Monday, August 11, 2014

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson

Author:  S. C. Gwynne
Genre:  Biography, History, the Civil War

Five Stars

Stonewall Jackson has long been a figure of legend and romance. As much as any person in the Confederate pantheon, even Robert E. Lee, he embodies the romantic Southern notion of the virtuous lost cause. Jackson is also considered, without argument, one of our country’s greatest military figures. His brilliance at the art of war tied Abraham Lincoln and the Union high command in knots and threatened the ultimate success of the Union armies. Jackson’s strategic innovations shattered the conventional wisdom of how war was waged; he was so far ahead of his time that his techniques would be studied generations into the future.

In April 1862 Jackson was merely another Confederate general in an army fighting what seemed to be a losing cause. By June he had engineered perhaps the greatest military campaign in American history and was one of the most famous men in the Western world. He had, moreover, given the Confederate cause what it had recently lacked—hope—and struck fear into the hearts of the Union.

Rebel Yell is written with the swiftly vivid narrative that is Gwynne’s hallmark and is rich with battle lore, biographical detail, and intense conflict between historical figures. Gwynne delves deep into Jackson’s private life, including the loss of his young beloved first wife and his regimented personal habits. It traces Jackson’s brilliant twenty-four-month career in the Civil War, the period that encompasses his rise from obscurity to fame and legend; his stunning effect on the course of the war itself; and his tragic death; which caused both North and South to grieve the loss of a remarkable American hero.

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First off, let me say that I absolutely love anything and everything to do with The Civil War (even going so far as to marrying a man who grew up outside Gettysburg).  That said, I was excited to read this book, and I must say that I was not disappointed.

This is truly an exceptional book about an exceptional human being.  Mr. Gwynne does an excellent job of detailing not only the life of General Jackson, but also the lives of the people around him; the events that shaped his life; and the events of this sad, but necessary, war.

I did not know the sad circumstances surrounding General Jackson's early life: his father passing when he was but a child, his mother's remarriage and subsequent death, and his being "farmed out" to relatives.  He was at least lucky enough to be welcomed into a family that truly loved him.  He had an early marriage to Ellen, which ended abruptly when she died after giving birth to a stillborn son; but he was fortunate enough to find love again and from all appearances and letters which have survived to this day, they truly loved one another, eventually having a daughter, Julia - of which the general was indeed fond.

He was a professor of physics at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), from which he left to continue his military career; and extremely religious, which he carried with him in his day-to-day life: when his first wife Ellen passed away, he was comforted in the knowledge that she was with God, but it did not, in turn, keep him from deep grief.  Yet he never let his beliefs keep him from what he thought was his military duty: he was a stern officer and rigorous commander, unpredictable; yet at the same time, he could be extremely caring toward his men.  He was thoughtful, kind, tender and sensitive toward his family and friends; and while he kept to himself, he also was a loving and gentle husband when he was with Anna (his second wife).  He believed himself ill quite often, keeping to a rigorous diet of stale bread and water, very little meat; never even to have been known to drink tea or coffee.

It is a testament to Jackson that when he was mortally wounded his troops refused to leave him behind.  He was hit three times, and when the battle was still raging, his aide covered Jackson with his own body to protect him.  It could not, however, save him.  His wife was sent for, and on May 10, 1863, the country lost one of the greatest generals that ever lived.

I have always been fascinated with General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson; not only for his prowess in battle, but for the man he was, his clear eyes showing everything.  I am a firm believer that the eyes truly are the windows to the soul; and his reveal everything that has been shown here.  I do not know what more I can say except to stress that this book is indeed worth reading.  Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the Civil War and/or its commanders.

I received a free copy for review, but this in no way influenced my decision.

http://www.amazon.com/Rebel-Yell-Violence-Redemption-Stonewall/dp/1451673280/

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