Such Troops as These
The Genius and Leadership of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson
Penguin Group, New York, 2014, 336 pages
Book Review published on: June 9, 2017
Such Troops as These is a concise historical biography of the personal life and military career of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who served in the Mexican-American War and commanded troops during the Civil War in the Battles of First and Second Manassas, Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Antietam, and Chancellorsville. Bevin Alexander purposively portrays Jackson as an impeccable military genius among his peers and challenges 150 years of battle analysis results to sway the reader that if Jackson was in charge of the Southern Army, the South could have been victorious. The author has written a thoroughly researched and historically detailed Civil War book, relatively short and concise with over 283 pages, and an additional fifty pages of notes and references.
Most Civil War military historians will appreciate the new dramatic historical details and insight of Such Troops as These, but the author’s intent is to defend the military genius of Jackson without comparing all the historical factors and assumptions causes the book to be one-sided historically. Alexander describes vividly the personal life of Jackson through his traumatic and tragic childhood, struggles at West Point, early military career with Gen. Winfield Scott in Mexico City in 1847, his time teaching at Virginia Military Institute, and takes the majority of the book on the historical clarity on Jackson’s exact (and proposed) actions during Battles of Manassas, Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Antietam, and Chancellorsville. The author repeatedly compares and criticizes Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and other senior Southern commanders’ tactical and strategic incompetence during the Civil War. The author defends Jackson’s innovative military tactics of war and explains that no other peer officers, to include Lee or Longstreet, could or would comprehend his methods.
Alexander’s main repeated theme throughout the book is that Jackson was one of greatest unrecognized and uncredited military generals in American history. Though Jackson graduated from West Point, he was not from historical blue-blood wealth and argumentatively blames the Southern West Point aristocratic military leadership that failed the South and prevented Jackson from enabling victory.
Alexander successfully defends with historical detail the unlikely life story of a lower-societal man who became one of the legendary generals of the Civil War. He clearly tells the favored story of how military elitism cost the South any chance of victory and logically articulates how if they only allowed Jackson to lead the South that the results could have been different. The best argument in this book is the critical analysis of Jackson’s military tactics and how they were learned from Scott and used effectively in the Civil War. This book encompasses the quality of leadership values, characteristics and military duty, which are relevant today especially with the combat experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan generalship. I highly recommend this book for those interested in the strategy and tactics of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Virginia Military Institute graduates, and Civil War enthusiasts especially those interested in the battles of Manassas and Antietam.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Paul Berg, PhD, U.S. Army, Fort Rucker, Alabama