Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War
(G.F.R. Henderson, 1898)

When I first read this book, in a library in about 1970, it started my interest in the American Civil War. On buying my own copy and rereading it recently, I'm pleased to find that it remains one of the best ACW books I've read, and I've read a number of them by now.

Colonel Henderson was a British officer and was about seven years old when the American Civil War started. Despite these handicaps, he writes about it in such vivid detail that his book stands well alongside the autobiographies of participants such as Grant and Alexander. This is a highly convincing and readable book. As Henderson says in his preface, “The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion contain every dispatch, letter, and message, public or confidential, which has been preserved . . . It has been my privilege, moreover, to visit the battle-fields of Virginia with men who rode by his side when he won his victories, to hear on the spot the description of his manúuvres, of his bearing under fire, and of his influence over his troops.”

Not just a successful biography of Jackson, it also provides an interesting commentary on the war in general and on military strategy and tactics in general. Henderson spent part of his life as a lecturer at Sandhurst, and he intended his book to be instructive.

He's distinctly partial to his subject, whom he considers one of the great military leaders of history. Whatever criticisms you may find of Jackson elsewhere, you'll find them well countered here. The only concession he makes is that Jackson was too strict a disciplinarian, which certainly seems to be true, and is mentioned by others such as Alexander, who relates (in Fighting for the Confederacy) at least one example that he witnessed himself.

If you read this book out of interest in the American Civil War, with no special interest in Jackson, you can expect to find it well worth reading, but you should be aware that it stops in 1863 with Jackson's death at the Battle of Chancellorsville, and that it mostly ignores the war in the West, in which Jackson wasn't involved.

Of the 25 chapters, one is devoted to Jackson's early life, and one to the war in Mexico (1846-47), in which Jackson and various other ACW generals from North and South got their first experiences of war.

Being a 19th-century book, it's not well illustrated. There are a few maps, but not enough, and of course they're in black and white. However, the text is usually quite intelligible without illustration.

Written in October 2008