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 the nation will be decided in a few square miles of fields. There are no marble statues here, only men of flesh and blood, imperfect and courageous. 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, from New York Times best-selling author and former U.S. Army officer Ralph Peters, is bound to become a classic of men at war.
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Historical fiction with a soul!
Down and dirty in the fields of Gettysburg
The best parts of this book are the characters, the history, and the horrors of combat.
I am writing mainly to compare this book with that other great novel of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels. Angels was about gentlemen at war who acted, however mistakenly, nobly. There are moments of nobility here but the veneer is stripped from the characters to reveal the blood and guts of the sacrifices at Gettysburg. This is true partly because several (presumably) fictional characters are enlisted men whose view of the battle is from either side of the bayonet. It is also true because the noble Robert E. Lee is presented, as are all of the major characters, as far from the embodiment of a noble warrior but rather as a complex human being with many human failings hidden behind a mask of command. Similarly the tragic Longstreet who nobly suffers the injustice of having to lead the two tragic, doomed attacks despite having foreseen their tragic consequences, is presented far less favorably than he is in Angels. All of the characters are fully formed and we are treated to their inner most thoughts although those thoughts, like our own, are more frequently ridiculous than sublime. If I were to wax literary I might compare the presentation of the inner lives of the characters to Tolstoy's War and Peace although such an opinion would get me laughed out of the literary department at Snooty University. Well, that plus this is rather War and More War than War and Peace. Be that as it may I do not see this book as a competitor to Angels but I see these two books as informing each other. Much as two witnesses to the same bar fight might testify in entirely different manners each telling the truth to the best of their perception and recollection, here we have two views one rather a romance of the high command and another through the gun sights of the footsore infantry and the powder blackened artilleryman.
The narrator is very good particularly noticeable as his dialect changes from Irish ruffian to North Carolinian mountain folk and to the English aristocrat.
If I had to choose a single character i guess i would go with George Meade, that snapping turtle victor whose laurels were snatched by the unscrupulous Daniel Sickles.
- Walrus Rex