Thursday, June 27, 2013

Year of Glory by Monte Akers

General JEB Stuart
Year of Glory written by Monte Akers describes a year in the life of JEB Stuart and his cavalry.  From June 1862 to June 1863 General Stuart enjoyed unprecedented success as he literally rode circles around the Union armies.  Stuart's time of glory corresponds with the pinnacle of the Confederacy.

Akers takes the reader through the day-to-day events of that year when Stuart's reputation was forged by events on and off of the battlefield.  This diary methodology has its pluses and minuses.  At times it seems that Stuart's moments of combat are squeezed into a busy social life of music, dancing, and women.  The approach treats the more critical aspects of his life with nearly the same detail accorded to parties.  What emerges from this format is an interesting portrait of Stuart that reveals both his triumphs and tragedies.

We follow Stuart's band of brave cavalrymen through his first ride around McClellan (June 1-15, 1862), The Seven Days Campaign (June 15-July 3, 1864), Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, the second ride around McClellan (September 28-October 12,1862), Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Brandy Station.  The story of these campaigns is told through personal letters, anecdotes, and recollections from his staff. 

Southern Troopers Song
Aker's Stuart is a fearless man who fought hard and lived with equal zest. To some his battlefield accomplishments were diminished by flamboyance in "riding magnificent horses, dressing outlandishly, and participating in balls and parties." However, his accomplishments certainly exceed these criticisms.

The reader has an intimate view of Stuart's relationship with Stonewall Jackson and the pleasure they found in each other's company. The exploration of Stuart's "unusually positive personality - always upbeat, charming and humorous" helps bring the famous cavalryman to life. 

There are troubling aspects of Stuart's life.  Although he was considered to be very loyal to his wife, he seemed to enjoy his time engaged in harmless flirtations with other women exchanging kisses for locks of his hair.  At times, his attitude towards his wife seems condescending.  He is also especially remote concerning the death of his daughter.  Excusing himself from visiting her before her death, attending her funeral, and consoling his wife.  He demonstrates a similar remoteness in dealing with the deaths of Pelham and Jackson. Perhaps this avoidance was his way to deal with death including his own. Maybe he was hiding from his own fear of dying behind his joviality and laughter. Such introspections are the grist of psychologists.

One of the interesting parts of Aker's book is the lack of praise from Gen. Robert E. Lee. Perhaps the most disappointing was Lee's decision not to put Stuart in permanent command of Gen. Jackson's Second Corp. Offsetting this was the commendations that Stuart received from Jackson and others. 

I would have liked to see more details on his major battlefield triumphs, but Year of Glory does highlight many of the smaller engagements.  While the book lacks a bibliography, Akers makes up for the absence with chapter notes.  

Monte Akers is the author of several books including Tales for the Telling: Six Short Stories of the American Civil War. Mr. Akers lives near Austin, Texas where he is an attorney, song lyricist, historian, and collector of Civil War artifacts.

We rate Year of Glory

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"An Unjustifiable Departure from My Orders"

Major General C. F. Smith
In November 1861, Brigadier General C. F. Smith issued General Orders No. 32 condemning the behavior of troops under  Brigadier General E. A. Paine during the march from Milburn to Paducah, KY.

The imputations are of the most discreditable, most disgraceful character to them as soldiers or citizens — that in returning, several regiments (the Ninth and Twelfth Illinois excepted) straggled home in parties without the semblance of military array — mere armed mob; and that the property of citizens was wantonly destroyed, and in some instances robbery by violence committed. Such conduct implies a discipline that he can scarcely credit, and he calls upon the brigade and other commanders to use their utmost endeavors to remedy such a state of things.
Today, we have another, more despicable case, of such disgraceful character in the sexual assaults on women in the military.   A Pentagon report says that reported sexual assaults rose to more than 3,374 in 2012.  But this is only a small fraction of the 26,000 estimated number of assaults.  These perpetrators have, in Smith's words, behaved in the "most discreditable, most disgraceful character as soldiers or citizens."

As Smith recognized in 1861, the fault lies with the commanding officers.  Senior military officers have overturned sexual assault convictions.  In other cases, the incidents have been swept under the rug to protect the unit, academy, and/or service.  Visions of the outrageous behavior of a general officer dramatized in The General's Daughter come to mind. The actions of these military personnel dishonor all who serve.

As occurred during the Civil War in regard to military tactics in face of changing technology, the military establishment must be dragged into the 21st century.  Women should be accorded a place of equal respect as they serve this country.  The male-dominated, archaic value system in the military must be overhauled.  Smith wanted to bring up charges against Paine.  Court-martial proceedings against some high ranking officers might gain the attention of the military. 

Congressional actions are focusing on removing the chain of command from deciding whether and how to proceed with the cases.  The military brass objects to this. They have had time to clean their respective houses, but have metaphorically sweep the dirt under the rug.  Something needs to be done, and based on past failures the military has invited intervention by outsiders.

This "conduct unbecoming" points to another serious problem which Smith also notes as "a discipline that he can scarcely credit." The lack of discipline and respect for codes of behavior is cause for concern. This lack of discipline and control can lead to events such as the murder of 25 Afghan citizens.

Secretary of Defense Hagel
"This scourge must be stamped out," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the graduating cadets and newly-minted second lieutenants during his commencement address at the US Military Academy at West Point. "We are all accountable and responsible for ensuring that this happens," Secretary Hagel said. "We cannot fail the Army or America. We cannot fail each other and we cannot fail the men and women that we lead."

A day earlier, President Obama had the same message for Navy ensigns and Marine Corps second lieutenants graduating at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.

I hope that the Congress will take strong measures to remove this stain on the honor of the brave men and women who defend this country.