Keith D. Dickson - Douglas Southall Freeman (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 265-266

Douglas Southall Freeman. By David E. Johnson. Gretna, La.: Pelican Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1-58980-021-4. Photographs. Illustrations. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 476. $27.50.

Douglas Southall Freeman was one of the preeminent military historians of the twentieth century. His main works, R. E. Lee and Lee's Lieutenants, have never been out of print. So thorough was his research that these magisterial volumes have become the standard history of the Army of Northern Virginia. Although other biographers have chronicled Lee's life since Freeman, they all stand in the shadow of the master. Likewise, many books have been written about the campaigns in the Eastern Theater, but every author has found that Freeman had already covered the ground. He made his living, however, as a journalist, putting in a full workday editing the Richmond News Leader for over thirty years. During World War I, his editorials analyzing the war in Europe were so thorough that President Woodrow Wilson read them as a source of intelligence. He became famous in World War II by describing the campaigns of the European and Pacific Theaters by drawing on parallels to Lee's Civil War campaigns, and overlaying the terrain of France or the Philippines on Virginia to assist his readers in understanding complex military operations. He kept company with great commanders who valued his prodigious knowledge of warfare: Nimitz, Churchill, Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Marshall.

How did Freeman accomplish so much in one lifetime? As author David E. Johnson so thoroughly illustrates, he lived a dual life by becoming a master of time management through an exercise of enormous self-discipline, making maximum use of what Freeman called "the economy of small idle time." Everything in his life had its precise place in the day for concentration: rising, eating, work, gardening, family time, reading and study, sleeping. This well-regulated life had its costs, and Johnson examines how those closest to Freeman often paid those costs more heavily than he did. This book greatly benefits from previously unavailable family material that reveals the personal side of this exceptional man. By concentrating on Freeman's literary life, Johnson has provided military historians with a number of valuable insights into Freeman's historical method and approach. Johnson allows the reader to observe the creation in progress, observing how Freeman used sources, made judgments, and crafted his prose. Johnson's narrative skills make this experience both fascinating and satisfying. This solid, well-researched, and engaging biography reveals Freeman as he himself would have wished to be seen. Johnson is content to remain within that [End Page 265] boundary and does not offer any broader assessments of Freeman's place in Southern history. As a Southerner and son of a Confederate veteran, Freeman's pursuit of a true rendering of history deserves additional analysis. Nevertheless, Johnson has laid the groundwork for future studies examining Douglas Southall Freeman's important contributions to shaping modern Southern identity through the use of history and memory.


Keith Dickson
Virginia Beach, Virginia