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.

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