The Gray Ghost

TO WASHINGTON's west, the Shenandoah region still seems haunted by the ghost of Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson. Variously along the periphery of the capital, other sites of the terrific clashes between North and South harbor his strange spirit: Fredericksburg, First and Second Manassas, Harper's Ferry, Antietam and, finally, Chancellorsville, where he was shot accidentally in 1863 by his own men as he fled back to his lines from a hell-bent, after-dark reconnaissance mission. The old gray ghost refuses to fade, even after 125 years.

Mighty Stonewall, the 1957 biography of the general by Frank Vandiver, sounds from the title like hagiography but turns out to be only hero-worship. Yet it is hero-worship created from stupendous scholarly research. That mountain-man Jackson could trounce Union generals Shields, Banks and Fremont amidst his native Shenandoah slopes and valleys is not surprising; how he did it, though, makes fascinating reading, especially as narrated by historian Vandiver. Stonewall and his hillbillies did not do so well, however, when called south by Lee to help defend Richmond -- at least not at first. Evidently they did better when accustomed to the lower altitude.

Vandiver's biography, reprinted in 1988 in both hard and softcover editions by Texas A&M University Press, portrays a complex man whose rock-solid Calvinist religiosity clashed with his devilish lust for battle. Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest is supposed to have said the secret of victory is to "get there fustest with the mostest." Jackson accomplished this feat better than any other Civil War commander until his death.

The general, mouthing half a lemon, would sit astride his horse amidst shell and shot, then dash to some sector of the field to rally retreating troops, order a charge, move a battery or call for reinforcements. Some of Stonewall's opponents came to think of him as invincible, until those pickets' shots rang out in the night, tearing him from his dashing steed, "Little Sorrel." CLIFF JOHNS Alexandria

Bare, Ruined Choirs

DAYS in the lives of parish priests are a staple of Irish and Irish-American writers. Few have shown more grace and grasp than Richard Power in The Hungry Grass (1969), the story of tart-tongued Father Thomas Conroy, who became a priest in place of his older brother and goes about his daily pastoral duties with what he calls "the ruins of a classical education" running through his head. Obsessed with having his dead brother's sons, reared in England, restore the family estate, Father Tom is much admired by his parishioners for his open-handedness and compassion. On his demise a cache of pound notes is found stashed in the kitched wall. The dialogue is memorable, as with the old woman at a house in London who tells the younger priest, "There's nobody Irish in this house, and any there is, they want to forget it." The novel, still in print from Eire's Poolbeg Press, provides considerable insight into the Irish character. JAMES MCNALLY Norfolk, Va.

Elaborations & Corrections

THERE was an error in the Recommended Reading column for May 13. The Mysterious Press, not Fawcett Crest, is currently publishing the paperback (and hardcover, also) books written by Ellis Peters in her Brother Cadfael series. Our first title of this series was Hermit of Eyeton Forest in spring 1988. KATE STINE New York

The Mistress of Romance

I AM SURE many readers have their own special addictions. Prominently among mine is my decades-long devotion to the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer. As long as they were being published, I eagerly watched for each new one, and there are more inches of my personal library devoted to her books than to those of any other author.

Because of this, I was thrilled to read The Private World of Georgette Heyer, by Jane Aiken Hodge (now out of print). Heyer's was a remarkable career. She never had a rejection slip until the middle of her life, and then only once. She never participated in promotional tours or gave interviews. She wrote under her maiden name and thus maintained such anonymity that her friends who knew her as a wife and mother in many cases never guessed she was a famous, widely read author.

The biography -- which includes gorgeous plates of her sketches of costumes and objects recording her research -- is one of the most beautiful books I know of, and should be of interest to students of history and of writing. It will also delight Heyer fans who have, like me, read and reread her stories and take extra pleasure in becoming acquainted with their remarkable creator. KATHRYN RICH Schnectady, N.Y.

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