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With more time on my hands, I’ve taken the time to re-introduce myself to the American Civil War in both fiction and non-fiction. Not the happiest subject, I admit, but one that, at least for me, is endlessly fascinating and reminds me that things could be far worse.
On the non-fiction side, I’m halfway through the first volume of Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the war. Yes, he was a man of the south (Mississippi), and the southern view of the war permeates his history. But his history falls far short of southern hagiography, and he writes like a dream. You’ve got to love studying the war to read these books, but they reward the reader’s diligence. Next up, I’m going to re-read Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, which I consider the best book on the subject.
From the fictional side of things, I’m re-reading the best piece of Civil War fiction: The Black Flower, Howard Bahr’s harrowing story of the Battle of Franklin, told through the eyes of an ordinary Confederate infantry soldier. I’ve never read anything, including Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, that communicates the horror of a direct charge across open terrain into the face of an entrenched enemy. As with Foote, the writing is superb.
Finally, I’ve been doing some reading about General George H. Thomas, a Union general who never lost a battle. Unlike Sherman and Grant, he never lived to write his memoirs, and being a fundamentally modest man, he probably never would. He is thus less well known and his role was greatly diminished by both Sherman and Grant. Yet here was a general loved by his troops, cautious in their use, and who saved the Union army at the Battle of Chickamauga (being known thereafter as the Rock of Chickamauga). As the rest of the Union army fled in panicked retreat, he held firm and fought the Confederates to a stand-still. He also executed perhaps the most brilliant battle plan in the entire Civil War at the Battle of Nashville, where, with minimal casualties, he effectively destroyed an entire Confederate army.
With live in a troubled time, but not the worst of times, and it’s good to be reminded of that.
Any other suggestions for my Civil War reading?Published in