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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cain At Gettysburg by Ralph Peters

Gettysburg, the greatest battle ever fought in North America, saw two American armies slaughter each other at an unbelievable cost of human life and limb. Thousands of books have been written about it. Peters new novel, historically accurate, plumbs the human side from generals to common soldiers. It is carefully crafted by a skilled author who takes readers far beyond a mere non-fiction account of the battle. It makes you feel like you were really there on those fateful three days.
In his Author’s Note, Peters judges that "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." In Cain at Gettysburg he clearly accomplishes that. In a different way this book surpasses the – until now – best-known, most widely read novel on the battle, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels (1974). That book written in the 70's era of particularly low esteem for all things military, provided a romanticism that was needed for a nation that seemingly had turned its back on the idea of heroes. Now we can read of the battle as it surely must have been experienced by those who fought it. In the course of the book, Peters "rehabilitates" several leaders such a George Meade, new commander of the Army of the Potamac, and "Old Pete" Longstreet who was Robert E. Lee’s top surviving General and repeatedly advised the Souths hero against a foolish frontal attack at Gettysburg.
For example, from J.D. Morelock in the magazine Armchair General, "Despite winning this major turning point battle – and thereby becoming the first Union general to beat the Army of the Potomac’s arch nemesis, Confederate General Robert E. Lee – Meade was much maligned by some self seeking Union generals jealous of his Gettysburg triumph and by, as Peters’ writes, "Southern chroniclers [who] could not forgive him for defeating Robert E. Lee in a fair fight." Peters’ insightful examination in Cain at Gettysburg of Meade’s character, the daunting challenges he faced when command of the Army of the Potomac was thrust upon him on the eve of the battle and his command of the battle reveals the true accomplishments of the Victor of Gettysburg. Peters’ final judgment of Meade in the novel’s Epilogue seems spot on:
"Fatally, [Meade] was not a political general and had little patience with newspapermen – with the result that he was damned by partisan scribblers or, when not attacked, ignored in favor of self-promoters and liars. The man who grasped the reins of an army literally overnight and saved the Union in the course of three desperate days of battle was demoted in the public mind to a drab second-rater, his victory credited to his subordinates. It was the worst injustice ever done to an American general."


Montanagirl said...

I have not read this book. It sounds like one that I should read.

NCmountainwoman said...

I'll definitely read this one. I liked "Killer Angels" and have read a lot about Gettysburg and visited often. As you no doubt know, NC suffered great losses there.

I'm almost finished with "Waiting for White Horses" and am really enjoying the characters and the relationships. Thanks for pointing it out.

PC said...

Looking forward to this one - especially if it's even better than "The Killer Angels."

Janie said...

This sounds interesting. I want to read it.

EcoRover said...

Another good review. And thank you for recommending the Stilwell book--it was a good read and even after all these years provided good insights into Chinese culture/personalities. Sure leaves a bad taste (well deserved) for Kai-shek and the KMT though.

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