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.
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?”