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General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse (2008)

by Joseph Glatthaar

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235682,976 (4.1)6
General Robert E. Lee's army was a surprise to almost everyone: With daring early victories and an invasion into the North, they nearly managed to convince the North to give up the fight. Astonishingly, after 150 years of scholarship, there are still some major surprises about the Army of Northern Virginia. Historian Joseph T. Glatthaar draws on sources assembled over two decades--from letters and diaries, to official war records, to a new, definitive database of statistics--to rewrite the history of the Civil War's most important army and, indeed, of the war itself. The history of Lee's army is a powerful lens on the entire war. The fate of Lee's army explains why the South almost won--and why it lost. The story of his men--their reasons for fighting, their cohesion, mounting casualties, diseases, supply problems, and discipline problems--tells it all.--From publisher description.… (more)

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A thorough and readable history of the Army of Northern Virginia. There were, however numerous instances when the reader is beset with some rather copious statistics which while illustrating the erudition of the author would, in my opinion better be served by appearing in an appendix rather than the text. That being said, the overwhelming body of the work offers good insight to not only Robert E. Lee, but also to the soul of the ANV. ( )
  bobbre | Oct 7, 2019 |
Superb social and historical study of a modern army with a premodern attitude. ( )
  Rudolf | Jun 27, 2015 |
Combining classic military history with a wealth of social history insights, Joseph Glatthaar details the exploits and experiences of the Army of Northern Virginia in the aptly titled "General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse." Drawing from a wealth of material, including countless letters and diaries from soldiers of all ranks, the University of North Carolina professor offers a comprehensive view of the Confederacy's most-storied fighting force.

While never skimping on descriptions of overall tactics in battle, Glatthaar is as interested in offering a broad picture of the makeup and general experiences of the soldiers in Lee's army. Alongside details of the Gettysburg Campaign and the massive trench warfare of 1864, there are chapters on such day-to-day issues as medical care, quartermaster supply, religion, and general camp life.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of this volume is the attention to the make-up of the army, extrapolated from careful analysis of a 600 soldier sample. This analysis allows Glatthaar to describe the divergent backgrounds of the fighting men, including family wealth and relationship to the institution of slavery. The findings suggest that while the army initially was a mostly representative group of the southern population, as the war progressed replacement soldiers were overwhelmingly drawn from non-slaveholding families of little wealth.

This changing demographic makeup of the army is one of the challenges that led to the ultimate collapse and defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia, alongside other better known issues as increasingly limited manpower and the persistent problems of arms, ammunition, and food supplies. Glatthaar also highlights the difficulties in advancing qualified people into officer positions that Lee struggled to overcome, with some success, throughout the war.

While the focus of this book is on the common soldier, it is clear that Glatthaar holds Robert E. Lee is great esteem. The surprising implicit argument of this book is that Lee was really the guiding force behind the army, not only in generally aggressive tactical decisions, but as importantly in improving nuts and bolts matters of supply, training, and officer selection. This makes the book's title quite apropos indeed.

On the whole, this well-researched volume is an excellent resource on the famed Army of Northern Virginia. While some expecting heavily detailed campaign analysis might be disappointed, those hoping for a more complete portrait of this fighting force will greatly appreciate this book for its scope, its research, and its unexpectedly pleasant prose. ( )
  ALincolnNut | Nov 7, 2012 |
This book is worth reading. It is a military, social and political history of the Army of Northern Virginia, and a well written story. I feel that it has too much of a tang of the Lost Cause about it, but perhaps as a Canadian that might be my foreignness to this so American of wars. At any rate, worth reading if you are a Civil War buff. ( )
  RobertP | Oct 19, 2009 |
A history of the USA Civil War, exclusively from the perspective of the men who fought on the losing side. The author really digs into the mentality of the people who served in the Confederate army, relying on letters written by those men to get a sense of what motivated them.

The dynamic of this civil war was fascinating to me: a smaller army made up of volunteers extremely motivated to defend their way of life fighting largely a defensive war against a much larger and better armed, but less motivated enemy. I was particularly interested in the way Southerners' cultural habits and sense of honour often clashed with their military objectives -- because of the independent spirit prized by Southern culture, their undisciplined behaviour negated their advantage in motivation, for example.

This is going to sound stupid, but I had no idea that slavery was such a central issue -- I thought that was one of those myths that grew up around the war, because I couldn't believe that anyone would be motivated to defend slavery on moral grounds (economic grounds, I can see). But Glatthaar shows that slavery was a focal point in the culture of the south, not only by reproducing soldiers' letters that frequently make mention of their "negroes", but by producing a demographic sample that shows how many people benefited from slavery: one-third of the people who served in the army or their families had slaves, and almost half lived in a household that had slaves. Moreover, slave owners frequently "lent" slaves to many of the poorer Southerners who couldn't afford slaves themselves.

(In several passages Glatthaar writes about slaves who had been brought into the army by some soldiers to serve as servants -- who then took the first opportunity to run away to the Northern lines, actions that surprised absolutely nobody. Nobody, except for their perplexed ex-owners: some of the rare amusing moments come when the author produces letters home from these Southerners, who couldn't imagine why their slaves had run away, After all, hadn't they always treated them right?. The level of denial is unbelievalble.)

The major battles are described in detail, along with the commanding officers. I could have used more maps (a major help in a military history), but since the focus of the book is not on the fighting itself, but the fighters, it wasn't necessary.

I really enjoyed the format of the book, which relies heavily on the soldiers' own words to flesh out the picture of the men who fought and why they fought. It was a good introduction to a period in history I knew nothing about. ( )
1 vote EdKupfer | Jul 5, 2009 |
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(Prologue) In mid-May 1864, Theodore Lyman, a Union officer on Maj. George G. Meade's staff, attempted to dispel the rumors that Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia were beaten.
Even though James Thomas Petty had resided in Washington, D.C., for years, he always identified himself as a Virginian.
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General Robert E. Lee's army was a surprise to almost everyone: With daring early victories and an invasion into the North, they nearly managed to convince the North to give up the fight. Astonishingly, after 150 years of scholarship, there are still some major surprises about the Army of Northern Virginia. Historian Joseph T. Glatthaar draws on sources assembled over two decades--from letters and diaries, to official war records, to a new, definitive database of statistics--to rewrite the history of the Civil War's most important army and, indeed, of the war itself. The history of Lee's army is a powerful lens on the entire war. The fate of Lee's army explains why the South almost won--and why it lost. The story of his men--their reasons for fighting, their cohesion, mounting casualties, diseases, supply problems, and discipline problems--tells it all.--From publisher description.

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