Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: Inventing Stonewall Jackson

Hettle, Wallace. Inventing Stonewall Jackson: A Civil War Hero in History and Memory (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War). LSU Press, Baton Rouge. 200 pages, 148 pages text. Index, bibliography, notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9780807137819. $34.95.

Inventing Stonewall Jackson: A Civil War Hero in History and Memory (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War)In the hierarchy of Confederate legends perhaps only Robert E. Lee is more and has been more worshipped than Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. For a man who perished at seemingly the top of his game Jackson left a surprisingly small paper trail for historians to examine. In his new book Inventing Stonewall Jackson author Wallace Hettle rather than examine Jackson himself examines some of the most famous Jackson biographers and how their lives may tie in to their portrayal of the Confederate heroes legend.

For readers wanting to have a short introductory biography to Jackson this is not the place to look. While readers will learn about the legendary general this is really more a book for advanced students of Jackson who are widely read and looking to further their understanding of him. For those unfamiliar with the literature on Jackson this could become a difficult read.

The span of works covered by Hettle include those from Lost Cause advocates such as Robert Lewis Dabney, a fictionalized work by Mary Johnston, a work by the nationally known poet Allen Tate, the movie Gods and  Generals, amongst others. This broad body of work that is examined is a strength of this book. In examining these works Hettle attempts to point out how the lives of the authors are put into their version of Jackson's life and how these works play into the entire legend that now surrounds Jackson.

Hettle has chosen a path that should probably be employed by anbody doing research on a historical figure that has had considerable material written about them. While I enjoyed this book I would have been much better prepared for it had I been more familiar with the source material. This is a book that can be recommended to the moderate to advanced student of Jackson and should be considered for any serious Civil War library. While not a large book the thorough bibliography and notes sections show the research that has gone into this work.
Thanks to LSU Press for kindly sending a complimentary review copy.

Below are links to several of the works covered by Dr. Hettle in his book.

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