Stonewall Jackson: A Biography

Article excerpt

Stonewall Jackson: A Biography. Donald A. Davis. Palgrave Macmillan. 204 pages; black and white photographs; index; $21.95.

Lt. Gen. Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson emerged from the American Civil War with a glorious military reputation, which at the time eclipsed that of Gen. Robert E. Lee. To most historians, Jackson's untimely demise in the aftermath of the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville deprived the South of its most formidable battlefield commander.

In Stonewall Jackson: A Biography, the latest edition of the Great Generals series, Donald A. Davis paints a familiar portrait of the enigmatic Confederate commander. Davis is co-author of the New York Times best seUer Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper and author of Lightning Strike: The secret Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto and Avenge Pearl Harbor.

The Jackson who emerges from these pages is a leader shrouded in mystery. Drawn to West Point by the prospect of a free education, Jackson adapted easily to military life and improved his academic standing every year until he graduated in the class of 1846. Subsequent service during the Mexican War marked Jackson as a most promising young officer of undeniable martial ability.

In examining Jackson's career, Davis follows a traditional and chronological path. He sheds little new light on Jackson's retirement from the U.S. Army in 1852 and his years as professor of natural and experimental philosophy and of artillery tactics at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., a post he held until the Civil War began in 1861. Nor does Davis provide new insights into the conventional interpretation of Jackson's strengths and weaknesses as an independent commander. Series editor Gen. Wesley K. Clark, USA Ret., substantially covers the same ground in a few pages of the foreword that Davis discusses in the entire monograph.

To his credit, Davis provides a very balanced assessment of Jackson's merits as a battlefield commander. Davis does a commendable job addressing the darker side of Jackson's personality, specifically his reckless disregard for personal safety, his vendettas against subordinate commanders, and his secrecy of orders and plans. …