Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: Cavalryman of the Lost Cause

In Cavalryman of the Lost Cause, historian Jeffry Wert provides the first meaningful biography of James Ewell Brown Stuart in decades. While I have enjoyed previous biographies of Stuart, particularly those of Burke Davis and Emory Thomas, I think Wert’s book outshines them both. Combining a crisp, clear writing style with in-depth research into manuscript collections and other previously unpublished sources, Wert delivers a winner.

Wert’s treatment of Stuart is refreshingly objective, and I found the book an enjoyable read. Neither scathing nor fawning, the book covers his entire life, and not simply the Civil War period. Nor did this biography focus on the controversial two weeks of the Gettysburg campaign to the detriment of the rest of Stuart’s life. Wert’s well documented biography provides all of the references that could be asked for from anyone desiring to dig deeper into the cavalryman’s life.

The biography focuses on more than the military facet of Stuart’s life, and the author explores the complexities of Stuart’s personality. Relationships with both peers and subordinates are examined in a balanced manner, as is his affinity for publicity. He was a shameless self-promoter, but the same could be said of many leaders of this period. His look at relationships with his wife and lady friends are tastefully and tactfully conducted. The author portrays Stuart as a thoroughly professional and deeply religious man.

The only part of this book that could be improved is the period of his U.S. Army service during the years leading up to the Civil War, and this is admittedly a very difficult period to find references for.

I highly recommend this book. It deserves a place in the library of anyone interested in the Civil War, its leaders, or cavalry operations.


Richard said...

Thanks for the review. That is one of the books on my shelf for future reading and seeing a review like this might put it up to be next in line.

Jim Rosebrock said...

I agree with your assessment of the book. I was particularly interested in Stuart's role in the Maryland Campaign. Again, Stuart did not seem at his best in the days before the battle then though his conduct on the battlefield itself was exemplary. I too enjoyed the book, particularly the rich collection of quotes by and about Stuart.

Don said...


That's not a bluegrass K, is it? If so, you really might want to consider covering it with a big red UofL....