Tag Archives: Confederate army

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

Confederate “Missteps” at Gettysburg

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 9.39.52 AMGreetings all!

I get a question from my Civil War students all the time. It goes something like this: what mistake cost the Confederates the battle at Gettysburg? There are plenty of contenders. Richard S. Ewell failing to take Cemetery Hill on July 1, James Longstreet sulking around and not launching his flank attack against Little Round Top until late in the day on July 2, and Robert E. Lee himself – ordering a perilous frontal assault against well-fortified Yankees on Cemetery Ridge on July 3. Cavalry wiz-kid JEB Stuart comes up too. He had been more or less MIA for the whole campaign – denying the Army of Northern Virginia valuable intelligence they most certainly would have used to their advantage.

What I find most interesting about the question is that is presumes a foreordained Confederate victory that only fell short due to a misstep by a single individual. The question fails to address whether or not Union commanders (Meade, Hancock, Warren, etc) made some really good calls and outfought the Rebels. This, I think, is worth considering. After all, after the war, when someone asked former Confederate George Pickett why his army failed to secure a victory at Gettysburg he responded, “I think the Union army had something to do with it.”

So here’s your chance to weigh in. And for my money, though I do not necessarily think this was the determining factor to the outcome of the battle, JEB Stuart blew it wholesale and really let his army down. I mean…come on dude. You had ONE JOB.

With compliments,

Keith

 

Possible Scenarios for Future Point of Honor Episodes – The Series Continues…

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Still no word on whether or not Point of Honor will be picked up for future episodes…but just in case, I am going to keep going with possible scenarios, in hope that the series writers stumble upon this blog. To keep up with the story, you might want to read the first installment of the series HERE.

Anyway…as war drama unfolds at home and on the battlefield, things really heat up in Lynchburg…

Episode 2 – PHCT

Incensed by General McClellan’s slow but steady advance toward Richmond in May 1862, the prosperous, wage-earning, free African-Confederate-Americans Virgil and Adolphus – citizens of Lynchburg – pool their ever-growing wages to form and equip a black Confederate regiment. When christened the Point of Honor Colored Troops (PHCT) at a Lynchburg abolitionist jubilee, the very sight of armed blacks standing firm in defense of their southern rights so inspires other Lynchburg slaveholders, that they too reject slavery and free their slaves, who in turn join the swelling negro ranks. Now brigade strength, the PHCT march out of town to face the invading Yankee hordes and with great resolve sing a medley of  Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd and Bonnie Blue Flag – putting forever to rest academic revisionists’ foolish notion that black Confederates are merely a figment of the white southern imagination.

Meanwhile…the drunk (though charming) quadruple amputee Rhodes brother (paroled by his Yankee captors who thought him harmless, as well as charmingly drunk) makes his way to Richmond via ambulance to serve the Confederacy as Lynchburg’s representative in the Virginia State legislature. Rumors fly that he is in contact – though West Point connections – with his brother John, who is still held prisoner in Boston. He is, in fact, plotting with John to beat the Lincoln administration in the freedom game by proposing a Confederate Emancipation Proclamation of their own. The audience knows through a series of pan left – pan right stock footage landscape scenes and voice-overs that correspondence between the Rhodes brothers, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and an irascible Irishman named Patrick Cleburne underscores great support for emancipation among the upper echelons of Rebel leadership. Though there will certainly be resistance to such a revolutionary turn of events – they hope that white southerners will change their tunes once they witness the martial prowess of the thousands fighting under the PHCT banner.

Back at the Point of Honor plantation…times are tough as there is now absolutely no one to work the fields. Not a single person. The womenfolk thus subsist entirely on handouts from the elderly and infirm free black Confederate citizens who are unfit to serve in anything but a motley home guard/Confederate Invalid Corps d’Afrique, and the Confederate money sent home by their drunk (though charming) brother in Richmond and the PHCT soldiers in the field. Pistol packin’ Estella Rhodes, the most incorrigible of the Rhodes sisters, has been behaving strangely. Her constant vomiting, cravings, and irritable behavior provokes suspicion among her sisters. Could she be…..?

In the final scene, Estella sits by the fire writing a letter – addressed to the Richmond front c/o commanding officer, PHCT, Confederate States Army. Cue Dixie and extremely affected southern accent voice-over – “My Dearest Virgil….”

Hoping for the call from Amazon entertainment…fingers crossed!!!

Keith

PS – See another future scenario HERE.