrecy about battle plans with sub-commanders. However, in his downplaying Longstreet, he also fails to note that not only was Old Pete better at this, but that he had a better, more professional, staff in general.

That said, he also could have critiqued Jackson more than he did for not recognizing that fast pursuit against retreating foes by large "civilian" armies in the Civil War just wasn't as possible as Jackson might have wished. And, while he mentions Jackson's "black flag" ideas at the start of the war, he doesn't critique them as much as he could.

Finally, while noting Jackson's kindliness as a slaveowner, Gwynne doesn't go more into his attitude toward slavery as a whole. (As best we can tell, he "accepted" it as under the control of the same predestinarian Calvinist God that informed his religious beliefs in general.)

And, while noting Jackson's religiosity, and its depth, Gwynne has a surprisingly narrow interaction with it; besides how it impacted his views on slavery, how did it impact his views on rebellion? How did he square it with his "black flag," ie, "no quarter" ideas — already at the start of the war — for invading the North?

In short, since Gwynne is a Texan, why doesn't he look in more depth at the idea that Stonewall Jackson wanted to be some sort of Santa Anna?

I was originally going to 3-star this, but thinking more and more on how Gwynne didn't delve into these and other issues related to Jackson's known religiosity, it goes down another star.

View all my reviews

No comments: