Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Damage Them All You Can

One of my books for the Back to History Challenge is Damage Them All They Can, a history of the Army of Northern Virginia by George Walsh. The book is centered on the leaders of the Army, with particular but by no means exclusive focus on the likes of Lee, Jackson, the Johnstons, the Hills, Longstreet, Ewell and Early. There is some discussion of life in the Army and the experience of the soldiery, but this is of decidedly secondary importance to the book overall.

The focus on the leaders makes the book's chronological approach problematic. The development of each leader is of keen interest to Walsh, but it can get lost in the shifts of time. I think the book would have been stronger if the book had been thematically or biographically organized ( as I believe Lee's Lieutenants is actually organized.)

While I was reading the book, I was hoping for more of the approach of Rick Atkinson in his Liberation Trilogy or Eric Bergerud in his Touched with Fire. These books tell what happened in the wars they describe, but also provide some understanding of the experience of these wars. Those looking for a good introduction to the Civil War in Virginia will find a lot to learn here, but they may get lost in the detail of brigade commands.

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