From the author of the mega-bestselling, prize-winning New York Times bestseller Empire of the Summer Moon comes a groundbreaking account of how Civil War general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson became a great and tragic American hero.
General Stonewall Jackson was like no one anyone had ever seen. In April of 1862 he was merely another Confederate general with only a single battle credential in an army fighting in what seemed to be a losing cause. By middle June he had engineered perhaps the greatest military campaign in American history and was one of the most famous men in the Western World. He had given the Confederate cause what it had recently lacked: hope. In four full-scale battles and six major skirmishes in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Jackson had taken an army that never numbered more than 17,000 men and often had far less, against more than 70,000 Union troops whose generals had been ordered specifically to destroy him. And he had humiliated them, in spite of their best efforts, sent the armies reeling backward in retreat. He had done it with the full knowledge that he and his army were alone in a Union-dominated wilderness and surrounded at all times. He had even beaten a trap designed by Lincoln himself to catch him.
How did he do this? Jackson marched his men at a pace unknown to soldiers of the era. He made flashing strikes in unexpected places, and assaults of hard and relentless fury. He struck from behind mountain ranges and out of steep passes. His use of terrain reminded observers of Hannibal and Napoleon. His exploits in the valley rank among the most spectacular military achievements of the 19th century. Considered one of our country’s greatest military figures, a difficult genius cited as inspiration by such later figures as George Patton and Erwin Rommel, and a man whose brilliance at the art of war transcends the Civil War itself, Stonewall Jackson’s legacy is both great and tragic in this compelling account, which demonstrates how, as much as any Confederate figure, Jackson embodies the romantic Southern notion of the virtuous lost cause.
1. Why does S.C. Gwynne consider Stonewall Jackson one of the most compelling characters of the Civil War
2. How did Jackson, an unpopular and highly eccentric college physics professor, become (in the space of fourteen months) the most famous military figure in the western world?
3. Why do you think Gwynne chose the title Rebel Yell
4. Jackson’s Valley Campaign shows how often victory or defeat hangs on the thread of chance. How did small decisions greatly impact the outcome?
5. Gwynne is not afraid to show the different sides of Jackson—a contradictory figure, a man who rode his troops almost as hard as his horse, Little Sorrel, and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of soldiers, but was in his private moments a loving husband and devoted Christian. Discuss Gwynne’s portrayal of the contradictions within his character.
6. How do Jackson’s personal views on slavery relate to his actions as a general?
7. Stonewall Jackson’s war-making strategies have merited generations of study. What in his strategies and leadership is significant today?
8. A review of Rebel Yell noted that “praying soldiers were often socially shunned and professionally unrewarded.” How did Jackson’s religious convictions imbue his leadership? How did his faith differentiate him?
9. What do you think attracted Gwynne to Jackson as a subject? He seems to occupy a much smaller place in the minds of Americans than other Civil War figures like Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee. Was Rebel Yell an attempt to correct that?
10. What surprised you most about Stonewall Jackson?
11. Do you consider Jackson an American hero? Why or why not? Did reading Rebel Yell change your opinion? How?
S.C. Gwynne is the author of Hymns of the Republic and the New York Times bestsellers Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He spent most of his career as a journalist, including stints with Time as bureau chief, national correspondent, and senior editor, and with Texas Monthly as executive editor. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife.