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General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse

General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse

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General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse

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Mar 18, 2008


"You would be surprised to see what men we have in the ranks," Virginia cavalryman Thomas Rowland informed his mother in May 1861, just after joining the Army of Northern Virginia. His army -- General Robert E. Lee's army -- was a surprise to almost everyone: With daring early victories and an invasion into the North, they nearly managed to convince the North to give up the fight. Even in 1865, facing certain defeat after the loss of 30,000 men, a Louisiana private fighting in Lee's army still had hope. "I must not despair," he scribbled in his diary. "Lee will bring order out of chaos, and with the help of our Heavenly Father, all will be well."

Astonishingly, after 150 years of scholarship, there are still some major surprises about the Army of Northern Virginia. In General Lee's Army, renowned historian Joseph T. Glatthaar draws on an impressive range of sources assembled over two decades -- from letters and diaries, to official war records, to a new, definitive database of statistics -- to rewrite the history of the Civil War's most important army and, indeed, of the war itself. Glatthaar takes readers from the home front to the heart of the most famous battles of the war: Manassas, the Peninsula campaign, Antietam, Gettysburg, all the way to the final surrender at Appomattox. General Lee's Army penetrates headquarters tents and winter shanties, eliciting the officers' plans, wishes, and prayers; it portrays a world of life, death, healing, and hardship; it investigates the South's commitment to the war and its gradual erosion; and it depicts and analyzes Lee's men in triumph and defeat.

The history of Lee's army is a powerful lens on the entire war. The fate of Lee's army explains why the South almost won -- and why it lost. The story of his men -- their reasons for fighting, their cohesion, mounting casualties, diseases, supply problems, and discipline problems -- tells it all.

Glatthaar's definitive account settles many historical arguments. The Rebels were fighting above all to defend slavery. More than half of Lee's men were killed, wounded, or captured -- a staggering statistic. Their leader, Robert E. Lee, though far from perfect, held an exalted place in his men's eyes despite a number of mistakes and despite a range of problems among some of his key lieutenants.

General Lee's Army is a masterpiece of scholarship and vivid storytelling, narrated as much as possible in the words of the enlisted men and their officers.
Mar 18, 2008

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General Lee's Army - Joseph Glatthaar


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A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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New York, NY 10020

Copyright © 2008 by Joseph T. Glatthaar

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Free Press Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

FREE PRESS and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Glatthaar, Joseph T.

General Lee’s army: from victory to collapse / Joseph T. Glatthaar.

p. cm.

1. Confederate States of America. Army of Northern Virginia. 2. United States—History—Civil War, 1861–1865—Campaigns. 3. Virginia—History—Civil War, 1861–1865—Campaigns. 4. Lee, Robert E. (Robert Edward), 1807–1870—Military leadership. 5. United States—History—Civil War, 1861–1865—Regimental histories. 6. Soldiers—Confederate States of America—Attitudes. 7. Soldiers—Confederate States of America—Psychology. 8. Soldiers—Confederate States of America—Social conditions. I. Title.

E470.2.G58      2008

973.7'42—dc22 2007023724

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-9377-5

ISBN-10: 1-4165-9377-2

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For Jackie, Who Deserves It


List of Maps


1.    Comedy of Errors, Tragedy of Triumph

2.    Secession and Mobilizing for War

3.    The Volunteers of ’61

4.    Why They Enlisted

5.    Becoming Soldiers

6.    To Slaughter One Another Like Brutes

7.    A Great Canvass City

8.    Keeping the Army Together

9.    Clashes within the High Command

10.    Playing Troops Like Fireflies

11.    Lee in Command

12.    The Battle for Richmond: The Seven Days’ Campaign

13.    Taking War to the Enemy

14.    A Failure of Discipline

15.    Lee’s Officer Corps and Army Culture

16.    The Soldiers of ’62

17.    Supplying the Army

18.    Camp and Recreation

19.    Religion and Morality

20.    Chancellorsville

21.    Arms and Ammunition

22.    The Failure at Gettysburg

23.    Home Front

24.    Blacks and the Army

25.    Combat

26.    Lee and the High Command

27.    Preparing for the Spring Campaign of 1864

28.    The Overland Campaign

29.    The Trenches

30.    Medical Care

31.    Manpower

32.    Desertion

33.    The Grind of War

34.    Spiral of Defeat

35.    The Final Days

Appendix I: The Sample





1. First Manassas

2. Virginia Theater

3. Peninsula to Richmond, including Seven Pines

4. Valley Campaign

5. Seven Days’ Campaign

6. Second Manassas

7. Raid into Maryland

8. Battle of Antietam

9. Railroads from Northern Georgia to Virginia, with different gauges

10. Battle of Chancellorsville

11. Battle of Second Fredericksburg

12. Battle of Gettysburg

13. Battle of Chickamauga

14. Battle of the Wilderness

15. Battle of Spotsylvania

16. Overland Campaign to Petersburg

17. Siege of Petersburg, with battles denoted

18. Early’s Valley Campaign

19. Retreat to Appomattox


IN MID-MAY 1864, Theodore Lyman, a Union officer on Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s staff, attempted to dispel the rumors that Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia were beaten. Lee is a brave and skilful soldier and he will fight while he has a division or a day’s rations left. Of the soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia, Lyman wrote admiringly, These Rebels are not half-starved and ready to give up—a more sinewy, tawny, formidable-looking set of men could not be. In education they are certainly inferior to our native-born people; but they are usually very quick-witted within their own sphere of comprehension; and they know enough to handle weapons with terrible effect. Their great characteristic is their stoical manliness; they never beg, or whimper, or complain; but look you straight in the face, with as little animosity as if they never heard a gun. After three years of hard war against vastly superior Union strength and resources, the Army of Northern Virginia was still a deadly combat force. Not surprisingly to Lyman, it would take eleven more months of brutal fighting to subdue Lee’s army.¹

This is a study of those sinewy, tawny, formidable-looking set of men, as well as their brave and skilful commander, Lee. The saga of Lee’s army especially tells the broader story of the entire Civil War, because if you understand why his men fought, what hardships they endured, how they managed so much success against the vastly superior enemy, how they came close to winning, and why they lost, you understand fundamentally the war itself.

In order to see such a wide angle, this book reaches back more than a year before Lee assumed command of those troops, when they soldiered under Joseph E. Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard in Northern Virginia, or John Bankhead Magruder along the peninsula between the York and James rivers. Half of all the soldiers who ever served in the Army of Northern Virginia left home to don the Confederate uniform in 1861, and nearly three of every four enlisted before Lee assumed command. What made this army so special, however, was the combination of its soldiers and its new commander, Lee, in June 1862. Over the next few months, as Lee and his army drove the Union forces away from the gates of Richmond and xiii reclaimed nearly all of Virginia for the Confederacy, he won the hearts of the soldiers and the Confederate people. The Army of Northern Virginia became Lee’s army, and the soldiers took great pride in being part of it.

General Lee’s Army is based on contemporary evidence, specifically official documents and manuscripts and published letters and diaries of some 4,000 soldiers, tapping memoirs sparingly and only when the contemporary record supports those assertions. When I began this project in 1989, I concluded that postwar memoirs usually reflected more about the times in which their authors had written them than the war itself. In an attempt to settle various scholarly disputes and to guard against cherry-picking my evidence, I developed a statistically representative sample of Lee’s men, from compiled service records, census records, state tax records, family histories, obituaries, pension files, and other sources. This information has enabled me to address some of the most important questions, many of them answered unsatisfactorily by previous scholars, about who these soldiers and their families were and what their wartime experiences were like, including background, slave ownership, occupation, wealth, family, desertion, conscription, illnesses, casualties, and many more. To the extent that statistics are cited in the narrative, unless otherwise noted, they came from this sample.

This book is not an examination of the army from the top down, with an occasional colorful anecdote to uplift the narrative, nor is it exclusively a study from the bottom up, a depiction solely of life from the perspective of the common soldier. I have sought to blend those two approaches in order to develop important issues that influenced the motivations, attitudes, feelings, and conduct of officers and enlisted men throughout the course of the war. The book also highlights the interactions between soldiers and loved ones at home. To study the army in isolation from the home front, especially in a war to repel invaders, would be to ignore one of the most powerful influences on soldiers. Men entered the army in large part to defend their civil rights and protect loved ones and their homes from Union invasion. What occurred in the army influenced lives on the home front, and what took place on the home front affected soldiers in the field. As Lee explained to Jefferson Davis in early 1864 about the two fronts, They are one in reality & all for the Country.²

Many believed that the Confederacy never really stood a chance against the Union’s overwhelming numbers of men and industrial strength. Yet that belief ignores the different aims of the two sides. For the Union to win, it had to invade and subjugate the Rebels. For the Confederates to win independence, they merely had to convince the Union to stop trying to conquer them.

Confederate president Jefferson Davis formulated a strategy for independence that called on the Confederacy’s armies to punish enemy forces as they invaded Rebel territory, in hopes that severe losses would convince the Federals that the price in lives and treasure for restoring the Union was too severe. No Confederate army fulfilled that strategy as well as the Army of Northern Virginia. For four years, it held the larger Union Army of the Potomac at bay, and on several occasions it took the war into Yankeedom. General Lee’s army came far closer to winning the war than any other Confederate field command. Among soldiers and civilians, it became the embodiment of the Rebel cause. When Ellen Renshaw House, a fervent Confederate amid a hotbed of pro-Union sentiment in East Tennessee, learned the Army of Northern Virginia had surrendered at Appomattox Court House, she reconciled herself to the news by recording, we have depended too much on Gen Lee[,] too little on God, & I believe God has suffered his surrender to show us he can use other means than Gen Lee to affect his ends. Lee’s unparalleled success amid Confederate disasters in other theaters elevated his men to symbols of the independent Confederacy and, indeed, came close to convincing the Union to give up the fight. In the late stages of the war, as disaster upon disaster befell the Confederate people, many still clung to hope that Lee and his army might somehow stave off the horrible defeat that finally became inevitable. As long as Lee and his army survived, the Confederate States of America lived. When the Union crushed the Army of Northern Virginia, the rebellion was over.³

Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were the greatest nationalizing institution in the Confederacy. Their experiences reflected the strengths and weaknesses of the Confederacy. Soldiers brought cultural notions and values from home that shaped the way they felt and performed their duties as soldiers. The internal and external problems that ultimately caused the Confederacy to collapse were reflected within that army. In short, Lee’s army explains both why the Confederacy almost won, and why it lost.

In 1944, Douglas Southall Freeman completed his two-decade-long investigation of the Army of Northern Virginia. After a four-volume biography of its principal commander, Robert E. Lee, and three more tomes on Lee’s senior officers entitled Lee’s Lieutenants, Freeman provided a brilliant and seemingly exhaustive treatment of the uppermost echelons of the Confederacy’s premier army. Yet a most enthusiastic critic noticed that there was still room for work on the Army of Northern Virginia. The reviewer for the New York Times wrote that there was one more fruitful avenue of investigation, from the ground level. Future historians, he admonished, will be well advised to turn to ‘men and morale’ as the one rewarding field of study remaining to that army—rather than attempting further studies of strategy and tactics.

Since then, scholars and enthusiasts have written thousands of books on various aspects of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, but no one has embarked upon a major investigation of the army throughout the entire war. That is the intention of this book.

In all cases, I have kept the quotations and spellings the same, although I have capitalized the first letter for each new sentence to avoid unnecessary distraction to the reader.


Chapter 1


EVEN THOUGH James Thomas Petty had resided in Washington, D.C., for years, he always identified himself as a Virginian. When it came time to choose sides in the sectional crisis, Thomas, as his friends called him, had no difficulty. He left the Union for the Confederate States of America just as Virginia did.

Born in 1836 in Falmouth, Virginia, Thomas lived there and in Front Royal, Virginia, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains during his youth. His father, James S. Petty, was a tailor by trade, and not a notably successful one at that. In 1860, at age fifty-three, James Petty owned no land and held personal property worth a meager $150.00. Although he never made much money, James and his wife, Margaret, emphasized schooling for their children. At fourteen, Thomas could have helped to ease the financial woes of the family by seeking employment. Instead, his family scrimped while Thomas secured a superior education, which reaped dividends for the rest of his life.¹

Avoiding his father’s craft and, for that matter, other forms of manual labor, young Thomas gravitated toward the nation’s capital in the early 1850s in search of employment. With support from his father’s family, he found employment as a clerk, earning decent wages with the promise of economic mobility and financial security. A bright and pleasant lad, about medium height with hazel eyes and dark hair, Thomas carved out a strong network of friends and connections in and around Washington. He socialized broadly, forging relationships with other aspiring young men from modest backgrounds, and with quite a number of single young women.²

On January 1, 1861, Petty called on President James Buchanan to offer him a happy New Year. Poor Old Buck! he jotted in his diary. He looks careworn, and the effects of ‘Secession’ are visible in his countenance. Barely a week earlier, South Carolina had voted to withdraw from the Union, and rumblings from other slave states suggested that more would follow.³

Along with other Washingtonians, Petty rejoiced when rumors circulated that Senator John Crittenden’s committee had eked out a compromise. It would have overseen the adoption of perpetually binding constitutional amendments that would secure slavery forever and guarantee slavery in territories south of the Missouri Compromise line, 36°, 30'. A mountain seemd removed from every heart, he exulted. But that, too, quickly unraveled.

Soon, the electricity of the times seized him, as it did hundreds of thousands of others. The thrill of momentous events, the culmination of decades of struggle over the legality and geography of slavery, was so exciting that it clouded his mind to solutions and consequences. The South, he proclaimed joyously, is in a blaze. On behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he argued with friends so vociferously that he had to avoid political discussions to preserve his bond with them. When Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor fell to Rebel gunners in mid-April, he erupted with joy. Soon thereafter, when Virginia seceded, he announced his decision: All my friends nearly condemn me but believing I’m right I still cry hurrah for Old Virginia! Whither she goes I’ll follow.

Although neither Petty nor his parents had slaves, many people he knew from days as a youth and an adult did—his uncle in Front Royal owned a dozen. Slaveholding was a Southern right, and Petty detested Black Republicans for their goals of stripping Southerners of their civil liberties as the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had reaffirmed. He took great pride in his standing as "Virginian & a Southerner."

By mid-April, Petty had written his parents to inform them where he stood on the national crisis. A week later, he arrived in Front Royal, determined to enlist in the army. Two of his cousins had already left for Harpers Ferry to serve in the Warren Rifles, and he decided to join them. Before the month was out, Thomas Petty drilled on the green in front of Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria, where George Washington and Robert E. Lee had worshiped.

It did not take long before Petty’s officers discovered the value of his clerking talents. After a stint as recorder for a court-martial, duty that earned him the praise of the judge advocate, his captain asked him to prepare the company rolls. Soon, the brigade commissary sought his labor, and a struggle for Petty’s services ensued that went all the way to the brigade commander, Brig. Gen. James Longstreet. Longstreet directed that Petty should remain with his regiment.

In mid-July, a Union army of 32,000 under Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell marched southward toward the main Confederate body that guarded Manassas Junction, where the Manassas Gap Railroad from Front Royal intersected the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Advanced Rebel units fell back in the face of the large Union column, joining forces with other elements of Brig. Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard’s command behind a sluggish, fairly shallow stream with steep banks called Bull Run, about one and a half miles from Manassas Junction.

Petty’s regiment, the 17th Virginia Infantry, had only pulled its component companies together in late June. Along with the rest of Longstreet’s Brigade, it guarded Blackburn’s Ford across Bull Run, on the right of Beauregard’s line. About noon on July 18, the lead column of the Union command approached, placing the entire regiment under fire for the first time. To open the contest, Union artillery hurled projectiles to the left of the brigade. Soon, the fire drifted on top of the 17th. As the soldiers hugged the ground for protection, Federal infantrymen deployed and delivered volleys at the Rebel line. Some soldiers panicked and began withdrawing to the rear. Suddenly, Longstreet rode among them. A large and powerful man who appeared like a giant on horseback, Longstreet’s imperturbability amid enemy gunfire reassured the raw troops and restored order. Others held their ground but nervously fidgeted with their firing hammers, itching for a chance to respond in kind. Once Confederates countered with volleys of their own, many of them regained composure. The mere act of defending themselves, and the physical activity of loading and firing, dissipated skittishness among the inexperienced volunteers.

In haste, soldiers loaded and fired, but not in accordance with the procedures officers had taught the men. Perspiration streamed down on the warm day, combining with gunpowder to form a black batter on their faces. Hands, too, took on a charcoal hue from careless pouring of gunpowder into musket barrels. Most men were soon barely recognizable. Hours passed in what appeared to be only seconds. One soldier recalled little of the fight, except his captain parading behind them directing their fire, and his shooting a Yankee some seventy yards out. For that act of killing, he shed no tears of remorse. Well, I was fighting, for my house, and he had no business there, he wrote.

Three times the Yankees tried to drive off the Rebel defenders, and three times they fought them back. Finally, Rebel volleys suppressed Federal rifle fire enough to allow three companies from the 17th Virginia to rush across Bull Run. Popping up on the Union flank, they delivered withering blasts that forced the attackers into retreat.

Despite some shaky moments, Longstreet’s Brigade, and the 17th Virginia Infantry, acquitted themselves well in their first firefight. All told, Longstreet’s command suffered seventy casualties while inflicting eighty-three on the attackers. One member of the 17th was killed, with another eighteen wounded. Petty gazed on the corpse of the only fatality, Tom Sangster, of Alexandria. A triumphant smile rested like a ray of sunshine upon his marble-like features, he commented. At least some of those casualties, Petty complained, were victims of friendly fire. Frightened men shot first and identified targets later. Just say boo! grumbled Petty the day after, & pop goes a gun at whoever is before them.

Petty himself witnessed no action that day. Off on an errand for his regimental commander, he returned after the fighting was done. Chagrined by his own absence, and perhaps a bit embarrassed, Petty extracted a promise from his colonel two days later that he could return to his company for the remainder of the campaign. Next time, he would not miss the fight.

Yet the next time, the true Battle of First Manassas on July 21, was even more embarrassing for Petty. Deployed as skirmishers in advance of the Rebel army, Petty and his captain were nearly captured. While running back to Rebel lines, they both stumbled and fell into Bull Run. As Petty plunged into the water, his musket slipped from his grasp. His body crashed into a rock just below the surface, bruising him badly, and as he rolled away, he knocked his captain back under. Completely saturated, the two struggled with each other and the current to stand once more. Hastily, Petty felt around for his weapon, without success. He was suddenly unarmed and in the midst of the largest battle yet fought on the North American continent. Petty limped back to Confederate trenches to secure another rifled musket. By the time he returned to the company, his captain had realized that Petty’s bruise was severe enough to prevent him from moving quickly. He ordered the private back to camp. Petty hobbled off to a commanding hill, and from 11:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M., watched the battle from safety. The simultaneous roar of musketry and artillery from both sides must have stunned the green soldier. One eyewitness described it to his father by writing, It was one continual thunder upon thunder until the Earth seemed to shake its very foundations. By very late afternoon, eruptions of gunfire slowly dissipated, and as darkness settled on the field, Petty returned to the trenches.¹⁰

First Manassas

For Thomas Petty and many others, the start of the war was a comedy of errors, more slapstick than drama. His story is a useful reminder that any single narrative of the war, any story of one united army defeating another, obscures as much as it clarifies. War is the sum total of its individual stories, from comedy to romance to drama to tragedy.

The only way to develop the full story of a war is to tell a number of its individual stories, while keeping them in balance. The Confederacy had some Thomas Pettys, but it had many more Jesse Jordans. Jordan and his comrades in the 4th Alabama Infantry experienced the harsh realities of war at First Manassas. A twenty-one-year-old from Huntsville, Alabama, Jordan had grown up in a very wealthy slaveholding family. His father, a planter, held personal property and real estate worth $50,000, a staggering sum in 1860. With all the opportunities that opulence often offers, Jesse received excellent academic preparation, which culminated in the study of law at the University of Virginia. When the secession crisis erupted, he had just hung his shingle in his hometown.¹¹

Like many other wealthy individuals, Jesse felt a great sense of obligation, too. Thoughtful and sensitive by nature, he never questioned the moral legitimacy of the peculiar institution. Jesse had grown up in a slave-owning environment, and his family had prospered in it. The Jordans had enjoyed all the rights and benefits of a free white society in Alabama, and with those privileges came the responsibility to defend it. My country desires my services & she must have it, he explained to his sister. I am bound to her by a solemn oath. Duty demanded that he pick up the sword for the defence of the rights of my injured country.¹²

In the spring of 1861, Jordan enlisted as a private in a company of infantrymen that formed in his native Madison County. Ultimately called Company I, 4th Alabama Infantry, the North Alabamians assembled with the other prospective companies from around Alabama in Dalton, Georgia, in early May, where the men swore an oath to serve for a year. After a raucous election for field-grade officers and a rousing send-off by the neighboring Georgians, the men in the 4th Alabama entrained for Lynchburg, Virginia. To ease Private Jordan’s military burden, his father sent along a young male family slave, who would act as his body servant, cooking his meals, washing his clothes, and running various errands for him. Three days of travel placed Jordan and his comrades in the Virginia Theater, and by mid-month they joined Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee’s brigade of Johnston’s army in Harpers Ferry, along the Potomac River.¹³

Nagging Jordan was a premonition that he would never see his family again. I am going to the tented field, he informed his sister, going to leave Mother, Father, Sisters & Brothers with the expectation of never returning. The idea of dying did not haunt him. He accepted death as likely, but an unyielding sense of responsibility and honor overrode any uneasiness. Warfare, he noted, was a horrible thing, yet he could not dodge his duty. What unhappiness to us, & devastation to the human race, he acknowledged. Husbands obliged to leave their wives, & their dear children[,] Mothers to part with their sons, & sisters with their brothers. Still, he must serve for the defence of the rights of my injured country; & if ever I forsake her in her hour of need may the God of my fathers forsake me in that Eternal day.¹⁴

At Harpers Ferry, soldiers drilled in the warm Virginia sun, mastering the basic tactical formations that they must assume on the battlefield. The officers in the 4th Alabama marched and paraded their men anywhere from six to eight hours per day. They honed tactical maneuvers and instilled a sense of unity and élan, but drilling alienated troops from their colonels and major.¹⁵

Nor were regimental officers the only targets of criticism. When Johnston deemed the occupation of Harpers Ferry too precarious and withdrew his command to the southwest, epithets against him gushed forth from the men in the 4th Alabama. "This thing of falling back as General Johnston calls it does not suit the temper of our men and you never heard any one ‘cussed’ as he was by the whole army when the orders came to retreat to Winchester," a private in Jordan’s regiment noted. Several weeks later, as the Federals occupied Martinsburg, Virginia, a chorus of curses spewed forth once more, this time both at the Yankees for declining to give battle and at Johnston for refusing to attack the invaders. Thus, when Johnston removed his command from the area south of Winchester in mid-July, some soldiers interpreted the movement as another retreat, until he circulated an order informing them that they would march to Piedmont and board trains to reinforce Beauregard’s columns at Manassas Junction. The men responded to the news with throaty cheers and a new spring in their step. The prospect of battle largely stifled dissent, except from those who feared they would not reach Bull Run in time for the fight.¹⁶

Serving to the west in the Shenandoah Valley, Jordan’s regiment was shuttled by train to reinforce Beauregard’s command around Bull Run. By the late morning on July 20, the 4th Alabama had arrived at Manassas Junction, nearly 600 strong. A two-mile march positioned the regiment near Ball’s Ford, to the west of the anticipated area of attack. Just how nervous Jordan felt that evening, just how restlessly he slept that night, he never recorded. By early morning, Jordan and his Alabama comrades had awakened and shifted quickly in a northwesterly direction to aid fellow Confederates in blocking the wide Union flank attack. They advanced into a cornfield just beyond Buck Hill. Within minutes, Yankee infantry columns appeared, and the men of the 4th Alabama began exchanging fire. As more and more Federals deployed, the regimental commander pulled his men back to a position behind the hill’s crest. Using the terrain as protection, the troops would rise up, deliver a volley, and hug the earth again. For close to ninety minutes, the 4th Alabama held its ground, behaving calmly under heavy fire. The endless hours of drill and discipline reaped dividends. One private in the regiment thought his comrades were the coolest men I ever saw we were all the time talking of the incidents of the fight even while the men were being wounded on every side. Some laughed at near misses.¹⁷

At Buck Hill, Jordan suffered a mild gunshot wound to the head. A minie ball creased his scalp and drew blood, but did not damage his skull, and he remained at his post. Under such heavy fire, sustaining only this small wound, he considered himself very lucky. God only knows how I escaped being killed, he elaborated to his sister, for never did hail fall faster around me than did the balls & shells & upon my right, left & before me I could see my poor comrades fall as they were.¹⁸

With vastly greater numbers, the Federal forces outflanked the Confederate troops there and forced them to retire to a new position, just north of the Warrenton Turnpike. They did not hold this ground for long. Once again, superior Union strength compelled the 4th Alabama to fall back. This time, they mistook attacking Yankees as friends, and allowed them to approach too closely to repulse their advance. We had been there but a short time, Jordan described, before we were flanked upon the right & left by an over whelming number of the enemy, supposed to [be] at first our friends. Their escape, he suggested, required divine interposition. Nothing but Gods providence ever enabled us to escape without the destruction of every mans life.¹⁹

Across the turnpike the 4th Alabama raced, regrouping with great difficulty east of the famous Henry House. There, General Bee called on them to rally and support Brig. Gen. Thomas Jonathan Jackson’s forces. The men moved forward, some 250 strong, but an artillery battery sliced a part of the regiment off from the rest, and in its divided, worn-out state, it could do little more than help fortify the line. Fortunately, the Confederates rushed substantial numbers from the center and right of their line to strengthen the left, and invaluable reinforcements from Johnston’s army arrived by train in the nick of time. Building upon Jackson’s and Bee’s position, they extended beyond the Union flank and launched a devastating counterattack. While these Confederates, flush with the thrill of victory and disordered from their effective assault, attempted to organize a pursuit from the jumbled units, the exhausted Alabamians finally retired.²⁰

In its first fight, the 4th Alabama had endured a terrible beating. Forty officers and men were killed, and another 157 suffered wounds. In one company alone, 58 entered the battle, and 33 were killed or wounded. Only 25 emerged unscathed, and of these nearly every man was either struck by a spent ball [a round that lacked enough force to penetrate the skin] or had holes shot through his hat or clothes, wrote one of its members. Jordan, stunned by the magnitude of the losses and bewildered by his own survival, concluded that the prayers of my mother & other loved ones at home must have protected me from all harm. Even though the 4th Alabama served throughout the war in what ultimately became the Army of Northern Virginia, the regiment never lost as many men in a single fight as it did that July day. One-third of the regiment were casualties that day. Only at the Battle of the Wilderness, in May 1864, would its percentage of casualties actually exceed that total.

Throughout the war, three of every four Confederates in Lee’s army were either killed in action, died of disease, wounded, or captured. Petty would manage to survive the war. In the Seven Days’ Campaign of June and July 1862, he was taken prisoner. Yankees shipped him to Fort Columbus in New York and then to Fort Warren in Boston, where locals gawked at him and his comrades. Barely a month after he fell into Union hands, Federals exchanged him for a Yankee prisoner of war. Petty returned to the 17th Virginia in time for the Maryland invasion that fall, and he remained with his regiment, except for an illness, until July 1863. For the next thirteen months, Petty served as a clerk for the brigade commissary. Those skills may have saved his life: They kept him out of the meat grinder known as the Overland Campaign of 1864. With the Confederacy desperate for manpower, Petty returned to the line later that year; during the remaining months of the Petersburg siege, he lived on meager rations, and trench warfare gradually broke him down, yet he completed his wartime service with the 17th, signing a parole at Lynchburg, Virginia, in April 1865.²¹

In contrast, almost 30,000 officers and men were killed in action or mortally wounded, and Jesse Jordan was among them. As he had feared, on June 27, 1862, at Gaines’s Mill, Virginia, in the same campaign where Petty was captured, Jordan sustained a mortal wound while assaulting a Federal battery. Comrades bore his body to a nearby church, which the Rebels had converted into a field hospital. He died with his body servant at his side. He was buried in a marked grave, before his mother, Mary, could travel from Huntsville to Richmond to retrieve her son’s body. With the help of the family slave, she disinterred Jesse’s remains and placed them in a casket. They escorted the body back to Huntsville, where she held a fitting burial for her son.²²

Thomas Petty and Jesse Jordan were two of 200,000-odd officers and men who served in Lee’s army. These men comprised a substantial part of a great human canvas, on which was painted a tragic and terrible picture called the American Civil War.

Chapter 2


BOTH THOMAS PETTY and Jesse Jordan entered military service to defend rights that the Constitution bequeathed to them, the very same basis upon which their home states of Virginia and Alabama seceded from the Union: They acted to protect the institution of slavery. The Army of Northern Virginia fought for many reasons, but the events that led to its formation clarified the key factor of the Civil War: It was fought over slavery.

Since the Revolutionary era, and particularly in the four decades before the Civil War, tensions over slavery had heightened. Northerners, who often held the same racial prejudices as Southerners, envisioned no role for slavery in the nation’s future; Southern whites could not imagine life without it. As Northerners challenged Southerners on slavery on moral, economic, and social grounds with increasing aggressiveness, Southerners clung to the institution more tenaciously. In time, the dispute ripped apart virtually every major national organization or institution and, ultimately, the United States of America.

By the late 1850s, various disputes had escalated the sectional strains to an almost feverish pitch. Northerners in Congress who cared nothing about slavery joined forces with their Southern colleagues to pass the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which rescinded the decades-old Missouri Compromise. Instead of a division of the Louisiana Purchase into free and slave territories along 36°, 30', a concept called popular sovereignty—the vote of the people who resided there—determined whether these areas north of 36°, 30', would permit slave ownership or not. The backlash among Northern voters drove the last nail into the coffin of a dying Whig Party. In its place rose the Republican Party, dedicated to blocking the extension of slavery and, many Southerners believed, to the abolitionist goal of the eradication of slavery everywhere. In the Kansas Territory, violence erupted between proslavery and antislavery elements, with Northerners and Southerners alike pouring manpower and resources to tilt the scales in their favor. The U.S. Supreme Court entered the battleground on the side of slaveholders when it ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) that blacks were not citizens and that slaveholders could take their property (slaves) into any territory. The decision rubbed against both the Republican Party plank of free soil and the Democratic Party stance of popular sovereignty. Republicans and many Northern Democrats dismissed the ruling as mere obiter dicta, a nonbinding court opinion, which infuriated Southerners all the more.¹

Southern outrage peaked after a bizarre scheme to destroy the institution of slavery violently. John Brown had earned a reputation as a fanatical abolitionist who took matters into his own hands when he and a small band of followers murdered five proslavery neighbors in Kansas in 1856. In October 1859, Brown appeared at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, at the head of a group of twenty-one to strike a mighty blow for abolitionism. His scheme called for the party to seize the arsenal there and for slaves to rush to his column of loyalists, receive arms, and join his army of liberators. For protection, they would take prominent locals as hostages. Brown and his small band would then march southward, freeing more slaves and placing weapons in their hands, until they had crushed the entire institution of slavery. In truth, Brown may have envisioned the group as martyrs for the cause of freedom. He planned for no contingencies in case things went awry, and took no care to haul or secure provisions. It was almost as if Brown wanted to be captured.²

With such incompetent planning, Brown and his comrades botched the effort at Harpers Ferry. Although they did secure the arsenal, they allowed a train to pass, and word about what they had done quickly circulated. Virginia called out its ill-trained militia, and the U.S. government sent Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee with a party of marines to retake the arsenal. Lee and his marines stormed the engine room where Brown and his henchmen had holed up. Two conspirators were killed, and all the rest captured, including a wounded Brown.

Southerners howled over Brown’s attempt to launch a massive slave uprising; his trial for murder and inciting insurrection only fueled their fears. Had Brown behaved in an obviously deranged fashion, had he raved in the defendant’s chair or mumbled incoherently, he could have been dismissed as a lunatic. But Brown’s lucid testimony convinced Southerners that there could be many more fanatics like John Brown up north, just waiting to try some other means of destroying slavery. The Richmond Enquirer called the event the beginning of the irrepressible conflict that New York senator William Seward had foreseen in 1858. Governor William H. Gist of South Carolina predicted that Harper’s Ferry is the truthful illustration of the first act in the drama to be performed on a Southern theatre.³

State governments embraced active steps to strengthen their defensive capabilities. Each state ordered a massive upgrade of its militia system and authorized vast expenditures for home defense. In Virginia, numerous militia companies formed while others resumed recruitment and regular drilling in the aftermath of John Brown’s Raid. The governor of Florida, conceding that his state militia had deteriorated to a lowly condition, urged its restoration. The militia should be thoroughly organized, armed and officered to be able to render efficient service in cases of sudden and pressing emergency, he instructed the state legislature. In Louisiana, the governor recommended a complete reorganization of the militia, with a program so clear, stringent and comprehensive that evasion would be impossible. His Alabama counterpart sought similar improvements in his state troops, but his words hinted that he had more in mind than simply suppressing slave revolts. Seeing the disorganization of our state militia, he explained, I have encouraged the formation of volunteer companies, which Alabama could employ beyond state borders more easily than militia. And create them they did. As a Virginian boasted, volunteer companies were forming all over the South.

Southern state governments sought to provide them with the very best arms and equipment, too. No longer relying on individuals to bring their antiquated or impractical firearms from home, states sought standardized, higher-quality weapons. In the winter of 1859–60, the Mississippi legislature investigated the quality of its weapons and determined The State of Mississippi to be in a very poor condition for the defence of her Constitutional rights, if a contingency should occur. The legislature allocated $150,000 for the purchase of new weapons. The Alabama governor proposed the stockpiling and effective maintenance of an armory. The recent developments at Harper’s Ferry, he explained, admonish us of the propriety of the State being ready, at all times, to protect the lives and property of her citizens. In response, the legislature set up a joint committee, whose recommendations exceeded the governor’s requests. The Militia Committee sought the arming at state expense of the students at Tuskegee Collegiate Institute and the construction of an arsenal, a gunpowder mill, and a munitions factory. For future consideration, the joint committee also suggested the creation of a state military academy. Similarly, the Louisiana legislature authorized the creation of a state arsenal in Alexandria. Virginia promptly held deliberations for the organization & arming the militia, an official gathering that Lieutenant Colonel Lee agreed to attend, and its militia system expanded rapidly. For added security, the legislature appropriated $320,000 to refurbish the old Virginia Manufactory Armory.

Several states also sought to punish the North. Southern governors began to talk to one another about passing state laws that would levy a tax on Northern manufactured goods in Southern states. As one prominent Virginian explained, by touching the pocket nerve they hoped to constrain the conservative part of the Yankees to keep the rest in order.

John Brown’s Raid convinced many Southerners that the Union offered them no real protection and that slaveholding states must to look to one another for security. A joint resolution in Florida called for the legislature to open communications with the Border States and to inform them that the people of Florida viewed them as the van guard of our Constitutional rights and pledged support to stay the tide of aggressions. In an effort to tone down its fury over the raid, the legislature chose this more moderate version over an alternative wording that asserted its attachment to the Union would be scarcely an atom in the scale against the perpetual maintenance of our system of African slave labor.

Fully a year before secession, the South was preparing for war. Authorities in Alabama cryptically hinted about their intentions, promoting the development of a vastly improved militia, so that in case of emergency, we might be provided with as many well trained officers and men, as possible, as a nucleus around which to rally. Just weeks after the Harpers Ferry raid, in his opening remarks for a new legislative session, Gov. William McWillie of Mississippi argued that in view of our Federal relations the state needed to arm the militia, particularly the new volunteer companies. The mouth of the cannon and the glitter of steel, McWillie justified, are arguments of power much stronger than those of the brain. After laying out his program for security in his January 1860 report, Louisiana governor Robert Wickliffe predicted, If my suggestions are carried out, the State will be upon a war footing, at small expense.

Although various Southerners and state entities had threatened secession over the years, never before had the discussions and assertions taken on such an ominous tone. Long before election day, slave states began to mull over secession. A joint resolution in Louisiana stated baldly that the election of a Republican president in the upcoming 1860 election would signal the final destruction and overthrow of everything held most sacred and dear in the South. The State of Alabama spoke more bluntly. There, the governor concurred with a Senate proposal to discuss secession if a Black Republican were elected president.

Southerners had a lengthy list of grievances against the free states. For several decades, abolitionists had agitated for emancipation, and Northerners had attempted to block the expansion of slavery into the territories. If the South accepted the North’s position, it was tantamount to admitting slavery was wrong. The issue, many Southerners believed, was a canard. As the Report of the Joint Committee of the General Assembly of Virginia on the Harpers Ferry Outrages, 26 January 1860 explained, "The whole argument against the extension of slavery is soon, by a very slight deflection, made to bear against the existence of slavery, and thus the anti-extension idea is merged in that of abolition." Non-extentionists were abolitionists in disguise.¹⁰

Southerners also found Personal Liberty Laws particularly odious. The U.S. Constitution authorized Congress to legislate on the return of fugitive slaves. In the Compromise of 1850, Congress had passed a tough new fugitive slave law, which placed the burden on blacks to prove they were free even though they could not testify on their own behalf and offered financial inducements for special commissioners to convict. Northern states responded by passing new Personal Liberty Laws, which undercut the process by providing certain rights for blacks whom Southern whites or their agents had seized as runaway slaves. In some instances, these laws forbade state and local officials from cooperating in the process. Not only did these Personal Liberty Laws effectively neutralize the constitutional rights of Southern slaveholders, but they also made free territories all the more unacceptable. If neighboring territories or states refused to enforce fugitive slave laws, then those areas could become havens for runaways, leading to a breakdown of slavery in areas that buffered free soil.

Worst of all, the Republican Party had become powerful in the North, a region with nearly twice as many people as the slave states. Republicans avowed their goal of restricting slavery’s expansion, a euphemism in the minds of Southerners for abolitionism. As the governor of Alabama described, the Republican Party’s leading and publicly arrived project is the destruction of the institution of slavery as it exists in the slaveholding states. The party’s agenda also included a series of economic and political planks that would largely benefit growth in the Northern states, such as a protective tariff and a homestead law that would give free land on the frontier to anyone who would settle it. At best these policies were lukewarm toward the vast majority of the South, and in some cases they would injure Southerners by making them pay higher prices for imported goods.¹¹

To be sure, Southerners had other grievances against the North. Southern whites viewed their region as rural and dominated by agriculture; the North was more urbanized, more heavily industrialized. Southerners believed the tariff promoted Northern manufacturing at their expense, protecting Northern products and compelling Southerners to buy higher-priced, inferior domestic goods. More generally, while Northerners advocated a stronger central government, the South stood for states’ rights.

In fact, these issues were not quite so simple and clear-cut. Even though twenty-two of twenty-five of the largest cities were in the North, two of every three farms were also in Northern states. Some Southern groups, such as sugar growers, relished the tariff, because it protected them from foreign competition. Feared retaliatory tariffs that would hinder the sales of Southern agricultural products overseas never really materialized. And many Northerners, perhaps even a majority, believed in states’ rights. Certainly Northerners employed states’ rights concepts when it suited them, as with the Personal Liberty Laws. Differences in philosophy represented shades, not clear demarcations.

Still, slavery was the one issue that neither section could skirt. When Lincoln won the presidency without receiving a single Electoral College vote from Southern states, South Carolina passed an ordinance of secession. Within several months, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit.

Their official justifications for leaving the Union offer unshakable proof that their principal motive was to protect and preserve slavery. South Carolina justified secession in a twenty-five-hundred-word history of slavery and Northern interference with it. The Georgia Secession Convention offered a similar rationale. For twenty years past, its representatives noted, the abolitionists and their allies in the Northern States have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions and to excite insurrection and servile war among us. To avoid any confusion over its motives, the State of Mississippi bluntly asserted, Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Texas explained that it had joined the Union as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery—the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits. Because Northerners threatened that right, Texans voted to separate from the Union.¹²

The South also began to mobilize for war. Most voters and government officials knew that the Union might not let them leave peaceably. Others, like Robert Stafford, a student at Auburn in Alabama, resigned himself to war as a certainty. War is no trivial affair when you come to sum up the whole, he penned his sister, but I am ready any time in whatsoever way I can [to] render assistance to our common cause. In anticipation of strife, states called out the militia and began to raise yet more volunteer units. There was no shortage of the willing.¹³

Four years earlier, in anticipation of just such a fight over secession, future division commander Stephen Dodson Ramseur, at the time a West Point cadet, called for the construction of arsenals and armories and the stockpiling of war materiel. At the time, no one heeded his proposal. By 1860, the political and emotional climate had changed. A month before Georgia took its vote—even before South Carolina left the Union—Governor Joseph E. Brown sent an official north to purchase arms, ammunition, and accouterments. Paul J. Semmes, a militia officer and future brigade commander in Lee’s army, purchased artillery, pistols, and large quantities of artillery and musket ammunition, including gunpowder. Even as trouble seemed more and more imminent, Northern companies like Du Pont sold gunpowder and musket and cannon ammunition to Semmes. As early as January 1861, months before Virginia seceded, Governor John Letcher had proposed a significant expansion of the militia, above and beyond its enlarged levels. On the local level, county courts allocated money to purchase improved firearms and gunpowder, in case of war. At the University of Virginia, students organized themselves into companies, as they did on college campuses throughout the South. Our two companies now number about 80 apiece, boasted John Davis at the beginning of March, & we are getting to be pretty well drilled, as we drill 1¼ hours every evening. Mississippians, who had organized volunteer companies at a rate of two per month after John Brown’s Raid, suddenly formed seven to eight companies of fifty to sixty men each week in November, December, and early January.¹⁴

By February 1861, representatives from the original seven seceding states had gathered in Montgomery, Alabama, to form the Confederate States of America. Despite entreaties from those seven, and attempts to justify their participation by calling for solidarity among the slaveholders, the other slave states decided to wait and see how the federal government attempted to resolve the crisis.

In April 1861, after political and military maneuvering on both sides, Confederate batteries hurled artillery projectiles at a partially completed bastion in South Carolina called Fort Sumter. For twenty-four hours, the garrison withstood the bombardment. Only when it appeared that fires from heated shot endangered the fort’s crew did the Union commander raise the white flag of surrender.

Once President Abraham Lincoln learned of the attack on Federal troops, he called out 75,000 militiamen to suppress the rebellion. The announcement convinced Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas to pass ordinances of secession, and within weeks their fellow slave states welcomed them into the new Confederacy. Confederate president Jefferson Davis could not wait that long. Just days after the Virginia convention voted to secede, a month before voters could ratify that decision, Davis had rushed forward regiments to protect the state, a huge industrial and agricultural gem that bordered the free states. A warrior by training, with extensive experience on the Military Affairs Committees of both U.S. houses of Congress and as secretary of war, Davis knew Virginia and the Richmond area would be an important battleground, and he would commit all the resources he could reasonably muster to protect it. He was already planning to form what would become the Army of Northern Virginia.¹⁵

Chapter 3


"ALL IS IN EXCITEMENT HEAR—, Jesse Jordan proclaimed from Huntsville, Alabama, war—war—war is the continued topics of evrydays conversation. In neighboring Georgia, the same fever had seized everyone, so H. W. Barclay recalled: It seemed to me that the people were crazy and we were wild crazy. Even in Virginia, slow to secede from the Union, passions ran high. I have heard only one sentiment, wrote a visitor in language reminiscent of Jordan, & that is war! war! war! He told his mother back home, Virginia is all ablaze and Lincoln will never wave the sceptre of despotism over the sons of the old Dominion. On street corners, in shops, over dinner tables, the sectional strife dominated conversations. Prognostications, secondhand news, rumors, and more coursed through discussions, energizing the citizenry as never in their lifetimes. In early 1861, men could not sign up to fight quickly enough, and when all the slots were taken, those turned away were heartbroken. If you all get into a fight before I get there, teased a jealous friend, you will get whipped certain & sure."¹

Armed with passion and little else, the Boys of ’61 enlisted in two great waves. Of the initial volunteers, some had been a part of prewar militia units; others volunteered as their state seceded from the Union. They entered the armed services in that first rage militaire, when passions gushed forward and everyone had war on the brain. Only a handful predicted a lengthy struggle in those early days—and those farsighted few who did, like President Davis, could never have convinced a cocksure congress otherwise—and the government established most terms of service for a year, although some military units signed on for the war. The second great rush occurred in the aftermath of the Battle of First Manassas. The euphoria of that first victory stirred hundreds of thousands, and the Confederate Congress tapped into the overflowing spirit and authorized the creation of a new round of volunteer units. This time, Congress acted more circumspectly, extending terms of service to up to thirty-six months in length.²

Volunteers came in varying ages, with all sorts of backgrounds. John T. Bivins of Milledgeville, Georgia, was one of the youngest. He slipped off without his parents’ permission and enlisted at fourteen, an extremely tender age for someone to actually serve in the infantry, and not as a drummer boy. His father pleaded for his son’s release, taking his case all the way to Davis. "He belongs to his Country, but take him at 18 & thereby give me a chance to qualify him by education and maturity to Service his Country well," Will Bivins wrote. Davis saw that the lad was shipped home, but not before he had served more than six months in the Confederate army. On the opposite end of the age scale stood Edmund Ruffin, sexagenarian farmer and Fire-Eater who carried a musket at First Manassas and then realized that he could not cope with the physical demands of military service. The average age for volunteers in 1861 was twenty-five; the median, or middle age, was twenty-four. Only one in every seven enlistees that first year was eighteen or younger, and fewer than a third were twenty-one or younger.³

Although the bulk of the enlistees were in their midtwenties or older, almost three of every four were single. As a group, unmarried men had the least responsibility in society, and generally they could detach from work and personal obligations more easily to serve in the army. James D. Gilliam of Amherst County, Virginia, was a twenty-two-year-old laborer living with his mother. One of seven children, he had three adult brothers who were still at home, which enabled him to enlist in the Lynchburg Artillery in April, knowing that his siblings would look after her. Despite his very different background, William Herring had a similar situation. Herring grew up in a large and wealthy slaveholding family with plenty of brothers and sisters to assist their father in managing a twenty-three-slave plantation. Instead, he had opted to farm for a neighbor. When the war broke out, Herring had no real obligations or concerns about family welfare. He was twenty-four, unmarried, and the owner of five slaves, so he joined the 3rd North Carolina Cavalry to defend the institution that generated such a good income for him and his family.

More surprising was that nearly one in every four men who enlisted in 1861 left behind a wife and children, a difficult proposition for the entire family. James W. Dickinson, a mattress maker in Campbell County, Virginia, had a young wife and a three-year-old baby. Fortunately, he also had a sister who lived with them, and she could help ease the burden on his wife. With considerable property at risk, thirty-four-year-old Elbert Leech could not resist the call to arms, and he joined the 26th Alabama Infantry as a captain. Unlike Dickinson, however, Leech left his wife with enormous responsibility. She had to oversee their five children, the farm, and sixteen slaves. Had Leech not possessed enormous confidence in his wife’s ability to manage all those affairs, he probably would have hesitated to join the army. Her capability of overseeing the farm paved the way for his military service. John M. Tilley of Crawfordsville, Georgia, had a wife, three young children, and a dozen slaves on a large farm. I believe that it will be rather to my benefit to be away from home, Tilley commented to his wife in midsummer 1861 after enlisting in the 15th Georgia. You & Dock will get everything in such good order & the negroes in such good training that I feel I’ll have nothing to do when I get home.

Among enlistees of 1861, half the men had no accumulated wealth, according to the 1860 census, yet the average personal wealth was $1,615, a considerable sum at the start of the war. Very wealthy individuals more than compensated for their poorer comrades. But because so many of the soldiers were just starting out in life, their personal wealth did not adequately reflect their background or their access to money and property. Quite a number of soldiers had grown up in comfortable middle- and upper-class households and still resided with their parents or relatives. Others, for employment or to learn a trade, had moved into the homes of wealthy families, where they enjoyed the comforts of an opulent lifestyle despite their status as an employee. More reflective of the average soldier’s true financial status was a combination of the wealth of the individual soldier and, if he lived at home, his family. By adding those two categories, the average total estate soared to $6,882, a figure that positioned these men at the edge of the wealthy class. The median combined wealth climbed to $1,365, a figure that placed them comfortably in the middle class. Although twenty-year-old George Webb of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, merely worked as a farm hand for the family and had no wealth of his own, his mother, Amelia, was worth almost $40,000, and the family held title to twenty slaves. Ganam S. Lyons, twenty-six years of age, had only $100 worth of money and property to his name. Still, he farmed alongside his father on Alabama soil worth $800. With his father’s additional property valued at $600, the Lyonses lived a middle-class lifestyle.

For those volunteers who still lived at home, if one combines their personal wealth with their family’s net worth, the picture appears very different. What emerges from an examination of that combined wealth is a huge range among these men. The ratio of soldiers and their families who had total assets under $300 was about one-third, the same as those who were worth more than $5,000, a truly substantial sum in 1860. One in every five enlistees and their families had accumulated wealth that surpassed $10,000; one in five were worth nothing, too. Rich and poor shouldered arms in equal proportions in 1861, and the middle lot of them were certainly from solid, middle-class backgrounds.

If one includes nonfamily wealth within their households, the figure for the average household rose to a staggering $11,205, while the median wealth increased dramatically to $3,500, or an upper-middle-class lifestyle. At the time of the secession crisis, John T. Kerfoot studied at Columbia College in Washington, D.C. His widowed mother owned one slave and

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Lo que piensa la gente sobre General Lee's Army

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    Superb social and historical study of a modern army with a premodern attitude.
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    Combining classic military history with a wealth of social history insights, Joseph Glatthaar details the exploits and experiences of the Army of Northern Virginia in the aptly titled "General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse." Drawing from a wealth of material, including countless letters and diaries from soldiers of all ranks, the University of North Carolina professor offers a comprehensive view of the Confederacy's most-storied fighting force.While never skimping on descriptions of overall tactics in battle, Glatthaar is as interested in offering a broad picture of the makeup and general experiences of the soldiers in Lee's army. Alongside details of the Gettysburg Campaign and the massive trench warfare of 1864, there are chapters on such day-to-day issues as medical care, quartermaster supply, religion, and general camp life.Perhaps the greatest contribution of this volume is the attention to the make-up of the army, extrapolated from careful analysis of a 600 soldier sample. This analysis allows Glatthaar to describe the divergent backgrounds of the fighting men, including family wealth and relationship to the institution of slavery. The findings suggest that while the army initially was a mostly representative group of the southern population, as the war progressed replacement soldiers were overwhelmingly drawn from non-slaveholding families of little wealth.This changing demographic makeup of the army is one of the challenges that led to the ultimate collapse and defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia, alongside other better known issues as increasingly limited manpower and the persistent problems of arms, ammunition, and food supplies. Glatthaar also highlights the difficulties in advancing qualified people into officer positions that Lee struggled to overcome, with some success, throughout the war.While the focus of this book is on the common soldier, it is clear that Glatthaar holds Robert E. Lee is great esteem. The surprising implicit argument of this book is that Lee was really the guiding force behind the army, not only in generally aggressive tactical decisions, but as importantly in improving nuts and bolts matters of supply, training, and officer selection. This makes the book's title quite apropos indeed.On the whole, this well-researched volume is an excellent resource on the famed Army of Northern Virginia. While some expecting heavily detailed campaign analysis might be disappointed, those hoping for a more complete portrait of this fighting force will greatly appreciate this book for its scope, its research, and its unexpectedly pleasant prose.