Cornwell, whose wonderfully entertaining Sharpe series of 18th-century military-sea adventures has entranced readers for years, starts a Civil War series with a great bang. Nate Starbuck is a Yankee, the son of a loathsome but quite famous abolitionist minister, and lately a Yale divinity student. Nate's path to the pulpit was interrupted by an infatuation with an actress. But abandoned by the actress in Richmond in the opening days of the war, Nate falls victim to an anti-Northern mob and is about to be tarred and feathered when he's rescued by Washington Faulconer. Faulconer, one of the richest men in the South, has been putting together his own legion to take to battle against the Yankees. Without a cent of his own, embarrassed by his foolish fling, and much taken with the dashing Colonel Faulconer, Starbuck throws his lot in with the South and signs on with the legion--then rides west to his first tricky assignment: to sign up Thomas Truslow, a charismatic but excessively independent and possibly murderous farmer, to be one of Faulconer's sergeants. He finds Truslow, all right, but he also finds Truslow's fatally alluring, 15-year-old daughter Sally, an expectant mum. Truslow, who quickly discovers Nate's theological training, won't go anywhere until Nate first prays over the late Mrs. Truslow and then weds Sally to a young neighbor boy. Expecting to be struck by lightning for posing as a preacher, Nate does as he's told and then takes Truslow back to Faulconer Courthouse, where everybody is training to ride off to what will be the first real battle of the war, the battle of First Manassas--where Starbuck learns, to his surprise, that he's a born soldier. Wonderful stuff. Starbuck is a worthy hero, smart enough to be interesting, callow enough to be real. Virginia is a great stage, teeming with Confederate and military politics, and the battle scenes, when they come, are presented with real mastery. They hurt.