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Veteran YA author Carter’s first adult title is the fascinating story of a ferocious three-day battle, among the bloodiest ever fought on US soil. No, not Gettysburg.

Six months before Gettysburg, there was Stones River, near Nashville, in which 44,000 Union troops and 37,700 Confederates hammered away at each other, savagely and unremittingly, and yet so indecisively that at the end both sides could claim victory and make a case for it. Casualties for the Union army numbered 13,200; for the Confederate, somewhat fewer—10,500—but when the Rebs left the field, the Yanks were still there. As was the case so often during this war, Stones River furnished a bitter contrast between the leaders and those led; between incredible acts of commitment and bravery and stunning ineptitude—an imbalance Carter places at the heart of his tale.. (No fictitious protagonists here: all Carter’s important characters are for real.) At the head of the Union’s Army of the Cumberland was Major General William Rosecrans, a sometimes brilliant but dangerously erratic field commander; his opposite number was Major General Braxton Bragg, surely one of the least popular, most blunder-prone figures in the Confederate army. In both camps, thirst for rank was virtually unquenchable, envy and jealousy the inevitable precursors to the virulent back-biting that all too often got men killed. Among the Confederates, there was that extra, cultural testiness inherent in the idea of Southern honor. “My God,” says one cavalier in a moment of agonized insight, “we are violent men . . . No wonder our generals risk such headlong attacks and our men carry them out with such utter disregard for life.” Carter’s theme—war is hell—is familiar enough, yet ever fresh when rendered, as it is here, with the kind of creative force that amounts to a sense of mission.

Buffs will love it; the audience could go wider.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-56947-355-2
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2003