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Item description for MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT E RODES OF TH ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA: A Biography by Darrell L. Collins...

Jedediah Hotchkiss, Stonewall Jackson's renowned mapmaker, expressed the feelings of many contemporaries when he declared that Robert Rodes was the best division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. This well-deserved accolade is all the more remarkable considering that Rodes, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and a prewar railroad engineer, was one of a very few officers in Lee's army to rise so high without the benefit of a West Point education. Major General Robert E. Rodes of the Army of Northern Virginia: A Biography, is the first deeply researched scholarly biography on this remarkable Confederate officer. From First Manassas in 1861 to Third Winchester in 1864, Rodes served in all the great battles and campaigns of the legendary Army of Northern Virginia. He quickly earned a reputation as a courageous and inspiring leader who delivered hard-hitting attacks and rock steady defensive efforts. His greatest moment came at Chancellorsville in the spring of 1863, when he spearheaded Stonewall Jackson's famous flank attack that crushed the left wing of General Hooker's Army of the Potomac. Rodes began the conflict with a deep yearning for recognition and glory, coupled with an indifferent attitude toward religion and salvation. When he was killed at the height of his glorious career at Third Winchester on September 19, 1864, a trove of prayer books and testaments were found on his corpse. Based upon exhaustive new research, Darrell Collins's new biography breathes life into a heretofore largely overlooked Southern soldier. Although Rodes' widow consigned his personal papers to the flames after the war, Collins has uncovered a substantial amount of firsthand information to complete this compelling portrait of one of Robert E. Lee's most dependable field generals. Darrell L. Collins is the author of several books on the Civil War, including General William Averell's Salem Raid: Breaking the Knoxville Supply Line (1999) and Jackson's Valley Campaign: The Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic (The Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders Series, 1993). A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Darrell and his wife Judith recently relocated to Conifer, Colorado.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   494
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 6.5" Height: 9.5"
Weight:   1.78 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jul 7, 2008
Publisher   Savas Beatie
ISBN  193271409X  
ISBN13  9781932714098  

Availability  0 units.

More About Darrell L. Collins

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Product Categories

1Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks > Humanities > History > United States
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
3Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > United States > Civil War > General
4Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Leaders & Notable People > Military > General
5Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Leaders & Notable People > Military > Military Leaders
6Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Professionals & Academics > Biographies
7Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > 20th Century > General
8Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > Civil War > General
9Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
10Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > State & Local - By State > Virginia
11Books > Subjects > History > Military > General
12Books > Subjects > History > Military > United States > General

Reviews - What do customers think about MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT E RODES OF TH ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA: A Biography?

Superb Biography of an Overlooked Commander  Aug 4, 2008
"If he could," author Darrell Collins writes, "Rodes might object to being the subject of a biography. It is even possible that he would not have agreed to be interviewed for one." Yet despite his disdain of self-promotion, even Robert Rodes could not object to the fine treatment, from beginning to end, that he has received in the pages of Major General Robert E. Rodes of the Army of Northern Virginia. Collins takes us on a truly captivating journey, beginning with Rodes' days at the Virginia Military Institute and leading us to that fateful afternoon in September 1864 at Third Winchester. If you begin this book -- as many Civil War readers may -- with a pejorative preconception of Robert Rodes, be prepared to at least reconsider the conventional wisdom.

Unlike most modern scholarly biographies, which merely recount an impersonal litany of dates and accomplishments, Collins helps us to encounter Robert Rodes the man; moreover, he demonstrates the linkage between his personal attributes and his military performance. Certainly, his life experiences before the war shaped the characteristics of his command on the battlefield. In downright captivating prose, the author gives us a portrait of a loyal and loving friend and family man; a diligent and well-admired engineer and scholar; and, finally, an efficient and capable officer who was able to demand the discipline of his men with a generous heart. I concur with the sentiments expressed below that you will find yourself emotional when reading of Rodes' demise, so young and so promising.

Not only is this biography well-written, it is scrupulously researched and well-documented. Considering that Rodes' widow destroyed his papers after the war, this is a stunning achievement. Collins has done his homework and then some, scouring the letters and diaries of Rodes' men and associates in some twelve states and the District of Columbia. His work is based largely on these unpublished primary sources, which are then supplemented by a survey of the pertinent secondary literature where necessary.

Cartographer Timothy Reese has augmented the text with a number of illuminating battle and troop position maps. As a whole, the book is very attractive and a "must read" for any student or scholar of the military history of the Civil War. I have already found it quite helpful and have cited it in my own work. While I do not agree with all of the author's assessments of Rodes' battlefield performances, he passionately makes his case in this first-class romp through the Civil War's Eastern Theater.

A very good read!  Jul 18, 2008
Executive summary: A very good read! Clearly written, very thorough, and covers the topic to full satisfaction.


You know its a very good biography when you feel saddened when reading about the death of the subject. But that's getting ahead of myself.

Mr. Collins sets out to produce a complete biography of one of the best general's in the Army of Northern Virginia. A story of a man well-respected by his superiors, his peers and those who served under him. Collins notes the difficulty in getting some primary accounts about Rodes, the task made even harder because Rodes' wife destroyed their personal letters. Nonetheless, the author went out of his way to provide a large number of personal accounts from those around Rodes - in particular there seem to be a lot from men such as Major Eugene Blackford - who served directly under Rodes, thus having very close first-hand knowledge of the subject.

I should note that the book seems to be well-footnoted, a quick look through the bibliographical contents show some fine research accompanies this work. There is an index, but I haven't really looked at it. I'm not a scholar, so I really am not qualified to judge the quality of the research, but from my readings it looks fine.

The first three chapters describe Rodes childhood through his becoming a brigadier general at the start of the war. This takes about 100 pages to accomplish, and Collins fills it with enough information to not only teach you about Rodes background, but gives you a good feel for the type of man he was at the start of the war. Rodes' trials and tribulations as a railroad engineer after leaving VMI are well documented - but those tough days helped harden Rodes' into a the general he became. The road to the start of the Civil War helped Rodes learn that above all else he had to be reliant upon himself, he wasn't about to be "given" anything, it all had to be earned. The third chapter also details Rodes' entry in what became the Army of Northern Virginia and the opening battle of First Bull Run.

The next 300 or so pages are broken down into 8 chapters, each based primarily around the campaigns he was in with the ANV. Collin's does a very good job here of providing enough general information so as to place Rodes' decisions and actions in proper context, while at the same time remaining focused upon Rodes as a general. In these chapters (whenever appropriate) he also discusses non-military matters that Rodes attended to - including his devotion to his wife Hortense, his fathering of two children, along with the more mundane management of his estate. We also get a very decent look at "Rodes the man" as opposed to just "Rodes the general", there's enough human stories strewn throughout the work describing Rodes more genial nature as well.

As to the military aspects and judgments concerning Rodes, Collins shows fine skill as well as his own good judgment. He doesn't hold punches where Rodes perhaps doesn't perform up to what would have been expected of him. His handling of his troops at Gettysburg for example comes under close scrutiny. Collins questions some of Rodes decisions and non-decisions, while at the same time offering up the potential mitigating issues surrounding Rodes' health. But even there Collins does note that /if/ Rodes was so impaired physically, he should have turned over command. Collins' even-handed evaluation of Rodes seems very fair throughout the book - his praise for Rodes at Seven Pines, South Mountain, the Bloody Lane, or the counterattacks at the Mule Shoe are offset with questions about actions at Gettysburg and other battles where Rodes was less than perfect.

On the personal side Collins also tries to show the love and devotion to Hortense, and then his children. But as the latter were born so late in his short life - his son was less than a year old and Hortense was pregnant with their second child when Rodes died - its a bit harder to understand Rodes' history on that side of the ledger. And as noted earlier, Hortense's destruction of their private correspondence removes a whole slew of potentially important clues on Rodes' personal life. Nonetheless, one does get enough information showing Rodes concern for his wife's welfare, and coupling that with the abundant evidence showing his loyalty and concern for those around him, one certainly does grow to respect and "like" Rodes as one reads the book.

Besides the great job done by the author at achieving his goal, I should also mention the fine quality of book production. The book itself is quite well made, the font is eminently readable, and the book jacket is very nice as well - a fine portrait of Rodes gracing the cover.

As is usual, the number and perhaps the quality of the maps /may/ be one slight negative area. History readers always clamor for more and better detailed maps, but this is really a very small quibble: This is not a military treatise per se, it is a biography after all. To offset this, there are a number of fine photographs of key people mentioned in the text, and a couple of nice pictures of Rodes as well. I don't recall seeing one of Hortense offhand, interestingly enough.

And as I noted in the introduction, as one reads a well-written biography, you do grow to "know" the subject - so when they do die it can be a bit saddening. Especially with one so young, so chivalrous, and so gallant - I'll end quoting the key paragraph:

Quote (pg. 402)
"As [Rodes] was trying to control his mount, Rodes' head snapped violently forward. A bullet or shell fragment (the record is unclear) had struck him in his skull behind the ear. The general hesitated for a brief moment, then tumbled hard to the ground."
Very well done!  Jul 4, 2008
During the Civil War, it was only two promotions from command of a regiment to command of a division. Assuming you were not killed or crippled, two promotions in four years of war seems an easy project. Without a West Point education, a powerful patron and backing of a major state the second promotion was almost impossible to secure. This was even truer in the Army of Northern Virginia, the South's most professional army. A West Pointer and a Virginian fill almost every major command. The list of Brigadier Generals who assumed temporary division command but never get a division is long and distinguished. An example of these men is Evander Law. Their always seemed to be a reason that kept him from getting that second promotion. These few men lacked the necessary qualifications had to rise on merit alone. Simply put, they had to be much much better than the men in the approved group. This was no easy task. Some of the approved group was very good and all of them were connected by their West Point education and army service. Where would George Pickett have been without his association with James Longstreet?
Robert E. Rodes was a Virginian. However, he came into Confederate service from Alabama. This put him in a position of being almost but not quite a member of both state's group and lost political support, from both, for his advancement. Robert E. Rodes was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute. In 1861, VMI was not the respected fabled school that it is now. This was a school for those not good enough for West Point who wanted a military education. He was promoted after First Manassas to Brigadier General. In January 1863, he received temporary command of Hill's division and was promoted to Major General after leading the attack at Chancellorsville. He led that division until mortally wounded in September 1864. He was considered one of the best division commanders in Lee's army, respected by all and recognized as an excellent combat officer.
This is a military biography, Rodes was in his mid 30s when he died. Without the American Civil War, Robert E. Rodes and Thomas J. Jackson would be footnotes in a VMI history dealing with the early staff. Rodes would be one of the first graduates to assume a chair and Jackson would be known as "old Tom fool", reputed to be the worst instructor VMI ever had.
1860 found Rodes, newly married, employed as a chief engineer for an Alabama railroad. The book covers his non-military life in about 60 pages. This gives us a good foundation of understanding and some sympathy for the man. The next 350 pages is an account of the war through his eyes. This gives us a look at life from regiment to division, not in terms of grand battles but personal issues, traumas, disappointments, triumphs and endless effort. Death, illness, exhaustion, bad food, no pay, rain, mud are all woven together into an intensely personal and readable book. The author has a very readable style and is able to describe things in a way that allows us to see and understand them. I am not a great reader of biographies. This is as much a military history on the regiment, brigade and division level as a biography. Rodes is presented fairly, the author recognizes his flaws and failures as much as his strengths and triumphs.
The book contains nineteen excellent maps at the right location. There are pictures and illustrations throughout. One nice feature, the last picture is of Robert Emmett Rodes IV holding his Great Grandfathers sword. This is a Savas Beatie civil war book. We expect a physically attractive book, excellent maps, artwork that enhances the story. Within a well-written, informative, well-bound book. They have maintained these production values in this volume and it is a worthy member of an exclusive club.


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