Swift-moving fictional reconstruction of the terrible Overland Campaign of 1864, which must have seemed to its participants to be never ending.
“If historical fiction is properly done,” Peters notes in the Author’s Note that closes this novel, “it can bring history to life.” Following on his novel Cain at Gettysburg (2012), Peters picks up the story that properly begins with Lee’s rout and George Meade’s failure to pursue and destroy the Army of Northern Virginia. Instead, it was up to a different commander a year later, as Ulysses S. Grant moved in from the west to assume command of the Union Army and pursue that goal. As Peters makes clear, Grant, though not unreflective, was not shy about sacrificing vast numbers of soldiers: They could be replaced on the Northern side far more quickly than could their Southern counterparts. As Peters also makes clear, Grant was sensitive to the politics that affected his conduct of the war: If the South was not soon defeated, Lincoln might not be re-elected, and his successor might well declare peace and leave the Union asunder; if Grant were victorious, conversely, he had a bright political future ahead of him, which was one reason not to alienate the aforementioned Meade. Peters’ harrowing account begins and ends in the ocean of blood spilled between the Rappahannock and Cold Harbor. He writes with a fine balance of historical accuracy and drama, turning in telling portraits not just of the generals, but also of the privates from German farms and backwoods Appalachian huts who met and died on those Virginia battlefields. Occasionally, he is so swept up in events that his writing goes a little awry (“Grinning as wide as Galway Bay in the gloaming”), but more often it is right on the mark (“They had gone in a circle, blindfolded mules in a mill”).
Not quite in the class as Michael Shaara or Shelby Steele, but a solid work of historical fiction all the same.