Wallace Hettle. Inventing Stonewall Jackson: A Civil War Hero in History and Memory. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011. 240 pp. ISBN 978-0-8071-3781-9.
Wallace Hettle’s Inventing Stonewall Jackson illuminates less about the history of the Confederate general,and more about his memory. Jackson, who died of wounds received at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, left few records that allow historians to take his “measure as a man” (4). Jackson did not allow newspaper reporters in his camp and wrote a relatively scant number of wartime personal letters. Scholars instead rely upon memoir and biography to explore his personal character. For these reasons, Hettle intends “not to provide a definitive interpretation of the authentic Jackson but to use memoir and biography to understand both southern culture and the subjective element of biography” (9).
Hettle organizes his book into chapters on various authors, mostly southern, who wrote about Jackson from the war years to the early twentieth century. Chapter 1 examines wartime writings on Jackson. Northern and southern newspapers and biographies portrayed Jackson in admiring terms, while soldiers in their private letters more frequently criticized Jackson’s character quirks. Northern writers sometimes identified Jackson as a religious fanatic. Southern writers, on the other hand, usually regarded him as an ordinary pious Christian. Chapter 2 explores Robert Lewis Dabney’s authorized biography, arguing that the book’s emphasis on martyrdom and modernity reflected the author’s “vexed relationship to antebellum society, progress, and the war” (28). Dabney presented Jackson as a soldier who drew upon the authority of God and upon the ethics of individualism, self-discipline, and personal achievement to fight for his country. Chapter 3 centers on John Esten Cooke’s biography, which portrayed Jackson as an eccentric hero for the Confederate cause. Cooke’s stories of Jackson’s peculiarities, though embellished and even invented, became enduring components of the Jackson mythology. Chapter 4 turns to Anna Jackson’s biography of her deceased husband. Jackson’s portrait painted him as loving family man, a representation practically non-existent prior to the publication of her biography. Chapter 5 addresses memoirs written by common soldiers and officers who served under Jackson, which highlight Jackson’s paradoxical and complicated character. Chapter 6 uncovers the work of Mary Johnston, the Virginia suffrage advocate whose critical account of Jackson as characterized by harshness and cruelty emerged from her interpretation of the war as fraught with hardship and suffering. Chapter 7 features the work of Allen Tate, the southern poet and literary critic. The chapter charts Tate’s initial embrace and later rejection of Lost Cause romanticism. An epilogue skips over historical biographies of the late twentieth century to highlight the film Gods and Generals, a reconciliationist take on the war that centers on Jackson as the main character.
Written in an accessible manner, Inventing Stonewall Jackson will appeal to a broad audience. Those interested in historical memory and southern literature will be especially interested in the book. Readers of this journal might particularly appreciate Hettle’s brief attention to representations of Jackson’s religiosity, specifically his discussions of fanaticism, martyrdom, and blasphemy.
Hettle’s work joins a growing body of scholarship that analyzes the memory of the Civil War. Hettle’s foray fits squarely within a subset of this scholarship that concerns Civil War officers in history and memory, including Gary Gallagher’s Lee and His Generals in War and Memory (1998), Carol Reardon’s Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory (1997), and Joan Waugh’s U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (2009), among others. One of Hettle’s most significant contributions is to place memoirists’ and biographers’ publications on Jackson in the context of their other writings, allowing him to explore influences on their portrayals of the Confederate general. As Hettle remarks, “Writers on Jackson reveal themselves as much as they do their ostensible subject” (8). Equally valuable, the book collects several of Hettle’s previously published articles, and their revision into a single volume reveals the evolution of the Jackson persona as a patriotic martyr, eccentric hero, loving patriarch, and harsh disciplinarian. Much of this lore, as Hettle notes, continues to influence historians’ biographies of Jackson today.