The Smoke at Dawn by Jeff Shaara, Ballentine Books 2014 historical novel, Civil War
It is Summer, 1863. The Federal triumph at Vicksburg has secured complete control of the Mississippi River from the Confederacy, cementing the reputation of Ulysses S. Grant. Farther east, the Federal army under the command of William Rosecrans captures the crucial rail hub at Chattanooga. But Rosecrans is careless, and while pursuing the Confederates, the Federal forces are routed in north Georgia at Chickamauga Creek. Retreating in a panic back to Chattanooga, Rosecrans is pursued by the Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg. Penned up, with their supply lines severed, the Federal army seems doomed to the same kind of defeat that plagued the Confederates at Vicksburg.
A disgusted Abraham Lincoln has seen enough of General Rosecrans. Ulysses Grant is elevated to command of the entire theater of the war, and immediately replaces Rosecrans with General George Thomas. Grant gathers an enormous force, including armies commanded by Joseph Hooker and Grant’s friend, William T. Sherman. Grant’s mission is clear: break the Confederate siege and destroy Bragg’s army. Meanwhile, Bragg wages war as much with his own subordinates as he does with the Federals, creating dissension and disharmony in the Southern ranks, erasing the Confederate army’s superiority at exactly the wrong time.
This third book in the series has both historical detail and stark depictions of battle. Again, the real historical figures take most of the stage, but the reality of the fighting is brought to the reader by fictional soldiers on the front lines, musket in hand.
From the Union side come the voices of Generals Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and George Thomas—the vaunted “Rock of Chickamauga”—as well as the young private Fritz “Dutchie” Bauer. From the Rebel ranks come Generals Bragg, Patrick Cleburne, and James Longstreet, as well as the legendary cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest. History played out on a human scale. The Smoke at Dawn vividly recreates the climactic months of the war in the West, when the fate of a divided nation truly hangs in the balance.
Next week, a break from the Civil War for something more mysterious.
So how about you?
What have you been reading?
I’m still looking for my Jeff Shaara books. I need to get more organized! I’m enjoying your reviews of these Civil War books!
George, you’ll find them, and enjoy them, I’m sure.
Ditto. This is a part of the war that I am less familiar with and you make it sound exciting.
Rosecrans Avenue is a 27 mile east-west road in Los Angeles named after the General, who – I did not know this – bought 13,000 acres of land there after the Civil War.
And despite popular legend, it is NOT true that the name “hookers” came from camp followers of Hooker’s army, as apparently the term had been in use since 1845.
I’ve driven down Rosecrans many times when I lived in L.A. nothing special about it that I recall. Of course it’s Shaara who makes it exciting, not me, but I’m enjoying the books. I am going to take a break from them for a week or two.
I remember a song on a Fifth Dimension album (remember those) called “Rosecrans Boulevard,” which was what made me look it up in the first place.
Of course I remember, albums and The Fifth Dimension. “Up, up and away….”
This one sounds like the most interesting one yet. I will have to put Jeff Shaara on my list to look for at the next book sale.
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