Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Booknotes: A Fire in the Wilderness

New Arrival:
A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee by John Reeves (Pegasus Bks, 2021).

This is the second Civil War book from author John Reeves, the first being 2018's The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee: The Forgotten Case Against an American Icon. A very different kind of study, his new book A Fire in the Wilderness "tells the story of that perilous time when the future of the United States depended on the Union Army’s success in a desolate forest roughly sixty-five miles from the nation’s capital." According to the description, it was "a battle that sealed the fate of the Confederacy and changed the course of American history."

Not in competition with classics such as Gordon Rhea's standard Wilderness battle history (which does have more than a little popular crossover appeal), A Fire in the Wilderness appears to be directed toward an even broader reader audience. Though the overall size of the select bibliography is modest, it and the notes suggest that the narrative is based on primary sources.

Probably the most unique feature of the book is its intertwining of the larger battle history with that of a common soldier caught up in it, Private William Reeves. He is not formally introduced as an ancestor of the author but one can surely assume that that is the case. Nineteen years old and already married, Reeves entered the army as a paid substitute in August 1863, so that often controversial context of the Union Army soldiering experience is also explored, as is the young man's tragic fate.

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