The Atlantic Bookshelf

by Allen Tate. New York: Minton, Balch & Co. 8vo. xii + 322 pp. Maps. Illus. $3.50.
IF there is one thing reasonably certain in a doubtful world, it is that Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan Jackson, sometime of the United Slates Army, later of the Confederate States Army, would have looked with pious disapproval upon what is called the ’modern’ school of biography. He had fed his own infant mind upon the biographical endeavors of Parson Weems which were very different, to say the least; and there is a peculiar irony in Mr. Allen Tate’s choice of this great but alarmingly solemn strategist as subject of a book which has all the modernistic earmarks. Yet it is a curious and perhaps unintended tribute to his greatness, both as a man and as a commander, that after his latest biographer has exploded a whole bagful of brilliance in the very latest and most approved manner, Jackson is still ‘standing like a stone wall’ in the place he has always held in American history. Indeed, he seems all the greater when the oddities of his character have been duly described.
This must not be taken as implying, however, that Mr. Tate has aspired to what is colloquially known as ‘debunking’ Jackson. If he approaches with a twinkling eye the career of this stiffly pious and very literal-minded gentleman, he approaches with a respect that is all the more genuine for the twinkle.
The lively sense of humor and the sense of proportion, which are chief characteristics of this latest of the books about him, cannot be counted among Jackson’s own merits. A military superior once bade him wait in his office, forgot about him. and went off for the night. In the morning he found Jackson still sitting there, bolt upright. Orders were orders. Again, Jackson appeared one sweltering spring day in winter uniform. His cadets inquired the reason. Orders once more were orders, no matter what everybody else was doing.
These anecdotes are, to be sure, not highly important, blit they are revealing. They help to explain the rigid sense of duty in big things and little which held Jackson’s brigade firm at Bull Run when others broke. And that — not to mention the way they brighten up his book - is Mr. Tate’s justification for including them, and a dozen others of the same sort. Writing with the assumption that Jackson, if he had lived, might have won the war for the Confederacy, Mr. Tate can hardly be accused of underestimating his hero. He gives just enough personal background of this kind to make Jackson, the man, intelligible; and then plunges into the story of his battles.
As a non-technical strategic study, Mr. Tate’s book would be admirable were it not for abominable maps, on which it is not always possible to trace the campaigns that he describes. He also commits some errors of taste—and probably of fact in certain disparaging references to Lincoln.
One small detail, however, reveals the author’s uncanny subtlety. He has ascertained that across the river, opposite one of Jackson’s boyhood haunts, there really was a grove of shade trees. And Jackson’s mind, he thinks. flashed back to these as he lay dying in the field hospital at Guiney Station. Thus he explains the last words: ‘Let’s cross over the river and rest in the shade of the trees.'
The strange poignancy and humanness of this are typical of the book as a whole.
JOHN BAKELESS