Publisher: Gate Way Publishers
When asked to cite turning points in the American Civil War, historians typically refer to Gettysburg or, perhaps, Vicksburg. They rarely mention Chattanooga, the site of a lengthy siege and fierce battle that took place throughout the fall of 1863. Clyde R. Hedges sets out to correct this oversight in this historical novel.
Hedges’s book is a fine example of historical fiction done well. The characters and events are based on careful research and Hedges obviously sought to be faithful to available historical accounts. Moreover, he fills the book with full-bodied characters. The story is told from three points of view.
The first point of view is that of a Union infantryman, Clarence Rutledge. Clarence’s experiences are representative of those of the vast majority of combatants in the Civil War. Clarence shares his naïve excitement at enlisting to fight. He describes in detail his intense suffering, near-starvation and outright boredom throughout the siege. And he reveals his harsh awakening to reality as he watches his friends die on the battlefield. Note Clarence’s reaction to his best friend’s sudden, brutal death:
Oh, God, my friend was dead. He’d been shot by a Reb and dropped right in his tracks. . . . He lay in my arms and stared at the sky with the pain of his wound still etched on his face. Oh, Dear God, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be the other guy” (p. 243).
Following his friend’s death, Clarence moves painfully from naïve exuberance through paralyzing fear to heroism. Hedges’s narration of this transformation is convincing and well done. Like so many others, Clarence entered the war as a boy who delighted in the idea of war and emerged as a man who detested its reality.
The second point of view presented by Hedges is that of General Ulysses S. Grant. This point of view allows the reader to consider the siege and battle from the perspective of the commanders and strategists, the “movers and shakers.” The reader is privy to Grant’s views of the officers under his command and his concern for the frontline soldiers who bear the greatest responsibilities and risks of battle. This particular battle was the turning point of Grant’s career. After his victory in Chattanooga, Grant was appointed to lead all of the Union armies, an appointment that was certainly one of the most significant events of the war.
The third point of view Hedges offers is that of President Lincoln. This point of view introduces the reader to the political dimension of the war. As the war continued with no end in view, Lincoln’s popularity (his “approval rating” in today’s environment) dwindled. In the fall of 1863, Lincoln was contemplating the possibility of losing the presidential election in the following year. He needed a victory in Chattanooga to open the way for the Union forces to invade the Confederate heartland. Once that happened, a Union victory would be inevitable and Lincoln's re-election more secure.
These three accounts give the reader deep insight into whole range of issues that were at play, for the Union, throughout the war, as well as in Chattanooga. Perhaps Hedges (or someone else) could undertake a parallel account from the Confederate point of view?
Overall, aside from some editorial issues, this is a well-written book. The characters are engaging and believable and the momentum never stops. Even though the reader knows the story’s outcome before reading the first word, this “insider’s account” of how that happened never fails to fascinate. This book will satisfy readers who enjoy historical fiction in general and those with an interest in the American Civil War in particular.