Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph, 1862-1863. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY. 2011. 383 pages, 295 pages text. Index, bibliography, notes, b/w photos, maps. ISBN 9781416593348, $30.
For decades Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia have been hailed as one of the greatest fighting machines in history. What is it that has led us to this belief? What was it about Robert E. Lee that caused many of his troops to to follow his orders with such devotion and also to keep the home front supportive. Discovering the answer is the aim of Jeffry Wert's new book.
Wert convincingly argues that Robert E. Lee helped change the Confederate outlook, taking the war from a defensive one and turning it to the offensive. Using the time frame from his promotion before Seven Days through Gettysburg Wert shows how Lee searched for a large and decisive victory understanding that a long war would favor the Union. Being aggressive and showing the Union army an audacity not encountered prior to his promotion, Lee believed he could beat down northern will before their industrial and manpower advantages came into play.
Wert shows Lee as a fighter willing to take risks to achieve his goals. While Union general Grant is often called a butcher based upon the number of troops he lost Robert E. Lee lost considerable numbers as well. The problem is the Confederacy did not have the population base to replace massive losses. In addition to the losses of foot soldiers Lee and the Confederacy suffered mightily due to losses in the officer ranks. The loss of key generals such as Stonewall Jackson, William Dorsey Pender, Lawrence Branch, Maxcy Gregg, Samuel Garland, George B. Anderson, Charles Winder, Lewis Armistead, Richard Garnett, Paul Semmes, William Barksdale, J. Johnston Pettigrew, William Starke, and Thomas Cobb during the time frame discussed led to a leadership vacuum that hurt the Confederacy in the later years of the war. (p 292-293)
As Lee continued to rack up victories his confidence in his army grew to a level that was unrealistic helping cause the defeat at Gettysburg and thus the turning point of the war. The eleven month period culminating at Chancellorsville, while costing nearly 60,000 Confederate casualties saw the ANV defeat, and help lead to the removal of, Union generals George McClellan, John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, and Joseph Hooker. Only with the promotion of George Meade and later Ulysses S. Grant did Lee meet generals finally willing and able to confront the bravado shown by the ANV. While terrain was a large help to the Union and there can be no doubt that Meade did not aggressively follow the defeated Confederates Meade has gone down as the general who helped turn the battle for the Union with his victory at Gettysburg.
The book is handsomely produced including a large bibliography and notes section as would be expected from Wert. There are also numerous b/w photos and a few maps scattered throughout. The writing is clear and easy to read. While not recommended for those who do not have some background knowledge this is a book that should be in the library of any student of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.