A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph, 1862-1863,
by Jeffry D. Wert, Simon & Schuster
In his preface, Jeffry Wert declares that from June 1862 to July 1863, Robert E. Lee and his army “crafted a record of achievement unmatched by any army in the annals of American military history.” A Glorious Army ably demonstrates how he accomplished that feat, focusing on the campaigns in general terms to present a balanced analysis of the Army of Northern Virginia during this critical period.
Wert introduces Lee as he takes over command of the army from the wounded Joseph Johnston on June 1, 1862. The primary focus is to demonstrate Lee’s leadership and the steps he took to instill his men with esprit de corps.
Wert next focuses on the major battles fought during the following year. Rather than detailing any of these engagements, he looks at the leadership provided by Lee and his officers during that first year of his command. Readers are treated to revealing assessments of the leaders of the Army of Northern Virginia through the words of the participants themselves, in addition to what historians have had to say about them. The contemporary accounts are particularly insightful.
Wert has once again done a thorough job in researching his subject matter. This enables him to quote liberally from a wide range of primary resources on Lee’s army, from privates through generals. The author’s treatment of these accounts is notably evenhanded. For example, Wert quotes Edward Porter Alexander’s analysis of some of Lee’s decisions at Gettysburg as being poor, yet he also includes statements by Alexander in which he praises the Virginia commander. Since this study provides an overview of many of the war’s major battles, Wert’s inclusion of analyses by historians who have dealt with that period in depth is especially welcome. They provide valuable insights into Lee’s first year in command.
Wert has developed an important body of work related to the war. Like all his previously published efforts, A Glorious Army is admirably produced. His extensive bibliography and liberal footnoting attest to that. Wert writes so well that the book is worth a read by anyone with an interest in the conflict in general. For readers specifically focusing on the Army of Northern Virginia or Robert E. Lee, Wert’s latest is a must-read for 2011.
Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.