Sunday, February 3, 2013

the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt eleven)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

The outbreak of war found Stonewall Jackson on the faculty of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, where he’d come to appreciate the Shenandoah Valley’s strategic advantages through long hours of study in the institute’s map library. A distinguished veteran of the Mexican War, Professor Jackson stood out in Lexington as an odd duck, a religious zealot who habitually sucked on lemons and periodically pumped his left hand violently in the air to regulate his blood flow. “He seems to be cut off from his fellow men and to commune with his own spirit only, or with spirits of which we know not,” one associate wrote of Jackson. The intense focus that made him a notoriously dull teacher also made him an electrifying combat general, the sort of man who could demand far too much from his troops and yet be unshakably confident that they would deliver. Jackson knew a simple truth about men in armies: even more than shoes or food or sleep, they crave victory.

He also knew, from his map study, that the Shenandoah Valley could be a kind of magic box. Striped north to south by a series of ranges and ridges, the valley allowed an army to be seen one moment and disappear the next, simply by slipping through a gap or pass. It was the perfect place to practice Jackson’s philosophy of war: “Always mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy.”

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