A nonfiction account of the Civil War offers the perspectives of some notable Southerners.
Debut author Brewer centers this exhaustive look at the Civil War on the following men: assassin John Wilkes Booth, diarist Edmund Ruffin, and Confederate military leaders Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. The action begins in 1859. John Brown’s violent attempt to commandeer Harpers Ferry turned out to be a harbinger of events to come. Official hostilities did not begin until 1861 with the Confederate seizure of Fort Sumter, but once they started, there was no easy end to the conflict. And so readers follow along as the main players go about their business. Booth maintained a career as a popular stage actor while developing a sharp hatred toward Abraham Lincoln. Ruffin, a Southern planter who is remembered for his contributions to agriculture and his diary full of vitriol, recorded his general disgust with the North. Meanwhile, Lee, Jackson, and Stuart commanded the fighting. The text relies on a great number of firsthand accounts. Letters from soldiers, entries from diaries, and correspondences from officials are all included to create an image of a time that to modern readers may seem almost inconceivably brutal. Bayonet charges, musket fire, and blundering superiors were only the beginning of a warrior’s woes on the battlefield. Then there were the harsh conditions on the homefront (which of course often turned into a war zone). The ambitious book certainly makes the horrors and confusion of the period palpable. But by following so many individuals, things can get a bit tangled. It will not be easy for readers to keep track of the adventures of Lee, Jackson, and Stuart—or the minutiae of Booth’s stage appearances and the activities of Ruffin’s relatives. Yet while even casual students of the era will be familiar with Booth, Lee, Jackson, and Stuart, the inclusion of Ruffin makes for a novel choice. He proves to be a passionate, racist, and highly engaged spectator. Even as he complained of his declining health and the disastrous fate of the Confederacy, he was keen to make his observations clear in his diary. The juxtaposition of his thoughts with actual occurrences of the war makes for a compelling, if lengthy, combination.
While the mound of period details can be overwhelming, this book paints a complex portrait of a momentous war.