Book Review: The Great Partnership

Regular visitors know that the subject of the Civil War, specifically drummer boys, has been a regular subject here at Off Beat along with periodic promotions for Civil War books written by your host. Lately I’ve added book reviews to the blog and I’ve recently completed another review of a book on a similar subject for another page that I manage. Although this book is not specifically on the subject of drums it’s authored by an experienced Civil War reenactor who portrayed a drummer boy in the 7th PA Reserves.

His name is Chris Keller and he is now a professor of history and Director of the Military History Program at the U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle, PA. Always interested in the Civil War, he joined up with the 7th PA Reserves right after the 125th Gettysburg anniversary in 1988, and stuck with it through his college years at Washington and Lee (although he admits he drummed for the rebels a few times while in Lexington). He enjoyed marching in a Union fife and drum outfit composed of both Pennsylvania and Maryland units back then and memorized all the main cadences and tunes by heart. I asked Chris about his experience as a reenacting drummer.

“I still whistle and hum those tunes to this day,’ he mused, and while he no longer owns his old rope tension drum, he still remembers the basic hand movements and occasionally breaks out his old drumsticks to help with the stress of teaching national security policy and strategy and military history to senior officers of our armed forces. “I can trace my understanding of the average Civil War soldier to my reenacting days and all those hours playing the drum on the march and in camp,” he said.

Now an accomplished author and speaker, with six books under his belt, his latest work, The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy (Pegasus Books, 2019) clearly indicates he is still in love with the history of the Civil War.” I thought visitors here with an interest in Civil War drummers may have an expanded interest in the Civil War. Here is my review of Chris’ book:

Throughout the course of American military history there have been successful partnerships between generals that resulted in victory. George Washington and Nathanael Greene during the Revolutionary War and George S. Patton and Omar Bradley during World War Two are fine examples. No two military partners ever related to one another on so many levels as Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson. So says Christian B Keller, author of The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy.

Part biography, part character study, Keller’s book presents a sincere examination of the men’s lives together both personally and professionally. The Great Partnership reads like a history book you wanted to read in school. The reader is taken through a chronological study of the general’s shared experiences together throughout the American Civil War starting before the war’s first engagement, through their victories and defeats, to the untimely death of the books title character.

Keller outlined the vision for the book: “Although the cause for which Lee and Jackson fought failed in the end, their partnership – in all aspects – offers modern leaders’ rich food for thought. Those who command, manage, and lead in their organization at any level can benefit from a contextual understanding of the generals multifaceted relationship, but individuals and executive teams at the strategic level may profit the most from pondering their successful collaboration.”

Keller’s publisher at Pegasus Books was kind enough to send over a review copy. Here are my thoughts.

First, in full disclosure, I consider myself to be a Jackson scholar, if not an enthusiast. I’ve written about Jackson in two books of my own, give battlefield tours to the very locations mentioned in this book and even named my youngest son Jackson. I intended to examine this book with a critical eye. I must say that I am not disappointed. The author captured the essence of Jackson and Lee’s relationship from a military, emotional, spiritual, and imperfect point of view. There is no idol worship or Lost Cause rhetoric here. Keller lets the facts speak for themselves and presents each man with all their strengths and weaknesses.

Most impressively he does so within an accurate backdrop of the Civil War. It is immediately apparent that Keller did his homework, and the research effort shines through. Each battle is recounted in a way that will impress historians and appeal to novices. The trust between Lee and Jackson was remarkable and it was reinforced as the war progressed. The loss of Jackson had an immense effect on Lee and Keller does an excellent job of showing how it affected the following engagements that took place with Jackson’s absence. He also shows how Lee was never able to replace that partnership. Overall the book is a complete study of the men and war.

For anyone with an interest in leadership studies or the American Civil War I highly suggest The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy.

Purchase on Amazon:

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