Book Review: Rebels & Yankees: Commanders Of The Civil War

Rebels & Yankees:  Commanders Of The Civil War, by William C. Davis

One’s enjoyment of a book like this depends largely on the way that this book is approached.  By no means a scholarly work, this book does have some insights into various aspects of the war and is gorgeously illustrated.  It does not contain as much information about particular commanders of the Civil War, but rather it looks at officers in the Civil War from a somewhat broad perspective and provides information about the uniforms of officers, at least in the ideal sense, in a way that seeks to balance the blue and the gray.  After all, the material poverty of the Confederacy meant that in practice a vast majority of officers wore less fancy clothing than the best that Union officers had to offer.  Given the way that this book focuses so much on the appearance of troops, it is striking and somewhat odd that there are great insights to be provided about certain sorts of soldiers here as well, particularly naval and marine forces as well as prisoners of war, which are not always the sorts of soldiers that Civil War books pay the most attention to, and this is worth appreciating.

This book consists of heavily illustrated pages of a large size that sum up to around 250 pages in material.  This material is divided into several sections.  First the author introduces the material briefly and then discusses the old army before the Civil War where most of the higher officers in both armies got to know each other (1).  After this comes a discussion of the officers and gentlemen that made up the armies of the Civil War, especially in the south (2).  After this comes a discussion of what it was like to be in the stress of being under the marquee when it came to pressure and attention (3) as well as a discussion of the armies that were led in both North and South (4) and the test of leadership in those armies (5).  There is a discussion of the Civil War as a classroom of conflict for officers, many of whom were learning on the job (6) as well as a discussion of those who served at sea (7).  There is a discussion of the thousand generals of both armies (8), some of whom are very obscure, and also a look at the service of doctors and other more obscure figures (9).  After that comes chapters of officers behind bars (10), the dash and elan that some leaders showed (11), and a discussion of the end of the war for those who were peacemakers for posterity (12), after which there is a short appendix, index, and bibliography.

It cannot be emphasized enough how gorgeously this particular book is illustrated.  In fact, the illustrations of this book are so wonderful, even if most of them were likely only this glorious for the purposes of parading or at the very beginning of the war, when Zouves were appreciated as something as more than colorful targets and war had a sense of romance that it did not later.  Indeed, it may be said that the aesthetic focus of this particular book and the way that it makes the soldiers of North and South look so glorious is somewhat at odds with both the text and how it portrays the war in its more gruesome and unpleasant aspects as well as the nature of the Civil War in general.  Yet the Civil War has often found itself in an ambivalent situation where the brutality of the war and how it was fought has been at odds with the way way that it has been remembered for lost and nonexistent glory, especially on the part of those who are partisans of the Confederacy.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History. Bookmark the permalink.

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