General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse, Joseph Glatthaar, Free Press, 624 pages, 19 maps, 41 photographs, appendix, notes, bibliopraphy, index, $35.00.
An exceptional history by professional standards and a thoroughly entertaining work! Glatthaar's General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse is a finely balanced match of statistics and story. Not driven by campaigns and chronology, but by the soldiers and their voices, Glathaar's effort opens the Army of Northern Virginia in a way unlike D.S. Freeman's Lee's Lieutenants. Recently, several battle studies have used soldiers' diaries in an intimate way; Rable's Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!; John Michael Priests' Antietam: The Soldiers' Battle, Tracey Power's Lee's Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox and Noah Trudeau's Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage. Glathaar has managed in 472 pages of narrative (yes, there are 150 pages of appendix, notes, bibliography and index) to re-introduce both the scholar and the lay reader to the Army of Northern Virginia.
Those readers who enjoy Bell Irvin Wiley's Johnny Reb and Billy Yank, John Billings' Coffee and Hardtack or Sam Watkins' Company Atch should confidently approach General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse. Individual chapters focus upon religion and morality, arms and ammunition, combat, the homefront, medical care, desertion, and black Confederates. Campaigns and their battles are covered as they impact the soldiers in the ranks. Lee is treated honestly and without hagiography or disdain. Slavery is put in its place as a cause of the war, as a cause worth dying for and as a cause for regret.
CWL will place it on the Top Ten of 2008 and will return to General Lee's Army: From Victory of Collapse again. Most moving for CWL were three chapters 'The Grind of War', 'Spiral of Defeat' and 'The Final Days.' The collapse of the Army of the Northern Virginia, after a year of sacrifice beyond endurance by the men in the ranks, is nearly heartbreaking.