A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph, 1862-1863
Jeffry D. Wert
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From the time Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862, until the Battle of Gettysburg thirteen months later, the Confederate army compiled a record of military achievement almost unparalleled in our nation’s history. How it happened—the relative contributions of Lee, his top command, opposing Union generals, and of course the rebel army itself—is the subject of Civil War historian Jeffry D. Wert’s fascinating and riveting new history.
In the year following Lee’s appointment, his army won four major battles or campaigns and fought Union forces to a draw at the bloody Battle of Antietam. Washington itself was threatened, as a succession of Union commanders failed to stop Lee’s offensive. Until Gettysburg, it looked as if Lee might force the Union to negotiate a peace rather than risk surrendering the capital or even losing the war. Lee’s victories fired southern ambition and emboldened Confederate soldiers everywhere.
Wert shows how the same audacity and aggression that fueled these victories proved disastrous at Gettysburg. But, as Wert explains, Lee had little choice: outnumbered by an opponent with superior resources, he had to take the fight to the enemy in order to win. For a year his superior generalship prevailed against his opponents, but eventually what Lee’s trusted lieutenant General James Longstreet called “headlong combativeness” caused Lee to miscalculate. When an equally combative Union general—Ulysses S. Grant—took command of northern forces in 1864, Lee was defeated. A Glorious Army draws on the latest scholarship, including letters and diaries, to provide a brilliant analysis of Lee’s triumphs. It offers fresh assessments of Lee; his top commanders Longstreet, Jackson, and Stuart; and a shrewd battle strategy that still offers lessons to military commanders today. A Glorious Army is a dramatic account of major battles from Seven Days to Gettysburg that is as gripping as it is convincing, a must-read for anyone interested in the Civil War.
given to commanders, Longstreet and Lee rode twice along the lines “to see that everything was arranged according to his [Lee’s] wishes.” Problems remained, however. Neither Lee nor Powell Hill appeared to realize the casualty toll that had been exacted from the Pettigrew division on July 1. Its assignment to the attack force evidently resulted from its position on Seminary Ridge. Furthermore a gap existed between Pettigrew’s right and Pickett’s left. Once the attack began, Pickett’s troops would
would possess more of the confidence of the army, or of the reflecting men of the country, is to demand an impossibility.” Davis hoped that Lee would “take all possible care of yourself,” for the country required his services in the struggle “for the independence which we have engaged in war to maintain.”23 The struggle for independence would last another twenty-one months. During that time the conflict slid deeper into the abyss. Casualties mounted in unprecedented numbers; paths of destruction
through camp by, 21, 74, 158, 164, 267, 270–71 defense of Richmond uppermost to, 8–9, 16, 22, 25, 34, 54, 68, 212 in defensive struggle against Grant, 25, 286–88, 291 early military career and experience of, 5, 7, 17, 25 failed 1861 western Virginia campaign of, 2, 6 as icon of “Lost Cause,” 70, 289 illness and exhaustion of, 45, 46, 182–83, 283 imposing presence and dignity of, 6, 200 injuries of, 102, 113, 114 intellect and strategic reasoning of, 6, 7, 9, 10, 20, 55 intelligence and
“Stonewall” Jackson. Major General George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac and Lee’s opponent during the Seven Days and Antietam campaigns. Known affectionately as “Little Mac” to his men, McClellan was a cautious general who refused to unleash the fine army that he had created. Postwar view of ground looking east from Dunker Church to East Woods at Antietam. Smoketown Road angles from left to right. Dead Confederate soldiers along west side of Hagerstown Pike at
One story, most likely apocryphal but ringing with truth, circulated in Richmond after the battle of a Yankee prisoner exclaiming, “The Southern soldiers would charge into hell if there was a battery before them—and they would take it from a legion of devils!”36 To an astute observer, those Rebels had the makings of a formidable opponent. They had embraced the cause, said one of them, with “fervent feeling.” But the illusions of a quick victory and a short war had passed with the reality before