In Hoc Signo Vinces

Tactical strengths and strategic weaknesses mark John D. McKenzie's reassessment of Robert E. Lee's generalship. The strengths of this book are many. The weaknesses, however, undercut the very point that the author attempts to make; namely, that Lee was at best an average military leader, and that Lee's apologists have given us a biased view of the great man. Moreover, the book is informed by certain unstated philosophical presuppositions of which the reader needs to be aware.

What is more, proofreading and double-checking of facts does not seem to be the forte of the editors at Hippocrene Books. Misspelled words are the most annoying problem, and they increase in number as one progresses through the book: Chattahoochee (p. 258), Oostanaula (p. 265), Kennesaw (p. 264), Manassas (p. 320), infection (p. 335), and cannon (several times) are all misspelled. Furthermore, the index is sketchy and unreliable. This lack of precision in a book whose thesis is based on the precision of numbers tends to undermine confidence in the author's argument.

It is true, as McKenzie claims, that Lee's reputation was exaggerated by Southern historians from 1870 to 1940. Lee has been a saint, an icon, almost a demigod in the mythic imagination of the South for well over a century. A correction of this viewpoint is surely overdue. After such elevation, iconoclasm is inevitable: the postmodern outlook specializes in deconstruction...

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