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Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign (Civil War America)

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Peter Cozzens

Cozzens (The Darkest Days of the War) is an independent scholar and a master of Civil War military history at tactical and operational levels. He deploys a large body of unfamiliar primary material in this detailed analysis of a campaign less one-sided … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Peter Cozzens
Genre: History
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
1 review about Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley...

Shenandoah polishes Jackson's rising star

  • Mar 7, 2009
Rating:
+3
Cozzens has (surprisingly) written the first book-length history of the 1862 Valley campaign that made Stonewall Jackson the first rising star in the Confederate luminary that relies on both Confederate and Union primary sources. Previous books have relied only on Confederate sources, so the campaign has traditionally been seen as an unalloyed Confederate triumph.

However, Cozzen's mildly revisionist history brings some sanity to the adulation and warm glow of Southern success, pointing out the tactical weaknesses of Jackson, especially early in the campaign, and his minimalist communications style that left even his commanding officers uninformed about objectives and tactics. On the Federal side is the usual parade of buffoonery masquerading as leadership, particularly as the Shenandoah Valley was seen by Union leaders as a secondary theater to the ongoing (but ever-halting) attempt to attack Richmond. In the end, while Cozzen's account of Jackson's actions may not always shine a positive light on his reputation, the reader is left by the end of the book still admiring of Jackson's ability to lead and his success on the field.

Cozzens does a good job describing the environs of the Valley, which tracks along the current I-81 through central Virginia, its people, and its importance (then and now) as a thriving transportation and verdant farming corridor between the rising Allegheny mountains to the west and the wet lowlands of coastal Virginia to the east. The armies of both North and South would range up and down this broad valley during the six months of the 1862 campaign with towns like Winchester, Martinsburg, and Harrisonburg changing hands numerous times as fortunes ebbed and flowed. Indeed, the gently rolling hills and prosperous farms of the Valley form the stereotypical backdrop that many today envision when they think of a Civil War battle scene.

In all, Cozzen's work is a valuable piece of scholarship on the Compaign because of his bipartisan mining of the primary sources. One flaw is his over-reliance on the primary sources for soldiers' and officers' descriptions of the battles during his overlong descriptions of the few set-piece battles that occurred in that six month window. Yes, the phrasing, wording, and heartfelt passion of these letters home is laudable, but the viewpoint of a single soldier in the midst of a much larger battle waged by tens of thousands of troops over several miles of sometimes disconnected battlefront provides little perspective on the over all tactical progress of a battle and even less on its strategic significance. Cozzen's should have written up from his primary sources to provide us with these needed tactical and strategic viewpoints, while perhaps dedicating a single chapter to the soldiers' view of the war so we could still get a flavor of the common language and passion of the day.

Still, a needed addition to the Civil War library, especially for students of Jackson and those with an interest in the history of the Shenandoah Valley.

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