Monday, October 5, 2009

Review: Shenandoah 1862

Shenandoah 1862
By Peter Cozzens

Aside from Robert E. Lee the most venerated figure to emerge from the gunpowder haze shroud of the American Civil War is Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson. His military successes are the stuff from which legends are made. And yet until now, there as been no single volume written about one his most famous campaigns: the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Many books have, however been written about the various battles, individually, which made up the campaign, and many of those cover their topics mainly from the Confederate viewpoint. With his book, “Shenandoah 1862” not only has Peter Cozzens given us a single volume to cover the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 in its entirety, but he has also given us an evenly weighted volume of the campaign which equally views the events from the Union and Confederate viewpoints.

In most books where “Stonewall” Jackson appears he, as a character, tends to dominate. Cozzens’ has done his best to keep General Jackson from overwhelming his narrative. The author has, in fact, strayed from the cult of Jackson and has given us a reevaluation of Jackson as a commander, unflattering as it may occasionally be. Cozzens’ points to two particular flaws in Jackson’s character: his secretiveness, and when defeated his tendency to place blame on his subordinates.

Jackson kept his plans so secret that even his second in command did not know them. Cozzens points out the error of this secrecy and uses the Battle of Kearnstown to illustrative example. Cozzens goes on to point out that Jackson was a very religious man who never failed to credit the blessing of God with a victory on the battlefield, but when defeated Jackson found no fault with God, or himself for that matter, but instead often found a scapegoat in one of his subordinates.

Cozzens’ also highlights Jackson’s inefficiency in his tendency to send troops into a battle in a piece-meal fashion, choosing several small attacks instead of one massive and concentrated movement against the enemy. By choosing to fight a battle in such away, Jackson unnecessarily increased the number of Confederate casualties.

Conversely to Jackson, Union commander, Nathaniel Banks, benefits from Mr. Cozzens revisionism. Previously Banks had been painted as a lack-luster and inept political general, but in “Shenandoah 1862” the author points out that in Banks fought a delaying action from Winchester in order to provide enough time for his supply train time to escape. So successful was this delaying action that Banks lost only about 100 of his five hundred wagons.

In conclusion, Jackson emerges triumphant, though his star has been dimmed a bit. He succeeded in his goal of diverting Federal troops from the Army of the Potomac, on the Peninsula in front of Richmond, and fighting them in the valley of the Shenandoah River instead.

“Shenandoah 1862” is Cozzens’ sixteenth book in eighteen years. The subjects of books have covered the American Civil War and the Indian Wars of the American West. Mr. Cozzens is an officer in the U.S. State Department, and does a great deal of his research from abroad, as well as on trips home. Considering the depth and breadth of his research in his books, this feat is nothing less than extraordinary. Cozzens’ hefty tome is a well researched, well written and evenly balanced account of Jackson’s 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. No student of Stonewall Jackson or his Valley Campaign should be without a copy.

ISBN 978-0807832004, The University of North Carolina Press, © 2008, Hardcover, 640 pages, Photographs, illustrations, Maps, Appendix, Endnotes, Bibliography & Index. $35.00

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