REBEL YELL: THE VIOLENCE, PASSION, AND REDEMPTION OF STONEWALL JACKSON
By S.C. Gwynne
Published in 2014 by Scribner.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando.
Put a bookmark at the map “Jackson’s Theater of Operations: April 21, 1861- May 10, 1863” before you begin S. C. Gwynne’s Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, for you will be referring to it often. The dates of the map also set the parameters for the book: the period of Thomas Jonathan Jackson’s military actions from the Battle of Manassas until his death from friendly fire at Chancellorsville.
This is not a full-blown biography but rather an examination of the extraordinary man and the war that brought him to the zenith of his life. He acquired the more familiar name of “Stonewall” at the battle of Manassas when, in the last hour of his own life, General Bernard Bee rallied his troops by calling “Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall. Let’s go to his assistance.” Rebel Yell is certainly appropriately named since during that battle the “piercingly loud noise” of that yell first rang out.
Stonewall Jackson is as difficult to understand as he is to like. This devout Christian who prayed often, had no compunctions about sending troops to certain death nor executing a young volunteer for desertion, and then turning to write lyrical and witty love letters to his wife. The book looks at his childhood and early adult years as a mostly ineffective teacher as background for his transition into a charismatic and insightful leader on the battlefield.
Gwynne describes “an intricate game of martial chess.” The war raged across most of the continent but the focus here is on Virginia, particularly the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The exact descriptions of the smallest skirmishes and the enormous logistical problems bring the war into a reality books with a broader scope do not approach.
While the book is well and hugely researched, the text never bogs down into pedantics thanks to Gwynne’s fine writing and low-key approach. It does not describe happy events, but it is a pleasure to read.
Trilla Pando holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Houston; she taught in both Texas and Georgia. Her research focused on women in Texas and Houston. The Bainbridge (Georgia) Post-Searchlight published her weekly column on food and local history. She now lives and works in Houston.