Wrecked stone once intended as monument to general
Civil War , Feature story / January 20, 2018

A couple hundred feet down the road from the house where we stay on a Maine island is a rectangular granite block about 75 feet long, half covered in weeds, and on which are stacked a few lobster traps and boat parts. As it turns out, this is a rather ignominious end for a piece of stone intended to be used as a monument for General John E. Wool. For many years we used to walk past this granite monolith and wonder. When our kids were young, they scrambled up and walked up and down the stone, a sort of granite jungle gym. A sign nearby marks a gravel road known as General Wool Street, and therein lies a story. Unless you are familiar with the Mexican-American War and the War of 1812, you may not be really familiar with General Wool. A native of New York state, Wool served in the War of 1812 and helped lead a successful U.S. Army expedition into Mexico, where he fought under the command of Zachary Taylor. Both Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee served as junior officers in in the Mexican War. In his fascinating memoirs, Grant describes his service in…

Hanging Mary: Did she or didn’t she help kill Lincoln?
Civil War / April 6, 2016

We all know how the story of Mary Surratt ends, but what happens along the way? How did she come to be implicated in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? Author Susan Higginbotham has undertaken these questions in the richly imagined novel, Hanging Mary. For those who enjoyed The Conspirator, a Robert Redford film about the trial Mary Surratt, the novel is a must read. Surratt was a Marylander who ran a boarding house frequented by Southern loyalist such as John Wilkes Booth, the actor who would assassinate the president at Ford’s Theater in Washington City. Booth’s role and the actions of his fellow male conspirators are well known, but Surratt’s role is less understood. And where history leaves blanks and question marks, this is where the novelist’s true work begins. Higginbotham did copious amounts of research into the time period, even reading the transcripts of Surratt’s trial. Readers will be fascinated to learn whether she was guilty of helping to plot Lincoln’s assassination, or was simply a hapless bystander. Title: Hanging Mary Author: Susan Higginbotham Genre: Fiction Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark Release Date: March 1, 2016 Pages: 400 In 1864 Washington, one has to be careful with talk of secession. Better…

Cain at Gettysburg
Civil War / April 4, 2016

Title: Cain at Gettysburg Author: Ralph Peters Genre: Fiction Publisher: Forge Books Release Date: April 16, 2013 Pages: 448 Winner of the American Library Association’s W. Y. Boyd Award for Excellence in Military Fiction Two mighty armies blunder toward each other, one led by confident, beloved Robert E. Lee and the other by dour George Meade. They’ll meet in a Pennsylvania crossroads town where no one planned to fight. In this sweeping, savagely realistic novel, the greatest battle ever fought on American soil explodes into life at Gettysburg. As generals squabble, staffs err. Tragedy unfolds for immigrants in blue and barefoot Rebels alike. The fate of our nation will be decided in a few square miles of fields. Following a tough Confederate sergeant from the Blue Ridge, a bitter Irish survivor of the Great Famine, a German political refugee, and gun crews in blue and gray, Cain at Gettysburg is as grand in scale as its depictions of combat are unflinching. For three days, battle rages. Through it all, James Longstreet is haunted by a vision of war that leads to a fateful feud with Robert E. Lee. Scheming Dan Sickles nearly destroys his own army. Gallant John Reynolds and…

Meet A Friend of Mr. Lincoln
Civil War / March 31, 2016

There are as many books about Abraham Lincoln as there are stars in the universe, or nearly so. However, A Friend of Mr. Lincoln offers something different. It is one of those novels that fills the “gap years” within the life of a well-known figure with a richly imagined life. In this case, the story of Lincoln’s early life is told by a narrator named Cage Weatherby who first encounters Lincoln during the Black Hawk War. Weatherby is an educated and thoughtful man, a poet, and an excellent observer who becomes a captivating narrator of Lincoln’s back story. In many ways, it is similar to a novel called Citizen Washington that offers a similar “insider’s view” of the famous man. The Abe Lincoln here is richly imagined, although readers may want to know how the story involving the widow woman who kept an eel in her rain barrel turns out. Harrigan, who is the author of The Gates of the Alamo, tells a captivating story. Title: A Friend of Mr. Lincoln Author: Stephen Harrigan Genre: FICTION Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group Release Date: February 2, 2016 Pages: 432 The novel opens in 1832 in the Black Hawk War, when Micajah (Cage)…

Revisiting Cold Mountain, a Civil War Odyssey
Civil War / March 3, 2016

Sometimes, the most interesting aspect of a war is the aftermath, and that in the case with Cold Mountain, the story of a Confederate deserter returning home after the horrors of the Civil War. This novel has much in common with the Odyssey, in that W.P. Inman encounters many strange and almost mythical situations that seem intended to prevent him from returning home. Inman does have many talents, however, including quick wits and the fact that he never loses sight of his goal of returning home. He is also skilled with a gun. Without doubt, Cold Mountain has risen to the level of literary classic. If you are going to read about the Civil War, this novel should be on your list. Title: Cold Mountain Author: Charles Frazier Genre: Fiction Release Date: 2006 Pages: 449 Inman, an injured and disillusioned Confederate soldier, embarks on a harrowing journey home to his sweetheart, Ada, who herself is struggling to run the farm left her at her father’s sudden death.

Jeff Shaara’s The Smoke at Dawn
Civil War / February 18, 2016

Summer, 1863. The Federal triumph at Vicksburg has secured complete control of the vital Mississippi River from the Confederacy. Under the now-proven leadership of Ulysses Grant, the victorious Federal army moves eastward, intent on the capture of the rail hub of Chattanooga, with the eventual goal of a march on Atlanta. But the Confederate forces are not yet defeated. Under General Braxton Bragg, the Confederates stun the Federal army with a bloody victory at the Battle of Chickamauga. The Federal commander there, William Rosecrans, leads a chaotic retreat back into Tennessee, where the Federal army soon finds itself besieged at Chattanooga. A disgusted Abraham Lincoln implores Grant to break the siege, and if successful, continue the strategy of crushing Bragg’s army. Arriving in Chattanooga, Grant begins the campaign that will break the South’s grip with an audacious attack driven by the zeal of the Federal soldiers themselves: the first in a series of triumphant victories that will drive the Confederates back to their great stronghold of Atlanta. The primary voices from the Northern side include Generals Grant, William T. Sherman, and George Thomas and a young lieutenant named Sammie Willis. The voices of the Southern side include Generals Bragg, Patrick…

A Civil War classic about Gettysburg
Civil War , Movies Based On Books / February 13, 2016

If you are planning a trip to Gettysburg, this is the novel to get you into the minds of the soldiers who fought there. Michael Shaara’s THE KILLER ANGELS is a literary classic set on the Pennsylvania battlefield. Of course, you will want to pay a visit to the flank on Little Round Top where the 20th Maine held fast. Title: The Killer Angels Author: Michael Shaara Genre: Fiction Publisher: Turtleback Books Release Date: 1987-08 Pages: 355 Portraits of Lee, Longstreet, and other Civil War leaders are interwoven with historical detail to provide a fictional recreation of the bloody battle at Gettysburg.

Rebellion within rebellion during the Civil War

  The film Free State of Jones is based on a true story of a rebellion within a rebellion, telling the tale of a former Confederate soldier who leads a small faction against the Confederate government to declare independence in his corner of Mississippi. In the trailer, it appears that Jones leads a force made up in large part by former enslaved Americans and disenchanted Confederate veterans. While the film itself seems to be based on a screenplay rather than a novel, the story of the rebellious Newton Knight is told in Tap Roots, a 525-page doorstopper written in the 1940s by James H. Street, a Mississippi native and journalist for the Associated Press and the author of several popular novels about the Civil War era set in the South. Street died all too young at the age of 50, but he had an impressive literary output. All of his books, fortunately, are now available as ebooks. The upcoming movie also puts us in mind of the classic William Styron novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner. Again based on a true story, Styron imagined the life of Nat Turner and the real-life rebellion that he led in the 1840s. The…