Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A Chain of Thunder, by Jeff Shaara

A Chain of Thunder (Civil War: 1861-1865, Western Theater, #2)

This book tells the story of the Campaign for Vicksburg during the Civil War. I've visited the National Military Park there a couple of times and always find it both fascinating and moving. Shaara does a good job of providing varying frames of reference from both sides of the battle, generals and enlisted men alike. There are several maps throughout giving a feel for the movement of troops, which is nicely juxtaposed with the southern civilian viewpoints who were only told their position was impregnable and chose to believe it.

This is clearly a well-researched novel, with detail after detail about the quality of life as well as the military strategies. I was surprised to find that anti-vaxxers were not a recent idiocy but were alive and well in the 19th century. "It amazed Bauer that so many in the town, and in the army, had responded instead with outcries against the vaccinations that seemed born of nothing more than superstition." With all this detail, though, there is a surprising lack of what life was like for the slaves in Vicksburg—none of the narrators were Black. When white civilians during the siege were reduced to eating dogs and rats, what the slaves ate isn't stated. Considering this was a war over slavery, this lack of insight hurts the overall narrative.

It was strange reading a novel about the Civil War during a time where it feels our country is splintering along similar political lines, if not physical ones this time. On the North side Grant and Sherman fought to hold the United States together. On the South, Pemberton fought out of loyalty to his Virginia-born wife rather than dedication to the Confederacy. The Northern soldiers fought for duty, the Southern desperate to maintain their way of life. Both sides are depicted fairly nobly, and the institutional racism at the root of the conflict isn't a part of the story. Makes you wonder how the raging racists running Washington will be depicted in literature a century from now.

First Sentence:
The ball was a glorious affair, the Confederate officers in their finest gray, adorned with plumed hats and sashes at their waists.

No comments:

Search This Blog