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Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Cozzens comes east!

    Peter Cozzens established his reputation as an author with a series of excellent western battle histories. Now he turns his attention to one of the classic campaigns in America's military history. "Stonewall" Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign is one of the best examples of what a smaller determined force can accomplish. The Robert G. Tanner and Gary W. Gallagher produced excellent campaign studies and Gary L. Ecelbarger is doing excellent work on individual battles. Tanner's book has long been considered the "standard work" by which all other books are judged. I am not ready to dethrone Tanner but I feel this is a real challenger for the title of best campaign study.
    This is a detailed history, omitting nothing of importance and including most of the smaller details that make history interesting. This is not a dry, detailed account that plods on page after dreary page. Cozzens' lively style combines first person accounts with his considerable skill as a storyteller. The result is a history unfolding as it happened, imparting the urgency the participants felt to the reader. We know the story BUT we always understand how limited their knowledge was at the time. This ability makes bad decisions understandable and it shows the problem with doing nothing.
    General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson is one of the pivotal figures of the early war. Lionized by many, he became a mythic heroic saintly leader. Cozzens gives us a very human Jackson. He is a complex person completely committed to the cause. He is a harsh taskmaster, prone to snap judgments and unforgiving. This portrait is neither unflattering nor idolizing. It seems to be completely honest, presenting the good and bad points that all men have.
    N. P. Banks is a mixed bag, with some very good points as a person but a poor general. He is given a fair treatment that refused to make him a fool or a hero. Freemont is himself, vain, a poor general and a fool. The portrayal is what he was and nothing can change that. The treatment of Lincoln and Stanton is fair. While condemned for overreacting the author recognizes they lost sight of what was important and concentrated on a secondary front.
    The handling of Garnett is excellent. The "reasons" Jackson found for the charges are well covered. This includes the personality problems and differences in what they saw as the role of second in command. The full story of the court martial and political maneuvers is not detailed within the book.
    The writing is excellent. Battles are detailed, well covered and very understandable. The reader has no problems understanding why a position must be held or taken. The author's conclusions are well presented and quite good.
    My only problem with this book is the maps. First, they were not completely proofed. Units in the battle are misidentified on the map. Second, maps need to be placed where they are needed. A map of the midpoint of a battle should not be placed at the start of the story. Likewise, one map cannot cover multiple unit positions with no indication of movement. I found this to be a constant problem when trying to follow the battle on the map. However, this is not a reason to bypass this excellent book.
    I feel this will become a classic account of this campaign. The book is informative and fun to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 20, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign: Shenandoah 1862

    "Shenandoah 1862 struck me as one of the finest and most necessary Civil War campaign studies to appear in decades. It is the first balanced work on this important and misunderstood campaigns; that is, the first to tell the story of the campaign from both sides. The sole other modern work on the Shenandoah Valley campaign was Robert Tanner's 1976 book, Stonewall in the Valley. He presented the campaign solely from the Confederate perspective. You cannot tell the story of a campaign one dimensionally.

    Exciting conclusions about Jackson's performance and the impact of the campaign emerge from Cozzens' research; conclusions that convincingly refute most of what has been said of the Valley campaign in the past.

    I must also emphasize Cozzens' marvelous writing style. He is perhaps the only Civil War historian whose work rises to the level of literature.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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