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BOOK reviews The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox: Stonewall, McClellan and Their Brothers. By John C. Waugh. (New York: Warner Books, 1994. Pp. 656. $29.95.) Every West Point class has a certain degree of distinction. Naturally, some classes make extraordinary achievements. The Class of 1846 will always be a dramatic case in point. It began with 122 plebes, the largest entering class in Academy history up to that time. Fifty-nine of those cadets graduated and headed for the Mexican War. Several were killed or crippled there. More than a decade later, when civil war burst upon the land, a third of that West Point class rose to the rank of general. Some of those twenty men are unfamiliar names, but others are not: George B. McClellan, Jesse Reno, Darius N. Couch, Thomas J. Jackson , George Stoneman, Dabney H. Maury, George H. Gordon, Cadmus M. Wilcox, and George E. Pickett. (A. P. Hill is also included here with the class, even though illness delayed Hill's graduation by a year.) As teenagers, they studied together; as young men, they served alongside one another in Mexico; as seasoned soldiers, they fought each other in America 's great test ofnationhood. Their story is variously humorous, sad, unique, exciting. Their story is a personal account of a young country defining itself. John Waugh has produced a study that has few parallels in Civil War history . The intent is to present collective profiles of thirty-four of those graduates . The author tracks one for a distance, shifts to another when an intersection occurs, and follows paths sometimes parallel and sometimes perpendicular . In attempting what is in essence a single biography of thirty-four individuals, gaps and omissions are inevitable; but in the main, Waugh weaves a fascinating and sometimes gripping narrative. The book's best sections are in the front. Utilizing manuscript sources at West Point, Waugh relates how teenagers from every walk of life and every corner of America came to the Academy in 1842 in search of a future. Littleknown cadet reminiscences illuminate the West Point years as few previous works have. Even though the stories of the brilliant McClellan, the plodding Jackson, and the fun-loving Pickett are well-known, they emerge here in more organized fashion and with deeper meaning. Waugh then takes the reader into the Mexican War. His account of Gen. Winfield Scott's great campaign from Veracruz to Mexico City is fast paced and easily digestible. Old classmates met there, fought there, and shared in BOOK REVIEWS249 various ways the American victory. Jackson and McClellan occupy center stage, with others making brief appearances at the expense of the hapless Mexicans. It is almost to be expected that the book begins to lose cohesiveness thereafter . Careers took various turns as officers went on a variety of duties. Waugh had to pick and choose which ones to follow. His selections will not win unanimous approbation, although most of them are solid. Since the author's roots are in the soil of "Stonewall" Jackson's hometown , that graduate of 1846 dominates the book. His every military move receives close attention—perhaps too close for the book's framework. Why it was necessary to describe the May 23, 1862, "battle" of Front Royal so minutely, while completing overlooking the 1862 Peninsular campaign of George McClellan, is a mystery. Another instance of imbalance is with the earlier discussion of events at Fort Sumter. The detail given to that episode hardly seems justified, when the only 1846 West Pointer there was Truman Seymour. His activities were minor. The above is not so much criticism as it is a warning that those West Point classmates do not receive equal shares of attention by any means. Indeed (as is so often the case in historical reporting), some of the thirty-four graduates whom Waugh selected are on the list because they left written records of their actions. Save for the West Point years, Waugh relied on printed sources—especially primary material in such periodicals as the Southern Historical Society Papers. His choices of "eyewitness" accounts were not always the best. John Esten Cooke and Henry Kyd Douglas, neither of whom ever...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 248-249
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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