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Author: Monte Akers
Genre: Historical Biography/Civil War
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I didn't learn much about the Civil War growing up in the rural north during the 1970s. After living in the heart of Dixie for more than 15 years, I only had nominal brushes with Civil War history. But when I became a Home Educator, everything changed. As I have studied history with my family, I have fallen in love with the men and women who built this country. Our trip through the Civil War was eye-opening. Even though those units are long gone, we continue to pursue additional information on the events of those years. Jeb Stuart wasn't someone who really crossed my radar before this study, and we've been astonished to learn of his feats. This book on Stuart's most glorious times has worked right into our studies. In the middle of this book we got the chance to visit with two fantastic reenactors playing Jeb Stuart and Heros Von Borcke at the Chancellorsville 150th and also stopped at Yellow Tavern - the place where Stuart was mortally wounded. But onto the book....
Jeb Stuart is one of the long, lost legends of American folk history. A Cavalry General for the Confederacy during the Civil War, Stuart lived larger than life. With his plumed hat and sabre, he galloped into history with his daring rides and dangerous raids. Akers chronicles his greatest year in this book, from June 1862-June 1863.
Before we delve into the tales and adventures of the debonir Cavalier, we meet the cast of colorful characters surrounding Stuart. We meet Heros Von Borcek - a former Prussian soldier - who seems to add life and humor with his numerous gaffs and his partial mastery of the English language. There is the legendary John Mosby, the Grey Ghost, who earns fame in his own right as a Confederate raider. Young John Pelham - Gallant Pelham - a 24 year old artillery officer who amazes the South with his daring and skills. Sam Sweeny is lead banjo player and songster. Having Sam along for the ride is like "having Bruce Springsteen at your tailgate party." And many more lively and boisterous young men with remarkable character and skills are drawn to the command of Jeb Stuart. Together, they take the Union by storm.
The Year of Glory begins in June of 1862, just before the Battles of the Seven Days, Jeb and his crew penetrate the Union lines - riding all the way to McClellan's camp. They scout out the position, take some prisoners, acquires some horse, burn supplies and some how make it back around to Lee with adequate intelligence of what is going on behind enemy lines. This is only the beginning.
Over the course of the next year, Stuart and company will seemingly defy the odds, as they make remarkable and daring raids, lead amazing charges in battles and make ruthless moves that astound the Union and provide confidence for the underdog Confederacy. We learn about the camp life of these soldier - how they are never idle, even when they are not on official business, they are charming the local southern bells and making friends with families, and from time to time getting into a little mischief. It's a different view of what one might picture as being the life of a soldier in the Civil War.
Akers uses a unique style of writing. While he quotes and references many first hand sources of events - tracking our debonair hero through the remarkable timeline of glory - he also interjects antidotes of Stuart and the Military Family, often pointing out ironies of things yet to come. This helps to keep the story fresh and entertaining. The sources (memoirs, letters and reports) help us to see the real Stuart from the inside out. We see he has the capacity to laugh and joke, yet sorrows for the losses that come in life. Akers does not try to define Jeb for us. He lets us peek in on his most intimate thoughts along with stories told by his comrades to draw us to his conclusion - Jeb Stuart was a remarkable man at a most delicate time in history.
Stuart is probably most remembered for his failure at Gettysburg, but there is so much more to the man than that. Civil War readers will enjoy this story of the glory that was Jeb Stuart.
One of the interesting things that caught my attention in this book, was the folk songs and poetry of the Civil War. Jeb Stuart loved to sing and the author mentions "Jine the Cavalry" as one of his favorite songs. He also quotes other Civil War tunes and poetry, reminding us that entertainment in the 1860s was not a tv, movie, ipod or even a radio. The lively sing and dance alongs by the campfire were popular entertainment.
I really wish more people would take the time to learn about these incredible men and discover more about who they really were, instead of allowing them to slip out of our history books or become a dry answer on a standardized test. Because, Jeb Stuart, and many of the men mentioned in these pages were so much more than that. Thanks to the author for the incredible research to paint this picture of these men and to the publisher for providing me with a copy.
Recommend for lovers of historical bios and Civil War Buffs.
Note: I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.