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George Stoneman: A Biography of the Civil War General

by Ben Fuller Fordney, McFarland & Co.

George Stoneman’s claim to fame is that he led the Army of the Potomac’s first great cavalry raid, at Chancellorsville in May 1863. Al though that raid was successful, the absence of what should have been Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s chief source of intelligence—albeit at his own order—is often cited as a key factor in the Union loss at Chancellorsville. Still, it marked the first step in the hitherto-maligned Union cavalry’s progress toward self-respect and effectiveness.

Stoneman’s Civil War résumé mostly included a series of also-ran achievements. He was captured during Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign but later paroled. In April 1865, he helped prevent Robert E. Lee from joining forces with Joseph E. Johnston, and also just missed capturing the fleeing Jefferson Davis by hours. Stoneman’s postwar political career, and even his marriage, fell short of greatness, but he saw some success as a military commander in Memphis and as governor of Virginia, then California.

This is a worthy, somewhat overdue look at the long military and political career of an upright man who was imbued with a strong sense of duty. In researching George Stoneman: A Biography of the Civil War General, Fordney began to empathize with the frustrations of the general’s life, since many of Stoneman’s papers were destroyed in two fires. Because fate repeatedly stepped between Stoneman and greater achievements, readers will probably feel for him, too.


Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here