Tag Archives: Army of Northern Virginia

Six Days in September: A Novel of Lee’s Army in Maryland, 1862 by Alexander B. Rossino

Greetings all – I am about to take something of a different tack with this blog – and get back to my roots: historiography, popular history, memory, and teaching. As much as I love calling out the asinine in the world…I think there is enough of that out there to go around. So there you go.

Let’s kick things off with a review of a first-rate book: Six Days in September….

Alexander B. Rossino’s Six Days in September: A Novel of Lee’s Army in Maryland, 1862, paints a vivid picture of Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland, which culminated in the bloody Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Rossino captures the spirit of the Army of Northern Virginia, simultaneously depicting the events as they unfolded for the upper echelon of command, a number staff and field grade officers, and a handful enlisted soldiers as they maneuvered from South Mountain to Sharpsburg to slug it out (spoiler alert: unsuccessfully) with George B. McClellan and the Union Army of the Potomac.

I found the layered narrative to be especially engaging. The narrative style reminds the reader to take both a wide and narrow view of the military landscape. Rossino deftly lays out the grand strategy with Lee and his lieutenants and then refocuses his attention on the more personal exploits and adventures (as it were) of a Maryland Confederate officer and a group of Alabama enlisted men.

Alexander B. Rossino

I was particularly satisfied with how Rossino chose to deal with the broader Civil War issue of slavery. Waters such as these are difficult to tread in a fictional recreation of a historic event. To simply sidestep the institution’s role in the cause of the war seems imprudent. And so an author might be tempted to resolve this problem by following one of two general paths: he or she might apologetically absolve the actors as people of their times or pander to a 21st century audience with cliché modernist critiques of the institution. By my estimation, both narrative courses are equally unwise. And thus I was relieved that Rossino chose neither. Instead, he is forthright about the issues that moved men to fight, including the Confederate preservation of slavery from a 19th century perspective.

Readers versed in Army of Northern Virginia lore will certainly be familiar with the strategic disputes between Lee and his most trusted lieutenant, James Longstreet. Rossino explores the tensions between these two, as well as others among the Confederate high command, in a way that foreshadows the more famous strategic disagreement between Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg the following year. In ways similar to Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels (1974), the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the 1863 Gettysburg campaign, Six Days in September leaves the reader questioning Lee’s wisdom in Maryland that preceding autumn, challenging the notion of the peerless Lee. In Six Days, Lee is not without virtue, but he is clearly flawed as any mortal man tasked with such great responsibility might be.

After reading this thought-provoking, well-researched, and beautifully written novel, my only hope is that Rossino adds an additional layer (or layers) to the story by once again taking on the battle from the perspective of Lee’s adversaries: George B. McClellan and the men of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan makes only a peripheral appearance in Six Days, and only through a Confederate understanding of his cautiousness. I would personally love to see how Rossino would have McClellan act (or fail to act) when he finds himself in possession of the Lee’s famous “lost orders.” I would be equally intrigued by Rossino’s take on McClellan’s relationship with his commander in chief. These, of course, are hopes for the future. For now I am quite satisfied with Rossino’s novel – and I recommend it highly.

Buy the book HERE – and stay tuned, I’ll be posting a lot more frequently in the days to come.

With compliments,

Keith

Hands Off!

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 8.02.18 PMThese days all things Confederate are under fire. This last week at Gettysburg illustrated to me that would-be Rebels are making yet another stand – this time to preserve what they insist is nothing more than their heritage. Though the controversy has captured America’s attention for the time being (the Kardashians are having a slow week) I would like to point out that attacks on Confederate symbolism are nothing new.

At the base of the Virginia State Memorial on Seminary Ridge is a weather-beaten plaque admonishing potential vandals who might try and stick a proverbial bayonet in the still-defiant Confederacy. Though there are other southern monuments on the field (few in comparison to Union monuments and with only a couple of exceptions, all state memorials) this is the only warning sign. And judging by its aged appearance, it looks to have been there a while.

Defiant to the end.
Defiant to the end.

This suggests to me that both in a modern context and for quite a while, Virginia – and by extension, Robert E. Lee, whose likeness (and Traveller’s) sit atop the monument, specifically represent the Confederate nation and its ideological underpinnings. Why else would this particular monument – as opposed to North Carolina’s or Alabama’s – be singled out for potential vandalism? The Virginian Lee is Confederate ideology and nationalism personified. This was true in the 1860s  and has been true ever since. Those who choose to attack physically Confederate ideology (particularly racial oppression in the form of  chattel slavery) would naturally set their sights on the nation’s most salient symbols: Lee and the Old Dominion – and thus the Virginia memorial seems in especial danger…and has been for some time.

With compliments,

Keith

 

 

Farewell

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 9.03.39 AM“After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”

– Robert E. Lee, April 10, 1865

Flags…Blowin’ in the Wind

I spend a lot of time scouring the Internet looking for interesting things to discuss. For example, Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, writes on reflections of the South, memory, and the racial legacies of yes, you guessed it, the Civil War. You can expect a post about her work coming up in the near future…just as soon as I have had a closer look at her poetry.

But my point today is meant to be a service for all of those in cyberspace who identify the various Confederate flags incorrectly. Many refer to the “Stars and Bars” when they actually mean something else, and this practice is something of a pet peeve of mine…I know, it’s the little things. But anyway, in an altruistic spirit of education, I offer the flags…and their proper names. (PS – the title of this post is an obscure reference that has nothing to do with Confederate flags but everything to do with an 80s pop band from Santa Barbara – guess who they are and get a shout out).

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First Confederate National Flag aka “The Stars and Bars”

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Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag
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Second National Confederate Flag aka “The Stainless Banner”

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Third National Confederate Flag (note stain)

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Confederate Navy Jack

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Confederate flag of significance from Appomattox (sorry…I just couldn’t help myself.

 

 

So there you are – a test will commence shortly.

With compliments,

Keith

Appomattox Day

Screen shot 2014-04-10 at 11.02.14 AMAppomattox Day, in case you’re wondering…was yesterday, April 9th, 2014. Not many really “celebrate” this day anymore – though it is often commemorated – especially owing to its clear reconciliationist overtones. But not too terribly long ago, this day was celebrated with great joy and truimphalism by Union veterans – particularly those who fought with the Army of the Potomac – as the day the forces of the United States suppressed a domestic rebellion.

Not for nothin’ my fellow citizens – happy (belated) Appomattox Day!

With compliments,

Keith