Those who enjoy Bruce Catton's and Shelby Foote’s Civil War histories will find a fictional equal in Peters’ retelling of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign.
Combining character study, strategy, and battle scenes, Peters (Cain at Gettysburg, 2012, etc.) focuses on the great, small, and those in history’s shadows, like U.S. Gen. Emory Upton, "an enigma, a hardened Christian, mean as a Turk…a brilliant, intolerant merciless young man." Famous names also appear: Union Army Gen. Philip Sheridan, all pugnacious Irish temper; tobacco-chewing Confederate Gen. Jubal Early, "a spitting, crook-back man and harsh-mouthed as a heathen"; and future president Rutherford Hayes, who learned "War made it hard to credit a merciful God." Peters draws from contemporary sources, including writings of the 61st Georgia Volunteer Infantry’s George Nichols, country boy and confused Christian: "Nichols had gotten himself a new pair of shoes, assured by Elder Woodfin it was not theft to remove them from the dead Yankee." His writing vivid with cannon smoke and screams, clashes between generals and brigades, Peters begins with disgraced Gen. Lew Wallace—pilloried for supposed errors at Shiloh—rallying rear-echelon ragtags to prevent Early’s capture of Washington. There at Mononacy Junction, Peters introduces another patriot, grizzled Army Gen. James Ricketts, key in denying Rebels the Shenandoah’s easy passage north and its fertile farms. Peters details the battle at Winchester, the rout at Fisher’s Hill, and the decisive confrontation at Cedar Creek. With alluringly literary language—describing a warrior’s newborn child as "the promise that a man’s blood would go on, a swaddled, mewling hint of resurrection"—Peters is deft with dialogue and setting, but it’s his characterizations ("Custer was a bloody-handed instrument") and battle scenes ("without a muchness of guns to give things a shake") that make this a must-read for Civil War history fans.
A superlative novel.