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The Battle of Gettysburg was a monumental struggle between The Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by the brilliant Robert E. Lee and The Army of the Potomac, newly under the command of George Meade. Anyone remotely familiar knows the story. This battle ended the South's chances at victory while invigorating and giving hope the Federal cause. The battle also caused 51,112 (23,049 Union and 28,063 Confederate) casualties, out of approximately 157,000 soldiers involved in the fighting. But this retelling is much more than a recitation of facts. Author Ralph Peters says, in the author's notes, "A novel about Gettysburg for our time must demonstrate war???s horror and appeal, while depicting the complex humanity of those who shoulder rifles or lead armies." And this book does just that. Peter's has stripped away the normal romanticism associated with the Battle of Gettysburg by showing events from the viewpoints of many historical characters. The flaws of these men shine like the sun. Even Robert E. Lee's vanity, which appears to be the main reason his army lost, is out in the open. Peter's also gives us numerous fictional characters that will be difficult to forget. One character is a brave and homicidal maniac who recalls past murders and rapes while taking great pleasure in the brutality of war.
Besides putting the listener inside the minds of the books characters, Peters also imparts a sense of the ebb and flow of the battle. One moment the boys in Grey are proud, eager and arrogant. Then, in the flash and roar of a cannon, they are so much red mist. Events and emotions swing just as wildly for Billy Yank. After more than two years of defeat the Federals suddenly go from despondency and resignation to utter disbelief at having defeated Bobby Lee.
Peter Berkrot does and outstanding job of giving voice the large number of characters. I enjoyed his narration very much.
Grab this one folks and strap yourself in. You are in for a wild ride.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about Cain at Gettysburg?
The best parts of this book are the characters, the history, and the horrors of combat.
What other book might you compare Cain at Gettysburg to and why?
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.
What about Peter Berkrot???s performance did you like?
The narrator is very good particularly noticeable as his dialect changes from Irish ruffian to North Carolinian mountain folk and to the English aristocrat.
Who was the most memorable character of Cain at Gettysburg and why?
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.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful