Book Review: Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson

21 07 2014

Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced readers copy of this book.

Title:  Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jacksoncover47744-medium

Author:  S. C. Gwynne

Genre:  Biography/History/Civil War

Publisher: Scribner

Release Date: September 30, 2014

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I’ve been deep into Civil War reads for several years, but never have read a biography of the legendary Stonewall Jackson, and was absolutely thrilled that the publishers have given me the opportunity to read and review this book.  Many of the books I’ve read have discussed in part the genius, quirkiness, and characters of Jackson.  Rebel Yell is a complete expose of the Confederate general.

Gwynne starts the book in the Valley, where Jackson grew the seed of legend planted on the killing fields of Manassass.  But as he dives into Jackson’s background, he moves back and forth between the various stages of his life, building on the people and events that influenced him, and showing the how these influences may have shaped him.  He works us back into the Civil War and finally we return to the Valley to walk with Stonewall through his fame and legend.

It’s clear that Stonewall Jackson is a historical figure of epic proportions.  But what was the thing that vaulted him into the hearts of the Confederacy and the textbooks of modern day war fare?  We follow the trail that takes Jackson from his almost mock status as a VMI professor to the most feared general in the Army of Northern Virginia.  The author weaves in first person accounts on this journey, so that we come to the understanding of the absolute devotion his men had to him, and how deeply he impacted them as he turned them from a ragged group of volunteers to the famous and lauded foot soldiers of Stonewall Jackson.

Gwynne covers everything, from the epic marches in the Valley to the final fateful recon in the wilderness at Chancellorsville.  He doesn’t just sing the heralds and genius of Jackson, either.  He points out many instances where fate intervenes in successes and failures of the blue-eyed general.  Jackson is far from perfect in his command, making a number of mistakes, but often in conjunction with more horrific mistakes on the Union side.  The historical records don’t always give us the entire story, but the communication challenges that the armies faced, clearly affected events and outcomes.  One thing is certain though, Jackson always pushed through.

I quite enjoyed the writing style of the author.  The book read more like a novel that a dry, historical account.  He retells many legendary Jackson tales, but also shares smaller, personal and intimate stories of the general.  At times, Jackson has seemed like a wooden figure in historical accounts, impersonal and unwavering.  Under his professional exterior, we can truly see his vibrancy and passion.

It’s truly a worthwhile read, sure to become a classic on the Stonewall Jackson reading list.

Note:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher, all opinions expressed are my own.

 

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