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Book Reviews

These are some reviews from a recent issue of The Civil War News:


The Young Lions: Confederate Cadets at War

by James Lee Conrad

Illustrated, maps, end notes, bibliography, index, softcover, 198 pp., 2004. University of South Carolina Press, 1600 Hampton St. 5th Floor, Columbia, SC 29208, $16.95 plus shipping.

Only a few remain. Prior to the Civil War numerous military academies dotted the Southern landscape. These academies represented a great deal of the higher education choices in those states and, for that matter, the country. But with war came the need for soldiers and these schools were the fields from which many Southern officers were grown and harvested.

While the Mason-Dixon Line left much of the industry in the North, it also left the vast majority of military instructional institutions in the South. The Union had guns, the South had brains, and until attrition took these minds, the South dominated the war. With a call to arms, Southern boy soldiers left to find fame and glory and returned to find death and the destruction of many of their cherished halls of learning.

James lee Conrad, himself a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, who has authored numerous articles in Civil War Times Illustrated and America’s Civil War, as well as the book Rebel Refers; The Organization and Midshipmen if the Confederate States Naval Academy, has turned once again to the years of formal education to study the role students played in the Confederate struggle. He has composed a rare look at these schools and the vital role they played before and during the Civil War.

Military colleges filled an important need before the Civil War. “Occupying the middle ground, they sought to reach the mean between the extremes of a purely classical curriculum on the one hand, and an essentially military and technical one, as at West Point, on the other hand. They sought to prepare the young for the practical duties of life; to fit them for scientific as well as liberal pursuits,” writes Conrad. But with the war came the realization that these schools were producing the kinds of leaders needed to fill the depleted ranks and sustain the Confederate war engine.

Students from these academies were found at nearly every important event of the war. Students from VMI, along with one of their professors, Thomas J. Jackson, were present for the hanging of John Brown, they fired on the supply ship Star of the West as it attempted to reinforce Fort Sumter, they were at the First Battle of Bull Run, and fought and died at the Confederate victory at New Market. While they were initially used for training of raw recruits in the art of soldiering, many students became restless and joined the service themselves.

Many of the schools gave their property to the war effort; cannons and wagons went to the army, food and uniforms went to the soldiers. As supplies dwindled, students were forced to provide their own uniforms and food in order to attend classes. Books became scarce and many had to relocate classes to other towns as each school’s grounds and buildings fell into Union control.

Few realize the importance of these schools to the war effort and Southern leadership corps. The Southern army was well led from the top down. The Virginia Military Institute alone supplied the Confederacy with 20 generals, almost 300 field grade officers and more than 500 company grade officers. The South Carolina Military Academy supplied four generals, 49 field grade officers, and 120 company grade officers. The University of Alabama supplied 465 officers with seven being generals. At Gettysburg alone, 13 of Pickett’s 15 regimental commanders were VMI men.

For their contribution, many paid a fearful price. By war’s end, 249 of the Virginia Military Institute’s 1,781 alumni were killed, the South Carolina Military Academy had 62 casualties and the University of Alabama lost 21 percent of its fighting alumni.

The Young Lions is a concise and interesting book. It is well-written, factually correct and well-researched. Conrad addresses the role the military schools played in Southern society prior to the war and then looks at their changing role as the war progressed. He does not focus attention on any one graduate of these schools, but instead concentrates on the overall role the schools played in the Confederate leadership.

He addresses the difficulty they faced as their supplies decreased, their students left to fight at the front, their buildings came under attack or were destroyed during Union occupation, and how they recovered following the cessation of hostilities.

With only 168 pages of text it is sure to be a quick read for many, but an important one for anyone interested in studying the overall war.

John S. Benson

John S. Benson is a past president of the Bucks County Civil War Round Table. He is a partner in a Doylestown, Pa., law firm, an adjunct professor of law at Widner University, and an adjunct professor at Delaware Valley College.

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