cover image Searching for Stonewall Jackson: A Quest for Legacy in a Divided America

Searching for Stonewall Jackson: A Quest for Legacy in a Divided America

Ben Cleary. Twelve, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4555-3580-4

In this complex contemplation, former Virginia park ranger Cleary follows the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson’s wartime trail in a quest to understand both the maddeningly secretive man and the cultural value of studying a 150-year-old war. That Jackson had marched down Cleary’s childhood road sparked an early, intense interest in the Confederate leader, seemingly at odds with Cleary’s egalitarian beliefs. Throughout the narrative, Cleary reflects honestly on lessons he learned from teaching African-American teens in juvenile prison while struggling to understand Jackson, who started a Sunday school for black children but fought with passion for the slaveholding South. This dichotomy results in engaging depictions of war, including discussions of Jackson’s military genius and jaw-dropping mistakes (such as vindictively court-martialing a fellow officer for allowing his ammunitionless unit to retreat from a battle), alternating with contemplations of recent events including the racially motivated Charleston church shooting. Beginning with the First Battle of Manassas, Cleary retraces Jackson’s steps in chronological order, visiting preserved battlefields and others turned into highways, commercial development, and subdivisions. Cleary enlists National Park Service experts to help him navigate lesser-known places and access isolated private properties, some of which allow easy visualization of the war’s events amidst thick undergrowth. While he finds no resolution, Cleary provides a thoughtful, accessible look into both Jackson and the continued relevance of the Civil War. [em](July) [/em]