- Year of Desperate Struggle: Jeb Stuart and His Cavalry, from Gettysburg to Yellow Tavern, 1863–1864 by Monte Akers
Monte Akers is an attorney and the author of several other fiction and nonfiction books, including Year of Glory: The Life and Battles of Jeb Stuart and His Cavalry, June 1862–June 1863 (Philadelphia, 2013), the prequel to the book under review here. Rather than writing an all-encompassing biography of General J. E. B. Stuart, Akers targets a popular audience and offers a detailed examination of the last eleven months of the cavalry commander’s life, using soldier memoirs, newspaper articles, and official records.
Akers examines the events and the controversies in Stuart’s life in 1863–1864, including an analysis of General Robert E. Lee’s orders to Stuart in the days leading up to the battle of Gettysburg and the various accounts of Stuart’s wounding and death at the battle of Yellow Tavern. Akers argues that Stuart was greatly affected by the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg, more so than his contemporaries realized. Akers shows that the grand reviews, parties, balls, and raids that Stuart often conducted before Gettysburg diminished drastically in frequency and scope after that battle. Positive and effervescent before Gettysburg, Stuart became so somber and subdued afterward that Akers claims that today’s doctors would possibly diagnose Stuart as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The nineteenth-century honor code is a more likely explanation for Stuart’s subdued behavior after Gettysburg.
Akers writes with a detailed storytelling style, though sometimes the narrative is labored. The book contains a nice section of photographs and five maps, though additional maps would improve the book. Akers uses a variety of sources, but he uses them unevenly. Some chapters have significantly more documentation than others, though few have sufficient documentation for a secure place in the historiography. Additionally, the book takes a few detours off the main path of the argument, detours that Akers does not fully explain and for which he provides insufficient evidence. An entire chapter examines the Dahlgren Affair, an incident in which Stuart was not significantly involved. In another chapter, Akers digresses into speculation about graphology, the study of the relationship between handwriting and personality. Akers notes that Stuart’s graphology might indicate an “unfulfilled” sexual appetite (p. 164). While a general audience might find this interesting speculation, it has no place in the historical record.
Though the book does not offer any new research or information, it is a lively and entertaining read, but readers should exercise discretion in order to separate the speculation from the historical information, which might be difficult for readers new to Stuart. The bibliography does not contain full bibliographic information or formatting, and internal documentation is unclear. But to its credit, the book offers some interesting angles on the most [End Page 685] controversial topics related to Stuart and draws many of its conclusions based on evidence from memoirs and other records.