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The Great Partnership by Christian B Keller

Review: Dr C R Rees FRCGP


Clearly Lee saw something in Jackson from the beginning to have given him an independent command in the Shenandoah. How Lee must have marvelled as that confidence bore fruit. Jackson, Keller reveals, was actively requesting from various contacts, another 40,000 men to invade across the Potomac. Lee wanted him back for what became to be known as the Seven days campaign in which Jackson was disappointing to say the least. It was almost as though Jackson was an attenuated version of himself making Lee re-evaluate his own assessment. But then as the weeks went by Keller defines the moments when that reputation was restored in Lee’s eyes until again he had the confidence to release Jackson and his Corps to occupy Pope, whilst Longstreet, (with Lee constantly at his side,) delivers the flanking coup.


Keller takes time to explore the religious element of the relationship and the way their beliefs welded together the Confederate high command. Jackson attributed all things to a divine Providence. Lee was similar but was prepared to concede the personal efforts of his men.



American Civil War Round Table (UK) / Book Reviews / Great Partnership

As the battles came and went the Partnership grew, but so also did their friendship. Keller compares the closeness of Lee and Jackson and the trust Lee put in Jackson, with his relationship with Longstreet. Jackson often disagreed with Lee but always did his bidding. Longstreet never dropped his own agenda and hence the discretionary orders Lee gave to Jackson (and Stuart) compared to the micromanagement of Longstreet at Suffolk.


The zenith and nadir of the relationship was of course Chancellorsville and Keller examines in detail the meetings (far more than I realised) that preceded Jackson’s flank attack.


One might be forgiven to think that this was the end but after an almost painful examination of the anguish of the whole Confederacy at the death of Jackson, Keller then goes into the issue of what had been lost. Most ACW buffs have speculated at what might have happened if Jackson had been at Gettysburg. Keller turns it on its head and explains what did happen because Jackson was not at Gettysburg! He first opines that the battle would not have been at Gettysburg anyway. Stuart would have been working in close harmony with Jackson as usual and the target would have been further north. Lee was obliged to re-organise his army and appoint two new Corps commanders. Because of Jackson’s secretive ways neither had been mentored. The Army of Northern Virginia was led by two Corps commanders who did not know how to manage a Corps. The effect on JEB Stuart was also explored. The friendship between Jackson and Stuart had been great and Keller suggests that Stuart was seriously affected by Jackson’s death and this affected his ability and judgement. The loss of Jackson seemed to rip the heart out of the Confederacy and the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia. I am now looking at Gettysburg in a new light.


Keller then dissects the things that made the Lee Jackson partnership. Finally in an appendix he extrapolates the essence of their partnership to any partnership and this is a revelation. He pinpoints seven major areas, vital to great partnerships, in which we can see where Lee and Jackson flourished and compare it with the performance of our current leaders.


His book is of the highest scholarship and very well constructed but there is one more gem to be discovered. There are 56 pages of notes, some of them a page and a half long revealing the sources and reasoning for every one of Keller’s statements, opinions and contentions. Each one gives the reader an opening for more exploration into this time in history.


To most ACW buffs I would contend that there is a certain romance in the way the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee, drove the Army of the Potomac, away from Richmond in the seven days battles to the high tide of Gettysburg. This book examines the processes behind this in scrumptious detail. I use that word deliberately. With the prospect looming of winter without Christmas, this book could be the tastiest morsel on the menu!


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