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Reviewed by:
  • Generals in Blue and Gray
  • Willard Carl Klunder
Generals in Blue and Gray. 2 vols. By Wilmer L. Jones. Vol. 1: Lincoln’s Generals. Pp. x, 376. Vol. 2: Davis’s Generals. Pp. x, 441. (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. $124.95.)

This Civil War monograph, written for the general reading public, outlines the roles of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis as commanders in chief and profiles the lives of their key generals. The focus is clearly on the military men themselves. Each volume contains twenty-one biographical sketches. Most of the choices are obvious, although the reader may wonder why Richard Taylor, say, was selected as a subject and Gouverneur K. Warren was not. Perhaps certain generals were included because they represent contrary viewpoints. Southerner Patrick Cleburne, for instance, "worked out a proposal to enlist blacks in the Confederate army" (2:156).

Jones occasionally captures the essence of his subjects with a well-turned phrase. "To some," Benjamin Butler "was a humanitarian; to others he was an opportunist; to none was he a competent general" (1:70). George Gordon Meade, "although only forty-seven, . . . looked considerably older, rather like a burned-out college professor" (1:285). More often, however, Jones retells commonplace characterizations. "McClellan was an excellent organizer and trainer of troops, . . . but when it came time for battle, he was slow and timid" (1:77). Some of his [End Page 86] observations border on the banal: "In hindsight, Davis was probably not the right man for the job" (2:35).

For the Civil War scholar, this work has a number of systemic flaws. Plainly, it exhibits a lack of rigorous editing. Three different versions of Lincoln's advice to Irvin McDowell—"you are all green alike"—appear as separate quotations (1:15, 49, 50). Similarly, wrong dates are provided for the Battles of Shiloh and Antietam (2:15, 340), and different dates for the death of A. P. Hill (2:273, 292). Grover Cleveland was both "elected president in 1884" and "left office in 1884" (1:69). In any collection of contemporaneous biographies, some repetition is unavoidable, but the reader is informed several times in the same chapter that Hugh Judson Kilpatrick served three months in prison for taking bribes (1:300, 303, 308). Conversely, Jones does not explain why Gen. D. H. Hill was so pessimistic early in the war, when the military tide was clearly running in the South's favor. Hill urged his wife to sell their Confederate bonds because they "will never be redeemed, even should we succeed, which is doubtful" (2:353).

Some of the historical errors in these volumes reflect uneven scholarship. "In 1858," John A. McClernand presciently "regained his seat in Congress by a landslide by claiming his Republican opponent, John Palmer, was an abolitionist who supported John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry" (1:129). In the same vein, without reference to the chronological incongruity, Jones reports that John C. Breckinridge "spoke against Lincoln's calling out of 75,000 troops, stating that it was this call to arms that had precipitated the war and the firing on Fort Sumter" (2:237).

Frequently the historical context is overly simplistic and misleading to the nonacademic reader. "When the Supreme Court became involved with the slavery issue, all past laws were ruled unconstitutional." And "the Dred Scott decision of 1857 ruled that no African American could be a citizen of the United States" (2:7). Jones indiscriminately jumbles the proceedings of the Charleston and Baltimore Democratic conventions while discussing the presidential election of 1860 (2:235–36). Nathan Bedford Forrest apparently was driven to commit the Fort Pillow massacre because the garrison consisted of a "nest of outlaws," half of whom "were escaped slaves; the other half . . . had allegedly been terrorizing Confederate sympathizers in the region" (2:163). Forrest, who reputedly killed thirty-one men in combat and was acquitted of murdering a freedman after the Civil War, left the Ku Klux Klan when it became "too violent" (2:175). The author does at least concede that Forrest was a "symbol of white supremacy" (2:174).

Jones acknowledges that these volumes were written with the "Civil War buff in mind...


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