5.0 out of 5 starsEqual to Cain at Gettysburg, Takes Fact-Based Fiction to New Level, May 13, 2013
I started this book, having given a rave review to Cain at Gettysburg convinced that the sequel would disappoint, as most sequels do. Although I counted only five goosebump moments in this new book (Cain had six, The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War By Michael Shaara only had one), I have to rate it the equal of the earlier book, and also the linch pin book in what should be a series of at least four books, each – as the first two have been – a detailed study of men at war at all four levels (strategic, operational, tactical, technical). The concluding sentence in this book is brilliant, and it left me with precisely the sense of angst and anticipation for the next campaign as the author no doubt intended. If Cain was the thunderclap of divine providence, then Hell is the tough hard slog through mud during which the North adapts and learns lessons while Lee’s health worsens substantially, his weakness all the more grave because Longstreet is wounded and Stuart killed, leaving Lee with no bench, less Gordon as a late bloomer too easily ignored by his elders.
There is little doubt that with this book Ralph Peters has established a nearly impregnable position as the leading practitioner of historical fiction, taking it to a new level of accuracy and relevance to the military and political professionals who wage war, setting the gold standard for factual historical fiction that reveals the soul of those making history.
If I were to sum up the book in three words it would be leadership, logistics, and learning.
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular Blend of Rigorous & Populist History,February 24, 2012
I have read The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War (Modern Library), which the author himself acknowledges as one of the best books about Gettysburg – but also one that bought into the prevalent myths. This book is the equal of Killer Angels in its atmospheric electricity, certainly the equal if not more moving with respect to “aha” professional insights and “feeling in the fingertips” gut-wrenchers (I counted six goose-bump moments reading Cain, I recall only one in reading Killer Angels), and vastly more important than Killer Angels in the grand scheme of things because this author and this book have restored the reputation of General George Meade at his finest hour – given the Army THREE DAYS before Gettysburg, and leading that Army to the single most important victory of the Civil War, however one may view that war while also instantly assessing and correcting the mistakes of his predecessor, the most important being a scattered leaderless army.
This is a book written by a professional military officer who is also a historian, a brilliant and often poetic author of both non-fiction and historical fiction better than dry academic texts, and an adventurer who knows the world from gutter to grand salons.
The book concludes with a very clear explanation of how General Meade’s reputation was ruined by a scheming General Sickles, and how some of the main characters fared after the war of secession. More to the point, this is the definitive book that rescues the reputation of General Meade. While there are many other books, one in particular being Meade: Victor of Gettysburg (Military Profiles), no other book can match the eloquence, authenticity, and level of detail of this ultra-historical and poetic work of redemption.
Here are some of the professional highlights that I noted down – I do not report the goose bump moments–for those, buy the book.