An impressive addition to the list of recent, grimly realistic (and well-researched) novels about the Civil War. Mitchell...



An impressive addition to the list of recent, grimly realistic (and well-researched) novels about the Civil War. Mitchell (Shadow on the Valley, 1994, etc.) gives one of the most venerable clich‚s of the conflict (brother vs. brother) new life by focusing on one the war's less well-known ironies. On December 13, 1862, at the battle of Fredericksburg, Confederate and Union regiments composed largely of Irish emigrants came face to face for the first time. The resulting slaughter demonstrated to both sides how little the old identities they had clung to in America now meant. They shared, after all, bitter memories of the Great Famine of the 1840s in Ireland, and of their long struggle to make a place for themselves in a new country. They also shared a belief that one day they would somehow unite to oust the British from Ireland. Yet suddenly none of that mattered. At Fredericksburg, the blithely incompetent commander of the Union Army, Ambrose Burnside, sent his troops against an almost impregnable Confederate line. In a pivotal moment in the novel, Irish troops serving with the Confederates cheer when they see the Union's Irish regiments, identified by the banners, advancing. They are moved to joy by the sight of so many Irishmen in arms, stepping forward with such cool discipline. And then they open fire. In a series of six doomed charges, the Irish regiments were destroyed by their kinsmen. Mitchell, in a work reminiscent of such Civil War novels as The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, and The Crater, by Richard Slotkin, traces the moment-by-moment flow of the battle; deftly weaves together historical and fictional characters; and renders with conviction the horrific experience of battle. In catching the moment when men discovered how the war had swept away their old lives, Mitchell offers an apt metaphor for the way in which that conflict dissolved and reshaped America's identity. A highly original work of historical fiction.

Pub Date: March 14, 1996


Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996