Book Review: Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester


by Gary Ecelbarger

Norman, Ok.: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. Pp. 273. Illus., maps., append., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN:0806138866

An account of the operations around Front Royal and Winchester on May 23-25, 1862, in which a Confederate army under Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson inflicted a severe reverse on Union forces under Nathaniel Banks, initiating the most brilliant strategic diversion of the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862. 

By tapping hitherto unused or underused letters, diaries, and official documents, while avoiding reliance on the large mass of memoirs and secondary accounts that have been published since the battle, the author, who has previously written solid treatments of John "Black Jack" Logan and the battle of Kernstown, reveals the reality behind what he calls the numerous myths and legends that have grown up around these three days.  So we hear little of Belle Boyd, who apparently had no impact on events at all, and a clear refutation of the notion that Jackson stared at a fire all night while meditating upon his plans.  What emerges is an account, in considerable detail, of how the events of these three days unfolded, within the context of the larger concerns of the Eastern Theater. 

Ecelbarger gives us a look at some brilliant tactical performances by several officers, mostly Union, with excellent maps to help further our understanding of events, often down to very low levels.  He also recounts a number of bad decisions and several good ones by commanders at all levels, demonstrating how the fog, friction, and fortune of war played a role in operations that could easily have had a different outcome.  Ecelbarger credits Jackson's drive and vision for the Confederate success, and surprisingly gives Banks some very high marks, arguing that despite a number of initial errors, he reacted well and efficiently pulled his army out of a potentially disastrous situation, conclusions that have been paralleled by those of several other recent scholars, including some who are decidedly "Southern" in their inclinations. 

A good book for anyone interested in the war in the east, command, or tactics, though marred by some poor usage (e.g., "one-year anniversary," "time frame").

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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