Professor James I. Robertson, Jr., America’s foremost authority on General Thomas J. Jackson, has said:
One can never understand what the United States is
until one understands what the Civil War was.
To help readers better understand some of the other key historical characters in Gods and Generals, we provide the following information:
- Robert E. Lee, the man who became chief commander of all Confederate forces, tendered his resignation as Colonel of the Army of the United States on 20 April 1861. Shortly thereafter, Lee and his family abandoned their home, Arlington Mansion. Mary Randolph Custis Lee never got over the loss of her family home to Union soldiers.
- When Lee and his officers surrendered, on 9 April 1865, they were given amnesty by Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding officer of the Union’s forces. In October of 1865, Lee agreed to abide by all laws that had been passed by the United States during the years of "rebellion."
- Brig. General "Jeb" Stuart successfully carried out Stonewall Jackson’s battle plan at Chancellorsville (although General Lee had to severely chide him during the Battle of Gettysburg). One of the greatest cavalry officers in American history, Stuart was fatally wounded a year and a day after Jackson’s death. With Stuart’s demise, the Confederacy lost its cavalry superiority.
- Another Jackson colleague, General Robert E. Rodes, was instrumental in the Confederate victory at Chancellorsville. Two months later he served with distinction at Gettysburg. Rodes died at Winchester, on the same day and in the same battle that took the life of Sandie Pendleton, Jackson’s chief of staff.
- A few weeks after the Union’s defeat at Chancellorsville, Maj. Gen. Darius Couch requested a leave of absence. His reason? He could no longer "lead his men to senseless slaughter" under Hooker’s command. When the War Department refused his request, Couch resigned. He was reinstated, in June of 1863, to organize local Pennsylvania militia as they prepared for an expected Confederate invasion. The following month, that invasion occurred and the Confederate army was defeated at Gettysburg.
- Brig. General Thomas F. Meagher was the commander of the Union's Irish Brigade at Chancellorsville. His unit was so decimated in the battle that he resigned from command. By December of 1863, however, he was back in a command position under General William T. Sherman and ultimately won a gold medal, for leadership of his Irish Brigade, from the state of New York. (After the war, he became territorial governor of Montana but drowned in the Missouri River in 1867.)
- Union Maj. General Winfield Scott Hancock (named for General Winfield Scott who is still regarded as one of the greatest soldiers America ever produced), was respected (as was his namesake) for strategy and ability to lead his men.
- Union Colonel Nelson Miles was injured during the Wilderness Campaign, but he survived and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his courageous stand against Lee’s repeated Chancellorsville attacks. After the war, he was custodian of CSA President Jefferson Davis and eventually became General in Chief of the Army. It was he who commanded U.S. forces during the Spanish-American War. When Miles retired from the service in 1903, he was one of the country’s most decorated soldiers.
- Union photographer Mathew Brady, and his associates (like Alexander Gardner holding his lens in the middle of this picture), took some of the best-known photographs of the Civil War. Many of those photographs are now maintained by the US National Archives.
- Walt Whitman, whose poetry memorialized the conflict, is still a beloved American author.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, helped to fan the flames of anti-slavery in the American north. Legend has it that Abraham Lincoln, when he met Stowe in 1862, a decade after she published her book, said: "So you are the little lady who made this big war." Stowe based her character, "Uncle Tom," on the autobiography of real-life slave Josiah Henson, who was born in Maryland in 1789.
- Lt. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain - the Bowdoin College professor with no prior military experience who became a distinguished Union officer - demonstrated great courage with the 20th Maine during the battle of Fredericksburg. He is best known for his leadership at Gettysburg, for participating in the formal Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House, and for being the last soldier to ultimately die of his many battle wounds.
But the tale of Gettysburg, and Chamberlain's role in that pivotal battle, is a story unto itself which we will tell at a future date.