- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

THE AMERICAN CIVIL
WAR: AN ENGLISH VIEW
By Garnet Wolseley
Stackpole Books.
272 pages. $26/95.
REVIEWED BY JOHN M. TAYLOR

The first British officer to visit the Confederacy had at one time expected to lead his regiment against the United States. Lt. Col. (later Field Marshal) Garnet Wolseley was attached to a British regiment ordered to Canada in 1861 in a show of force after the U.S. Navy had seized two Confederate emissaries from a British vessel in international waters. When the threat of war receded, Wolseley, in Canada, decided to take two months' leave and look into the American Civil War.
Warring powers often accepted military observers from neutral nations, and both the Union and the Confederacy welcomed officers from the nations of Europe. Britons usually headed south and tended to favor the Confederacy; Frenchmen attached themselves to Northern armies and sympathized with the Union.
Wolseley, accompanied by a reporter from the London Times, crossed into Virginia in September 1862 as Gen. Robert E. Lee's army was withdrawing from Maryland at the end of the Antietam campaign. Traveling by train from Fredericksburg to Richmond, Wolseley rode with wounded veterans "whose pale, haggard faces assumed an expression of anguish at even the slightest jolting of the railway carriages."
After a round of calls in Richmond, Wolseley was authorized to travel to Lee's headquarters near Culpeper. His month at Lee's headquarters would provide the most personal and engaging chapter of this book.
Near Culpeper, Wolseley presented letters of introduction and soon was taken to meet the general. Lee made an impression on the young Englishman that he carried through life. Years later, Wolseley would write, "I have met but two men who realize my idea of what a true hero should be: my friend [Gen.] Charles Gordon was one, General Lee was the other."
In Wolseley's recollection, Lee "spoke as a man proud of the victories won by his country, and confident of ultimate success under the blessing of the Almighty, whom he glorified for past successes and whose aid he invoked for all future operations."
Lee's staff lived two or three to a tent, with a nearby stream the only amenity. No guards or sentries were in evidence. This lack of ostentation appealed to Wolseley, who wrote that "any one accustomed to … European armies in the field cannot fail to be struck with the great absence of all the pomp and circumstance of war in and around [Confederate] encampments."
Lee put a wagon at the disposal of his visitors, who chose to ride to the nearby camp of the famous Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Wolseley did not warm to Jackson as he had to Lee but would write that Jackson's "thin compressed lips and calm glance" were evidence of the "firmness and decision of character" for which he was noted.
After a month with the Army of Northern Virginia, Wolseley returned to England as a strong advocate for the South. He wrote an article for Blackwood's Magazine titled "A Month's Visit to the Confederate Headquarters," which constitutes the first section of this book and was Wolseley's only contemporaneous writing on the war. At its close, Wolseley urged Parliament to intervene on behalf of the South, arguing that the time had come for ending "the most inhuman struggle that ever disgraced a great nation."
Wolseley went on to a prominent career in the British army, distinguishing himself in the second Ashanti war and becoming a favorite of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. In 1894, he was promoted to field marshal, but he never lost his interest in the American Civil War.
Two decades after Appomattox, the American editors of Century magazine solicited articles from scores of key participants in the war and made them the basis for a series of books titled "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War." In Britain, Wolseley was asked to review the series and did so in seven extended essays, which make up the second part of this book.
The Wolseley of the 1880s was a mellower writer than the young officer who had visited the Army of Northern Virginia. He had lost none of his esteem for Lee but spoke of Lincoln in terms almost as generous. As a military professional, he felt that his own army had much to learn from Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's use of railroads and from the Federals' early amphibious operations against Charleston, S.C.
Field Marshal Wolseley wrote with clarity and grace, and his articles were put into context by editor James A. Rawley. This is a reprint of a volume first published in 1964, but Stackpole Books has performed a service in bringing it back into print.
John M. Taylor lives in McLean. He is the author of numerous books in history and biography, including "Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E. Lee and His Critics."

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