Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862

Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862

Article excerpt

The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of1862. Edited by GARY W. GALLAGHER. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. xxii, 255 pp. $39.95. THERE may be some who doubt that we are living in a veritable Golden Age for the history of the Civil War. To those doubters I would offer in evidence The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, superbly edited by Gary W. Gallagher, the eighth compilation of essays in the "Military Campaigns of the Civil War" from the University of North Carolina Press.

This installment marshalls seven contributors, plus editor Gallagher, to illuminate Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's most celebrated series of battles. Bracketing the main text are an adroit and informative introduction and a comprehensive bibliographic essay by the editor (which complements the chapter endnotes), and the whole is finished off with a well-executed index.

Collections such as this are commonly described as "uneven," but there are no misfires in this volley. The Union effort is skillfully examined by Gallagher through a favorable assessment of Abraham Lincoln's grasp of the military situation, and by William J. Miller in an unfavorable analysis of that eminence's understanding. Miller sympathetically reconstructs the obstacles faced by generals John C. Fremont, Nathaniel P. Banks, James Shields, and Robert H. Milroy, bringing needed appreciation to commanders traditionally portrayed merely as bumbling foils for the brilliant Stonewall. In line with recent emphasis on the effects of military operations on noncombatants, Jonathan M. Berkcy engagingly traces the fortunes of the Valley's white and black civilian population during this precursor to the ultimate anguish of 1864-65.

The remaining five essays concern themselves with Confederate personalities, or in one instance a regiment, an imbalance acknowledged in the introduction (pp. xvii-xviii) and attributed to "various factors, including changes in the roster of authors" (p. xvii). Thus, Robert K. Krick entertainingly chronicles the remarkable "metamorphosis" (pp. 31, 33) of Jackson from comparative obscurity to legend. Peter S. Carmichael probes behind the symbol that Turner Ashby became, vividly depicting the gruesome small-unit clashes in which this consummate horseman excelled, while so painstakingly unveiling the man behind the myth, and the needs that called forth that myth, as to give his conclusions the force of revelation.

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