Thursday, December 09, 2004


I'm taking a break from Stephen Sears's book, "Chancellorsville" -- it's almost too painful to read, because very bad stuff is about to happen. It's the morning of May 2, 1863. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson have conferred, and Jackson has set out on his famous march around Joseph Hooker's flank.

On balance, I suppose the campaign and defeat the Union army suffered served a purpose. As Sears tells it, Hooker instituted valuable reforms that curbed desertion and rebuilt morale, which had been shattered at Fredericksburg in December 1862. In addition, of course, Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire on the evening of May 2. Had Jackson been present at Gettysburg, fought by these same armies two months later, I strongly suspect the outcome would have been different.

I have no complaints about the book, by the way; to the contrary, it's excellent. It is precisely Sears's ability to tell the story so dramatically that makes it difficult for me to read.

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