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BOOK REVIEWS8l ture aboardSumter established his pattern throughout the next three years: good treatment of prisoners, acquisition of the ship's chronometer, and adherence to international law. Then came the Alabama cruise—Semmes's most famous. Spencer argues convincingly that the source of Semmes's success was his knowledge of the winds, currents, and seas. This chapter is richly detailed—but it is also the most traditional, based largely on Semmes's Service Afloat and describing events that have been covered many times. To his credit, Spencer notes that Gideon Welles correctly focused on the blockade rather than the capture of Alabama. Alabama's battle with Kearsarge has been recounted many times, so there is little that Spencer can add. In his view, Semmes had no alternative but to fight— despiteAlabama's decrepit condition—whileKearsarge, protecting herselfwith chains, won the battle "by deceit and trickery." Here, Spencer cannot separate himselffrom his subject's point ofview. Semmes was, essentially, an old-school naval man fighting a forward-looking foe. Despite his undeniable accomplishments , he was a man of the past, defeated by the future—much like the wouldbe nation for which he was fighting. This, then, is the book's principal weakness. It is (understandably) written so much from Semmes's perspective that it becomes defensive about his every belief and action. There are ethicaljudgements to be made, but Spencer retreats from making them. In all, Spencer is fuzzy on Semmes's legacy and skirts its negative aspects. The book provides a new and thoughtful overall thesis rather than any significant new detail. It is for that fresh thesis that Spencer's biography will be the standard work on Semmes for years to come. Kenneth J. Blume Albany College of Pharmacy Richards. Ewell: A Solder's Life. By Donald C. Pfanz. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Pp. xix, 655. $39.95.) With this book, Donald C. Pfanz, a U.S. Parks Service employee, has three stated objectives: to provide an account of Ewell's entire life; to render a more balanced portrait of Ewell than that of the eccentric second-ranker described by Freeman; and to reassess the totality of Ewell's U.S. and Confederate military career, while striking a balance more favorable than others have done. With respect to his first objective, Pfanz clearly succeeds and, in the process, has produced a colorful, well-written adventure story. In the first eight chapters, Pfanz covers Ewell's genteel, impoverished, and complex childhood in northern Virginia, his years at West Point (Class of 1 840), and his subsequent adventures with the U.S. First Dragoons in Mexico and the American West. When Ewell reluctantly resigned May 1861, he was a bored, ailing forty-four-yearold captain with demonstrated entrepreneurial urges. The next twenty-one chapters describe Ewell's Confederate experiences, followed by a concluding three 82CIVIL WAR HISTORY chapters covering the general's brief war-end imprisonment and his subsequent years—until his death at the age of fifty-five in 1 872—as a successful planter. If Pfanz succeeds in rescuing Ewell from relative neglect (or at least superficial treatment), he fails to establish that Ewell was not substantially eccentric. To the contrary, Pfanz's exhaustive recitation of colorful but peculiar behavior unwittingly reinforces the very perception that Pfanz seeks to overturn. With respect to Pfanz's third objective, his desire to "rehabilitate" Ewell's reputation from criticism ofhis catastrophic inability to seize Gettysburg's Cemetery Hill and CuIp's Hill on July 1, 1863, the author's efforts seem much like the so-called Scotch verdict: not proven. Similarly, in muting Ewell's "stumble" at Gettysburg and in rendering a favorable overall career assessment, Pfanz deprives the reader of insight into how he weighs each component of Ewell's military performance in striking his net balance. For example, both Ewell and Pfanz cite the general's fierce September 1 864 defense ofRichmond as his greatest achievement, yet how does this accomplishment weigh against Ewell's role in the botched evacuation and inadvertent incineration of the same city seven months later, or—for that matter—against his ineffectiveness at Spotsyl-vania or Gettysburg? To this reader, Pfanz...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 81-82
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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