- The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862
This eighth volume of Gary Gallagher's excellent series "Military Campaigns of the Civil War" brings together eight new essays on the episode that most people think of as "Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign." Like all the volumes in Gallagher's series this one does not attempt a comprehensive interpretation of the campaign, but it illuminates a diverse array of more limited topics within it.
One of the more interesting themes addressed in the collection is the Northern side of the campaign. So often historians have focused almost exclusively on Jackson's brilliance and referred to Northern efforts only in passing. When Union efforts are analyzed, the usual conclusion reached is that Northern aims were defensive and confused and the Union field commanders inept. Two essays take this view to task. The first, by Gallagher himself, argues persuasively that Lincoln and Stanton had clear offensive purposes in mind and did their best from Washington to energize and coordinate the Union effort to capture or destroy Jackson's force. In many ways contradicting Gallagher is a piece by William Miller that excuses the seeming ineptness of the Union commanders by arguing that, because of circumstances beyond their control (chiefly weather and logistics), their task in the valley was nearly hopeless and that those in Washington (Lincoln and Stanton) were almost scandalously unaware of the difficulties that these forces faced. Although Miller goes out of his way to declare that his findings should not call into question the legendary brilliance of Jackson's campaign against three separate Union forces that vastly outnumbered him, in fact they do. If the Union effort was mortally handicapped by problems of weather, logistics, and incompetent leadership in Washington, then perhaps Jackson's victories over these forces should be seen as less surprising and brilliant than legend would have it. [End Page 98]
Robert K. Krick's purpose is not to offer a judgment on Jackson's brilliance, but to demonstrate how the thirty-three days of the Valley Campaign vaulted Jackson to legendary status in Confederate lore. Though he had acquired his incomparable nickname at First Bull Run, he had done little since to cement his reputation among the Confederate faithful. By the end of the valley campaign, however, his public image as "Mighty Stonewall" was secure. He was loved at home, feared in the north, and even in England his legend "burned brightly" (36). According to Krick, after the Valley Campaign, the only Confederates who remained skeptical were "motivated by jealousy" (36).
The themes of "image" and "memory" run through a number of the essays. In our post-modern age we are acutely aware that things are not always what they seem, that image and actuality often diverge, and that our memory of the past is often a later construct that has little to do with what actually happened. Keith Bohannon's essay on the 12th Georgia reminds us that wartime censorship and postwar memoirs often conveniently left out evidence of conflict or cowardice among Civil War units. The 12th Georgia suffered from both, but nevertheless, as Bohannon makes clear, its image was constructed primarily from its finer moments in the field. Peter Carmichael focuses his attention on "Turner Ashby's Appeal," not to argue that this celebrated though ill-fated commander did not merit his place in Confederate annals, but to demonstrate that his appeal and his accomplishments stemmed from entirely different sources than his reputation maintains. Hardly the Virginia cavalier of legend, Ashby was successful because he understood and appealed to the yeoman characteristics of the people of the Valley and the men whom he led.
Robert E. L. Krick's essay attempts to improve the image of Gen. Charles S. Winder, whom he calls "Maryland's Ablest Confederate." This may seem a bit like labeling a structure "the tallest building in Topeka." If Winder was indeed the ablest man Maryland produced for the Confederacy, then the state produced far more potential than results, for Winder's...