Rebel Yell by S. C. Gwynne
In Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, S. C. Gwynne brings to life Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in a vivid narrative that is rich with military history, biographical detail, and personal conflict. Gwynne’s Jackson is not a man of myth–he is often petty, uncompromising, stubborn, and very human.
No one was perhaps a more unlikely war hero than Professor Thomas Jackson of the Virginia Military Institute. He was awkward and distant, fanatically religious and a hypochondriac. He believed one arm was longer than the other, a “deficiency” he tried to self-correct his whole life.
He was not only secretive with those under his command, but he could be petty and jealous as well. While briefly stationed in Florida after the Mexican War, he frequently quarreled with his commanding officer, Major William H. French. He finally accused French of adultery, despite circumstantial evidence and the harm his unfounded accusation would cause the man’s marriage and reputation. During the Civil War, he court-martialed Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett for ordering a retreat despite being outnumbered, pressed on three sides, and low on ammunition. General Robert E. Lee later had to order Jackson to release Garnett from arrest.
Jackson’s military victories propelled him to national fame in the fledgling Confederacy, but it won him the respect of his Northern opponents as well. Jackson wasn’t always a brilliant tactician, however. During the Peninsula Campaign, Jackson’s corps arrived in virtual secrecy in time for the Seven Days Battles. But Jackson’s men hardly participated, and Jackson himself was sleep deprived and often incoherent.
The war seemed to transform him, not just into a legendary figure, but physically as well. It’s striking, the author notes, that those around him seemed to notice this change from an awkward, “almost petulant” man into “a man who indeed looked much more handsome, older, wiser, and more complete.” For the first time in his life, he was healthy and robust, despite the rigors of campaigning.
Gwynne delves deep into Jackson’s private life and traces his brilliant twenty-four-month career in the American Civil War, the period that encompasses his rise from obscurity to fame and legend, his stunning military success, and his ill-fated death, which caused both North and South to grieve the loss of a remarkable man.
S.C. Gwynne, a journalist from Austin, Texas, has a bachelor’s in history from Princeton University and a master’s in writing from Johns Hopkins University. He was Executive Editor of Texas Monthly from 2000-2008 and wrote for Time Magazine for 12 years. Before that, he was a French teacher and international banker. He wrote about his experience in finance in Selling Money (1986) and The Outlaw Bank (2004). His only other work of history was Empire of the Summer Moon (2010), about the Comanche Nation.
Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S. C. Gwynne was published by Scribner (New York, New York) in 2014. The 688-page paperback edition retails for $20.00. The Kindle version sells for $13.99.