Lost Victories: The Military Genius of Stonewall Jackson

Lost Victories: The Military Genius of Stonewall Jackson Click here to purchase from Barnes & Noble. Click here to purchase from Amazon.com.


There is nothing inevitable about military victory, even for forces of apparently overwhelming strength. The Greeks at Marathon, Alexander vs. the Persian empire, the success of the American colonists against the British in the American Revolution, Napoleon over the Austrians in the 1796-97 Italian campaign all offer dramatic evidence to the contrary.

In the absence of inspired military leadership, wars are usually won by attrition: the more powerful side wears down the weaker. Germany lost World War I in this fashion. Yet victory is only partially dependent upon the numbers of troops and material factors of war. For example, the German general Erwin Rommel recovered nearly all of Libya from a far larger British army early in 1941 by employing an audacious strategy based on surprise and speed.

Since shortly after the end of the Civil War, there has been little critical analysis of Robert E. Lee's abilities to take advantage of his strategic military opportunities. Few historians have questioned the general assumption that Lee was a brilliant general who achieved all that was possible against superior forces.

This book examines that assumption by taking a fresh look at primary sources and battlefield conditions. The evidence suggests that, on the Confederate side, Stonewall Jackson, not Lee, possessed the strategic vision necessary to win key battles and, possibly, entire campaigns. Instead Robert E. Lee blocked the more daring and opportunistic Jackson, while pursuing a destructive strategy which permitted the North to wear down the South. Though Lee's course guaranteed a Union triumph, Northern victory was by no means preordained.

The South desperately needed a mythic hero to justify its immense wartime losses. This is a major reason why there has been little critical examination of Lee's military leadership by Southern historians and other writers.

Out of this need for moral justification grew other myths including those suggesting that Southern soldiers had exhibited greater valor and their commanders more inspired leadership than their enemies; in short, that the Confederacy had succumbed, inevitably, to overwhelming force. Many soldiers on both sides did display valor (some did not). Despite the romance of honor in the field and the war's enduring appeal, especially in the South, Confederates were neither braver nor more effective than their opponents and there were few inspired generals, North or South.

Recovery came slowly to the South in the decades after the war and its need to idealize the carnage caused its people, especially Virginians, to elevate Lee to something resembling sainthood: a hero without fault, personifying bravery and an absolute dedication to his men and to the Cause. By 1915 Lee's apotheosis was complete, as a reading of the papers in the Southern Historical Society makes clear. Two decades later a fellow Virginian, Douglas Southall Freeman, published an adoring biography of Lee, followed by his classic study of Lee's lieutenants. Freeman's dedication, scholarship and crusading zeal caused these works to become the standard, virtually unquestioned sources: the authority. Thereafter writers rarely looked farther. They seldom disputed Freeman's judgment or sought evidence in primary sources and official documents to question Lee's military sagacity. As a consequence, Freeman's largely uncritical look at Lee and frequently mistaken view of Jackson were reflected in much of the literature that has followed.

This book leads the reader back to the Virginia and Maryland battlefields of 1861-1863, to Jackson's lost victories and to strategies and command decisions that could have been otherwise if the military genius of General Stonewall Jackson had been honored by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.

Bevin Alexander
July 1992
<< More on 'Lost Victories' << Back to top