Eight volumes of stories

Last month, Drew Wagenhoffer noticed Scott Bowden's eight-volume military biography of Lee.

The publisher's key statement is: "Military History Press has committed to a lavish graphic presentation, sure to set a new standard in campaign and combat studies." The publisher is going to outdo the old American Heritage Press, if it can, and has a sample chapter online that you can peruse as I did.

The graphics claim holds up.

A claim made about the author does not:
Never before addressed topics include a complete analysis of Lee's art of war. Also, and for the first time, Bowden explains in great detail Lee's ongoing efforts to craft and reorganize the army he inherited from Joe Johnston-a force unevenly led and inefficiently organized-into a modern and fierce fighting machine known as the Army of Northern Virginia.
These may be addressed in another chapter, however.

As you will see in the sample chapter, Mr. Bowden is a very good writer; facile, interesting, and in control of his material. The problem is the kind of control he exerts over all that material.

Our sample Chapter 3 covers the period immediately after the Lee-Pemberton team was broken up in South Carolina and it carries through Seven Pines and Lee's accession to Smith's command.

There are so many historical problems and controversies here that you couldn't address them all in one chapter. Our author doesn't try - he takes a single outcome or interpretation in each case and runs with it.

Take for example the business of Lee, as Davis's advisor, secretly giving orders to Johnston's units in the Valley. Dowdey, in his classic treatment of this period gives a whole chapter to Lee's "machiavellian" behavior. But Bowden says, "Lee's proximity required he supervise" Jackson and Ewell. Required. Further, "the baffling chain-of-command left Lee in a nebulous and needlessly complicated position." What nebulous is not: issuing orders to other people's troops.

Point of delicacy: Bowden notes Lee had to "acquire [Davis's] permission for such movements" and "while having done so, try with great tact to avoid offending the touchy Johnston."

He gets touchy when you move his units ... when you fail to inform him of your orders ... when you seek higher authority to command his men.

What a grouch!

"Having backed his army into the environs of the Confederate capital, Johnston waited there incommunicado." "Thus Johnston had carried out his original insubordinate intention with seeming malice."

And so you see how it goes here. Seven Pines was "phenomenally mismanaged." Lee suffered the "personality flaws of Davis."

I could take it controversy by controversy but it would exceed comfortable blogging length, for these historical problems require careful handling and attention. Here, they are given the storyteller's short shrift.

Take a look. Don't mind "capitol" for "capital" or "throws" for "throes" for this is a draft.

If the publisher commissioned a coffee table picture book, his author gave him more quality than is required. If he commissioned a military biography of Lee, the reader is sold short.