As one of the few higher-ranking officers in the Army of Tennessee to avoid the constant controversy that tainted the performance of the army’s high command at crucial intervals, General Alexander P. Stewart (1821–1908) was an outstanding, but not outrageous, leader. Consequently — and unfortunately — he has garnered little attention from historians. In this masterful biography, Sam Davis Elliott removes Stewart from the shadows of history by tracing the life of this undeservedly obscure general, providing the first in-depth analysis of his critical role in the Civil War’s western theater.
A West Point graduate, Stewart served in the Army of Tennessee from its days as the Tennessee Provisional Army in 1861 to its final surrender in April 1865. He participated in nearly all the battles the army fought, rising from the rank of major to lieutenant general. Always a gallant fighter and a calm, confident leader, “Old Straight” — as he was soon known for his steadfastness in battle — took over General Leonidas Polk’s command when Polk was killed near Marietta, Georgia, and eventually led the Army of Tennessee’s battered remnant in its final stand against William Tecumseh Sherman at Bentonville. At the war’s end, Stewart was the ranking Confederate officer from Tennessee, and at the time of his death in 1908, the ranking Confederate survivor.
Stewart was a noted educator before the war, teaching mathematics at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. He returned to Cumberland after the war and later served as chancellor of the University of Mississippi from 1874 to 1886. Late in his life, Stewart combined the professions of soldier and scholar in his role as Confederate representative on the Park Commission at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park — the nation’s oldest and largest.
More than the story of one man, Soldier of Tennessee poignantly conveys the triumphs and failures of the Confederate effort in the West and a divided nation’s efforts at reconciliation. As Elliott demonstrates, both the Volunteer State and the Army of Tennessee may have had more flamboyant soldiers fight under their banners, but none were more constant than “Old Straight.”
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