Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served Under Robert E. Lee (review)
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Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served Under Robert E. Lee. By Joseph T. Glatthaar. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. xvi, 209. $50.00 cloth)

This book is the companion volume to Glatthaar’s history of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s army, published in 2008. In General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse, the scope is sweeping. Camp and battle, generals and privates, all receive their share of analysis. The focus is more narrow and detailed in Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia. Glatthaar analyzes a sample of six hundred soldiers he compiled over years of research to draw his conclusions about this most formidable of Confederate armies. The twelve chapters explore, among other topics, the infantry, officers and enlisted men, year of enlistment, marriage and fatherhood, and slaveholding. Much of the data are presented in 130 graphs that are nicely detailed and easy to comprehend. [End Page 115]

As the heart of the book, the sample of six hundred soldiers needs more explanation here. The men are distributed by branches of service to reflect that of the Army of Northern Virginia, with three hundred soldiers from the infantry and the remainder evenly split between the artillery and the cavalry. The men come from every Confederate state, in addition to three of the border states. Arkansas, Florida, and Kentucky are tied for a low of four soldiers each, while Virginia and its 239 soldiers more than doubles the next largest contingent (North Carolina). Glatthaar collected fifty-four categories of information on each name from a wide range of sources, including military service records, census records, regimental histories, and city directories.

The sample of soldiers is strong. Although the margin for error in the sample varies slightly depending on the topic under consideration, in general it falls at about 5 percent. That means that if another researcher gathered statistics similar to Glatthaar’s, they would fall almost every time within a range of 5 percent less or 5 percent greater than the numbers listed in Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia. By contrast, the U.S. Census Bureau uses a margin for error of 10 percent. Glatthaar concludes that by almost any academic standard, his is “a very good sample” (p. xi).

The numbers are far more than a mathematical exercise. Glatthaar correctly argues that too often in Civil War scholarship “we have gotten caught in a game of ‘he said, he said’” (p. xiii). Primary sources on the Civil War are so abundant that researchers might find quotations to support almost any argument. The one or two quotations are presented as if indicative of the attitudes held by the majority of Civil War soldiers. Statistics, when properly compiled, are strong evidence. This is not to suggest that scholars should abandon letters and diaries. Rather, when qualitative and quantitative analyses are combined, as in Glatthaar’s recent two studies, “readers gain a greater understanding of Lee’s troops and their experiences” (p. ix–x). The reading is sometimes slow, and Glatthaar acknowledges as much. Each chapter also seems written as a stand-alone essay, so [End Page 116] the information is sometimes repetitive. But the data are worth the occasional dry one or two pages. Readers will find out, among other important topics in Civil War scholarship, whether troops from the Upper South or Lower South were more likely to desert and when; whether officers or enlisted men suffered the greatest percentage of casualties in battle and from disease; and whether soldiers who owned slaves or came from slave-owning families performed their share—or more—of the fighting and dying.

The numbers matter to American history. As Glatthaar reminds readers, “While Lee’s army survived, the viability of an independent Confederacy continued to exist” (p. ix). From the data presented, more information is known about the Confederate war effort. And, just as important, more research topics into the Army of Northern Virginia, and Civil War armies in general, are opened.

Lawrence A. Kreiser

Lawrence A. Kreiser Jr. teaches history at Stillman College, a historically black college located...