The author of Cain at Gettysburg (2012) now offers what is intended to be the first of a trilogy taking the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia through their last and worst year of fighting. The setting, superbly researched and brought to life, supports three masterful battle pieces: the Wilderness, the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania, and the doomed Union assault at Cold Harbor. The real strength of the book is the way the characters, all of them historical, are given life, even if some of them have to be reconstructed. We have a dysentery-ridden Robert E. Lee and an authentically laid-back Ulysses S. Grant. We meet Francis Barlow, a New England aristocrat; Stephen Oates, an Alabama brawler; and John B. Gordon, a Georgian with a natural gift for both combat leadership and inspiring speeches. We meet the Fiftieth Pennsylvania, a motley array of veteran canal men seen through the eyes of Sergeant (and later reluctant Lieutenant) Charles Brown. This is not a book for the squeamish—the effects of canister against massed troops and the uncensored language of Stephen Oates and Generals Charles Griffin and Philip Sheridan come to mind. But none of this should daunt readers who want to pick up one of the great Civil War novels of our time—and are prepared to risk not being able to put it down until they are done. — Roland Green
Hell or Richmond is out now!