REVIEWSrnIn Hoc Signo Vincesrnby Collie OwensrnUncertain Glory: Lee’s GeneralshiprnRe-Examinedrnby ]ohn D. McKenziernNew York: Hippocrene Books;rn384 pp., $29.95rnTactical strengths and strategic weaknessesrnmark John D. McKenzie’s reassessmentrnof Robert E. Lee’s generalship.rnThe strengths of this book arernmany. The weaknesses, however, undercutrnthe very point that the author attemptsrnto make; namely, that Lee was atrnbest an average military leader, and thatrnLee’s apologists have given us a biasedrnview of the great man. Moreover, thernbook is informed by certain unstatedrnphilosophical presuppositions of whichrnthe reader needs to be aware.rnWhat is more, proofreading and double-rnchecking of facts does not seem to bernthe forte of the editors at HippocrenernBooks. Misspelled words are the mostrnannoying problem, and they increasernin number as one progresses throughrnthe book: Chattahoochee (p. 258), Oostanaularn(p. 265), Kennesaw (p. 264),rnManassas (p. 320), infection (p. 335),rnand cannon (several times) are allrnmisspelled. Furthermore, the index isrnsketchy and unreliable. This lack of precisionrnin a book whose thesis is based onrnthe precision of numbers tends to underminernconfidence in the author’s argument.rnIt is true, as McKenzie claims, thatrnLee’s reputation was exaggerated byrnSouthern historians from 1870 to 1940.rnLee has been a saint, an icon, almost arndemigod in the mythic imagination ofrnthe South for well over a century. A correctionrnof this viewpoint is surely overdue.rnAfter such elevation, iconoclasm isrninevitable: the postmodern outlook specializesrnin deconstruction and demolition.rnWhile McKenzie’s book will infuriaternsome, for Southern partisans likernmyself it might, on steady reflection, bernconsidered an ironic antidote to postmodernrnmaterialism itself.rnThat Uncertain Glory appears even asrna reconsideration of James Longstreet’srngeneralship is under way (see William G.rnPiston’s Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant) is nornaccident, for the two Confederate leaders’rnreputations have been linked since atrnleast the 1870’s. Southern historiansrnhave long blamed Longstreet for the defeatrnat Gettysburg. Cleady, however, therndefeat stemmed from Lee’s frontal assaultrnand not in any hesitation onrnLongstreet’s part. When, after the war,rnLongstreet turned Republican, the vilificationrnof the man was bitter; so bitter, inrnfact, that Longstreet until recently wasrnthe only high-ranking Confederate officerrnwhose memory was not honored byrnstatuary. Thus McKenzie’s book is a usefulrncorrective to the skewed reputationsrnof these two talented warriors.rnMcKenzie argues forcefully that Lee’srntactics and strategies—and those of almostrnall other Civil War generals. Northrnand South—were based on military assumptionsrnreceived from the NapoleonicrnWars and, especially, the Mexican War.rnYet, advancing arms technology, rifledrnmusket and cannon in particular, hadrnmade these older strategies obsolete.rnThat elder generals on both sides werernslow to appreciate the destructive powerrnof the new technology is undeniablyrntrue; the generals, Union and Confederate,rnwho rose to prominence on bothrnsides were the younger ones able to modifyrntactics to take advantage of changedrncircumstances. Of these. Grant, Sherman,rnand Sheridan on the Union side,rnand Jackson and Forrest on the Confederate,rnare clear examples.rnIn regard to the futility of direct assaultrnon heavily defended positions,rnMcKenzie is on target. Pickett’s Chargernwas without doubt Lee’s most disastrousrntactical blunder, and may be consideredrnthe turning point of the war. Whetherrnthis single military order was emblematicrnof Lee’s generalship is another matter.rnMcKenzie’s insistence on the superiorityrnof a defensive stance against increasedrnand longer-range firepower is justihed byrna few examples, including Grant’s attackrnat Cold Harbor and the Batde of KennesawrnMountain. As I walk the killingrnfields of Kennesaw National BatdefieldrnPark, near my home, I often wonder whyrnSherman attacked an enemy so well entrenched.rnThe earthworks, still visible inrnsome places, were extensive. The socalledrnDead Angle at Cheatham Hillrnearned its name, as far as the Union soldiersrnwere concerned. Only a flankingrnmovement, typical of Sherman, forcedrnJoseph E. Johnston out of his works,rnback to the Smyrna-Ruff’s Mill line, andrninto the Aflanta fortifications. McKenzie’srncriticism of what he considers to bernexcessively aggressive tactics is reinforcedrnwhen one compares the relatively lightrncasualties suffered by Johnston, the masterrnof defense, during the Georgia campaignrnwith the appalling losses of his successor,rnthe audaciously belligerent JohnrnBell Hood who squandered an army inrnreckless attacks and lost Atlanta for thernConfederacy. (Interestingly, Hood was arnyoung general.)rnPerhaps the most outstanding merit ofrnthis volume is its meticulous marshalingrnof statistics, eyewitness accounts, andrnother primary sources. McKenzie has assembledrnan impressive battery of informationrnfrom the Official Records of thernUnion and Confederate Armies, and otherrnmaterials. His basic contention, basedrnon these sources, is that Lee was a poorrngeneral whose Virginian provincialism,rnurge to offensive tactics, and old-fashionedrnview of battle made victory impossiblernfor the Confederacy. Other historians,rnhowever, are likely to reach differentrnconclusions, based on the same evidence.rnMcKenzie’s contribution to therndebate is that he has marched new (orrnlargely forgotten) facts to front and centerrnwhere they can be inspected by historiansrnand Civil War enthusiasts alike.rnWhile the tactical gains of this bookrnthrough a fresh look at the facts of Lcc’srngeneralship are striking, the strategicrnlosses incurred by a weak perspective onrnthem reveal the author’s own bias andrnlimitation. The Lost Cause was consignedrnto the grave in 1865. But no causernis ultimately lost, or dead, if it has thernstamp of truth on it. Glory, by its nature,rnis never uncertain.rnCollie Owens is an assistant professor ofrnEnglish at DeKalb College, where he isrnalso poetry editor of the ChattahoocheernReview.rn36/CHRONICLESrnrnrn