- Inventing Stonewall Jackson: A Civil War Hero in History and Memory by Wallace Hettle
In a graduate seminar a decade ago, in the midst of discussing David Blight's seminal work, Race and Reunion (2001), a fellow student declared memory studies to be nothing more than a fad. Examining the Civil War era through the lens of memory deserved a place on the shelf next to bellbottoms and eight-track tapes. However, memory studies have exploded in recent years and created a permanent niche within Civil War scholarship. In the last few years, memory has played a key role in several different topical examinations. New biographies have emerged that examine the memory of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman and his March to the Sea, John Bell Hood, and John Brown. At the same time, memory [End Page 134] has enriched our understanding of the Fort Pillow and Crater massacres of African American soldiers; the horrific conditions at Andersonville; the experiences of various regiments, such as the Irish Brigade; the battles at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville; and the preservation efforts to sustain battlefields at Shiloh and Chickamauga. Thus, Wallace Hettle's new examination of Stonewall Jackson, a man traditionally shrouded in myth, fits perfectly within the recent vibrant contributions in Civil War memory.
Stonewall Jackson's military story is a familiar one, especially to those who have seen Ken Burns's documentary or stepped foot on the Manassas battlefield and run into the statue of Jackson and his warhorse, clearly not constructed to scale. The architect behind military victories at Second Manassas, the Shenandoah Valley, and Chancellorsville, Jackson earned a high favorability rating from his superior commander, Robert E. Lee. His legend emerged quickly in the aftermath of his death on May 10, 1863, leaving generations of southerners and historians, for that matter, to speculate what might have been had he survived a bout with pneumonia. The author blends a brief military biography with an examination of how contemporary memorialists portrayed Jackson as an admirable figure, but still a man of mystery, without any "reliable understanding of Jackson's remarkable personality" (26).
Hettle starts his literary exploration with Robert Lewis Dabney, Jackson's authorized biographer and colleague; Dabney employed the quintessential rags-to-riches story and ascribed Jackson's success to hard work and "evangelical zeal" (28). Dabney's literary rival, John Esten Cooke, constructed the eccentric Jackson, the lemon-sucking and superstitious commander that has remained a dominant impression of Jackson for decades. Mary Anna Jackson worked tirelessly to correct portrayals of her late husband's eccentricities, which appeared in memoirs by some of Jackson's fellow comrades in arms as well as the fictional novels of Mary Johnston. Hettle includes an assessment of Allen Tate's depiction of Jackson, which evolved over the course of the early twentieth century from Lost Cause wonk to sharp critic of how the Confederacy embraced slavery. He also tackles Jeff Shaara's Gods and Generals (1996) and the atrocious film adaptation helmed by director Ron Maxwell. Hettle's analysis of the book and film is short, however, and does not include Gary Gallagher's 2008 analysis of the film in Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten.
By focusing exclusively on literature and one recent film, Hettle only scratches the surface of Jackson's memory. At times, he spends a great deal of time talking about each author's biographical background, additional memory squabbles not involving Jackson, and how the issue of race functioned within the literature. He only briefly touches on the more [End Page 135] recent historical biographies of Jackson, such as those by Charles Royster or James Robertson. The author notes that he diminishes Royster and Robertson because his "goal is not to provide a definitive interpretation of the authentic Jackson but to use memoir and biography to understand both southern culture and the subjective element of biography" (9). Yet historians serve as keepers of the memories pertaining to Jackson, and a further exploration of the biographies by...