Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army Soon To Be Published

Yesterday I received an advanced copy of Joseph T. Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse (Free Press, 2008).  The publication date at Amazon is March 18.  There has been a buzz about this book for at least the last two years.  During that time Glatthaar has published a few snippets as articles and book chapters, but it is nice to finally have the finished product at hand.  It’s a thick book at just over 600 pages, including extensive notes.  The book is organized chronologically, but along the way the author addresses various subjects such as black Confederates, the home front, morale, and medical care.  Glatthaar describes his focus in the preface as a blend of top-down and bottom-up perspectives.  It’s hard to believe that this is the first book-length treatment of the Army of Northern Virginia since Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants.  If it does for the entire war what J. Tracy Power’s Lee’s Miserables did for the final year we are in for a real treat.  I am about twenty pages into it and enjoying it immensely.  Interestingly, Glatthaar’s tables – based on a sample size of 600 – shows that slave owners were overrepresented in Lee’s army.  Here is a bit more to wet your appetite:

On the “Volunteers of ’61’:

Among enlistees of 1861, half the men had no accumulated wealth, according to the 1860 census, yet the average personal wealth was $1,615, a considerable sum at the start of the war.  Very wealthy individuals more than compensated for their poorer comrades….Quite a number of soldiers had grown up in comfortable middle- and upper-class households and still resided with their parents or relatives….More reflective of the average soldier’s true financial status was a combination of the wealth of the individual soldier and, if he lived at home, his family.  By adding those two categories, the average total estate soared to $6,882, a figure that positioned these men at the edge of the wealthy class.  The median combined wealth climbed to $1,365, a figure that placed them comfortably in the middle class. (p. 19)

For those volunteers who still lived at home, if one combines their personal wealth with their family’s net worth, the picture appears very different.  What emerges from an examination of that combined wealth is a huge range among these men.  The ratio of soldiers and their families who had total assets under $300 was about one-third, the same as those who were worth more than $5,000, a truly substantial sum in 1860.  One in every five enlistees and their families had accumulated wealth that surpassed $10,000; one in five were worth nothing, too, Rich and poor shouldered arms in equal proportions in 1861, and the middle lot of them were certainly from solid, middle-class backgrounds. (p. 19)

So much for a Rich Man’s War – Poor Man’s Fight.

On Slavery

Among the enlistees in 1861, slightly more than one in ten owned slaves personally….Yet more than one in every four volunteers that first year lived with their parents who were slaveholders.  Combining those soldiers who owned slaves with those soldiers who lived with slaveowning family members, the proportion rose to 36 percent….Thus, volunteers in 1861 were 42 percent more likely to own slaves themselves or to live with family members who owned slaves than the general population. (p. 20)

The attachment to slavery, though, was even more powerful.  One in every ten volunteers in 1861 did not own slaves themselves but lived in households headed by a nonfamily members who did.  This figure, combined with the 36 percent who owned or whose family members owned slaves, indicated that almost one of every two 1861 recruits lived with slaveholders.  Nor did the direct exposure stop there.  Untold numbers of enlistees rented land from, sold crops to, or worked for slaveholders.  In the final tabulation, the vast majority of the volunteers of 1861 had a direct connection to slavery.  For slaveholder and nonslaveholders alike, slavery lay at the heart of the Confederate nation.  The fact that their paper notes frequently depicted scenes of slaves demonstrated the institution’s central role and symbolic value to the Confederacy….More than half the officers in 1861 owned slaves, and none of them lived with family members who were slaveholders. (p. 20)

I wonder what other myths will be demolished?

Meanwhile my cat Felix is chewing on a bound copy of my M.A. thesis.  “Stop that Felix, don’t you know that this is going to make for a lovely door stop at some point?”

15 comments… add one
  • Harry Mar 1, 2008

    “It’s hard to believe that this is the first book-length treatment of the Army of Northern Virginia since Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants. “

    I can’t speak to their quality, but George Walsh’s “‘Damage them All You Can’: Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia” was published in 2002 and Philip Katcher’s “The Army of Robert E. Lee” came out in 1994.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 1, 2008

    Perhaps I should have said first scholarly book-length treatment. I reviewed Walsh’s book for CWT a few years back and it was absolutely God-awful. Katcher’s book isn’t much better. This book falls into a completely different category in terms of sources used and level of analysis. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up once it is published.

  • Shane Christen Mar 1, 2008

    Mr Glatthaar is an author with a history of superb works. While I have little interest in the ANV I may find myself with a copy of this work simply due to the author.

    His works on the March to the Sea and the USCT are priceless and his work, at the very least, compliments other works on the subject. But more often his work stands out as heads and shoulders above others on the subject. Katcher and Walsh… will not compare.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 1, 2008

    Shane, — You are absolutely right. _Forged in Battle_ is one of the most important studies of USCT’s and the relationships they forged with their white officers. Unfortunately, his book on Sherman’s March does not get much attention, but it is indeed well worth reading.

  • matthew mckeon Mar 1, 2008

    Katcher’s book reads more like a guide for re enactors: careful, detailed descriptions of clothing, equipment and weapons, as they evolved over the course of the war. The sections on who the the soldiers were and their motivations is cursory by comparsion.

  • Sean S. Mar 1, 2008

    I’m interested in reading about whether or not that held up for the course of the war. I just recently got done reading Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight about desertion amongst Alabaman soldiers, and how quickly the character of the army changed once the initial fervor was out and the reality of a long-drawn out war were setting in.

    Either way, it seems Lost Cause supporters lose. Either the armies were made up of just normal folks, and therefore their own upper class led them into a bloody and futile war, or it was made of people with a vested interest and grounding in slavery. I honestly don’t know which one sounds worse.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 1, 2008

    Sean, — Thanks for the comment. Keep in mind that Martin’s study was published in 1932. This is not to necessarily discount her interpretation since it does fit into a body of literature that argues for an internal explanation of Confederate defeat. In other words, the Confederacy was defeated because of internal problems rather than the situation on the battlefield. The historiography has shifted quite a bit and historians are now applying more sophisticated quantitative analyses to the question of desertion. Glatthaar addresses this in his book, but you may want to look at both William Blair’s _Virginia’s Private War_ (Oxford University Press) and more recently, Aaron Sheehan-Dean’s _Why Confederates Fought_ (University of North Carolina Press). Both argue that desertion in Virginia increased sharply following conscription in the spring of 1862 and declined thereafter until it ballooned once again during the final few months of the war. You may also want to read Lee’s Miserables which was referenced in the post.

  • Terry Mar 1, 2008

    Kevin:

    I wonder whether Glatthaar delves much into religion or ethnicity…

    Terry

  • Kevin Levin Mar 1, 2008

    Since writing the post this morning I am now 80 pages into the book. Glatthaar touches on both subjects. In addition, he also briefly touches on those men born in Northern states who moved South by the beginning of the war and chose to fight with the Confederacy.

  • Terry Mar 1, 2008

    Kevin:

    Thanks. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he handles both subjects.

  • Ken Noe Mar 1, 2008

    Kevin: You just sold another book for Professor Glathaar. For what it’s worth, my current research on post-1861 enlistees also finds many more slaveholders and more property wealth than one would expect. So does Elisabeth Lauterbach Laskin’s excellent dissertation on the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee, which I hope will soon appear as a book.–Ken

  • Kevin Levin Mar 1, 2008

    Hi Ken, — Is this the same Laskin who published a chapter (signed Lisa Laskin) in _The View From the Ground_? If so, I thoroughly enjoyed that piece so it’s nice to hear that the dissertation will be in print soon.

  • Border Mar 2, 2008

    “Among the enlistees in 1861, slightly more than one in ten owned slaves personally….Yet more than one in every four volunteers that first year lived with their parents who were slaveholders. Combining those soldiers who owned slaves with those soldiers who lived with slaveowning family members, the proportion rose to 36 percent.”
    “The attachment to slavery, though, was even more powerful. One in every ten volunteers in 1861 did not own slaves themselves but lived in households headed by a nonfamily members who did. This figure, combined with the 36 percent who owned or whose family members owned slaves, indicated that almost one of every two 1861 recruits lived with slaveholders. Nor did the direct exposure stop there. Untold numbers of enlistees rented land from, sold crops to, or worked for slaveholders. In the final tabulation, the vast majority of the volunteers of 1861 had a direct connection to slavery.”

    ==========================================

    Gross exaggeration.
    Myth-making.

    If you tabulate in this manner you will have to include many in the North who had a “direct connection to slavery”- cotton, cotton, and more cotton.

  • Border Mar 2, 2008

    Try some simple math-

    A slaveowning family has 12 members (father, mother, 8 children, 2 farm-hands) and two slaves (most slaveowners had 1 to 5 slaves).

    How many of the 8 children stand to inherit slaves?-

    Two.

    The farm-hands will eventually move on…and how much interest will they then have in the slaves?-

    None.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2008

    Border, — You don’t really expect me to take your comments seriously. First of all, for someone who has not read the book you come off as overly defensive. Your first comment is completely irrelevant and your second completely misses the point that Glatthaar makes in some detail as to the ways in which Confederate soldiers were connected to slavery. In short, it’s a silly point.

    Until you read the book I have little interest in your claims.

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