Command in the Confederacy: The Men Who Sparked the Army of Northern Virginia

LEE’S LIEUTENANTS. VOL. I. MANASSAS TO MALVERN HILL. BY Donalds Southall Freeman. Charles Scribner’s Sons. $5.00
THE biographer of R. E. Lee here presents the first volume of a trilogy designed to round out his fine work with which all students of the Civil War are familiar. His undertaking is a difficult one: to present chronologically the events in which Lee’s subordinate officers took part and to appraise the qualities, military and personal, of their performances. This volume demonstrates that the whole work will be well done. Mr. Freeman writes with the sureness of one wholly familiar with his subject, and with the easy distinction of manner to be expected of him. In his frank and interesting foreword he explains the questions he asked himself as to the form this book should take. “Portraits” of each of Lee’s generals would involve endless repetition; certain important Confederate characters, such as Beauregard and Johnston, could hardly be classed among Lee’s lieutenants, yet to omit them entirely would leave an aching void; there were so many good men, such an embarrassment of riches, among Lee’s lieutenants — how to pick and choose? “In the main it may be said that each man treated here won his own place, as it were, and determined by his deeds the extent of the treatment he received.”
Mr. Freeman, as a military historian, is an accurate judge of the skill and resoluteness and adaptability of an officer in a given situation, whether as an administrator, as a staff officer, or in active battle command. More than this, he is an acute observer and analyst of the human being. Naturally some heroworshipers will dispute his judgments. In general, this reviewer will back Mr. Freeman against the field. At any rate, this is a superb book, one of the outstanding books of the year. It would be small praise to say that “ it should be read by every student of the Civil War.” Of course it will be.

The men themselves

He is not impressed by Beauregard, whom Southern ladies and poets insisted on calling the “Beau Sabreur.” Of Johnston, he writes: “A difficult and touchy subordinate he is, though a generous and kindly superior. ... In appearance he is small, soldierly and graying, with a certain gamecock jauntiness.“ Mr. Freeman refers to Jackson’s “ceaseless controversies with his subordinates” and his “failure to maintain efficient divisional and brigade leadership” as sufficient answers to the question whether Jackson, separated from Lee, would have been a great army commander. “Strategically he would have been; administrathely, he could not have been.”
The historian does justice to the younger men, — those “gallant boys,” Pelham, Pegram, Ashby, and others, — in so far as they developed in these early stages; one feels that “ Jeb” Stuart is not a favorite of his. Stuart’s “exhibitionism” repels Mr. Freeman.

The presentation

Mr. Freeman precedes his text with excellent photographs and short sketches of the principal characters in this volume. The sketches are succinct, compressed, and brilliant, yet I doubt the wisdom of this method as a rule for historians. It is too much like those old theater programs in which the Dramatis Personae were presented as
Josephus Pomposity — a choleric old bachelor George Weasel —a churchgoing hypocrite Sly — his man Friday
Why show your hand before the game starts?
One other plaint which applies not only to this book but to almost every historical work on the Civil War: the author assumes that the lay reader knows more than, in fact, he does. He refers to brigades and divisions by the names of their commanders, which is indeed the only practical method, but it requires a lively imagination to translate “D. H. Hill then moved forward” into a picture of two ragged shouting lines of how many men? How armed? How did they go about firing in line of battle? And so on.
A short description of the armament, organization, tactics, and subsistence of armies in the 1860’s should, it seems to me, precede every book on the War Between the States which is destined for public consumption.
These two picayune suggestions duly filed, I have nothing but praise for Mr. Freeman’s splendid accomplishment. I hope the next two volumes will not be long delayed.