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- Robert C. Olson - Peters the Superb.Peters the Superb.
Ralph Peters' Cain at Gettysburg is simply outstanding--5+ stars. Good historical fiction is probably the most difficult literature to write. Writing historical fiction concerning the Gettysburg battle and keeping it cogent and relevant might just be the hardest of all. The complete scope of the battle is simply too grandiose to trivialize into a fictional story but somehow Ralph Peters is able to do it. Like Michael Shaara, LTC Peters is able to bring life back to those 3 days in July, 1863, in a meaningful way. As a 50 year Civil War student and buff, I enjoyed LTC Peters' amazing insight into those climatic 3 days. Just when you think nothing more can possibly be written on Gettysburg, along comes Cain at Gettysburg to breathe new passion and interest in the battle.
Without a doubt, Gettysburg is the most written about battle in American history, maybe the entire world. So when I read that Col. Peters had written yet another historical fiction account of the battle I was not brimming with excitement. Still, I am addicted to reading everything I can about Gettysburg so I decided to give Col. Peters' book a read. Excellent is the word of the day here. It is obvious that Col Peters knows of what he writes. Whereas Mr. Shaara tilted toward the Confederates, Col. Peters has a slight tilt toward the Unionists. Overall though it is a fairly balanced account. I did like he chose the heroic 26th NC regiment to base his Confederate narrative on--that regiment did indeed cover its self in glory on 1 July 1863. I also enjoyed his views concerning Colonel Krzyzanowski's Brigade fighting at Blocher's Knoll. The General Howard's XI Corp has always gotten short shrift after its calamity as Chancellorsville, especially at Gettysburg. Col. Peters sets the record straight that the XI Corp, and especially Krzyzanowski's Brigade, fought well but were simply outmanned and gunned due to General Barlow's misplacement of his division. Col. Peters is fairly well balanced in his treatment of the Confederate high command. With 20/20 hindsight most historians agree on Marse Robert's flawed strategy at Gettysburg, that said one must keep in context the tactics in lieu of the events as they unfolded. Jeb Stuart was missing, Stonewall Jackson was dead, AP Hill was sick, Richard Ewell was indecisive, and James Longstreet's heart was just not in the battle as it was pursued. On the Union side after the first day, fate smiled on the new Army Commander George Meade. Meade has always gotten short shrift for his accomplishments at Gettysburg and beyond. Eventually being over shadowed completed by General-in-Chief U.S. Grant. Unfortunately for Meade he died too soon, 1872, and never was ever to tout his accomplishments like other Civil War generals, Sherman, Grant and the odious Sickles. I appreciated how Col Peters treated General Meade. That and his even handedness of the Confederate leadership were two very big pluses in my estimation of this finely crafted novel.
This is a very easy and engrossing read. Some knowledge of the Gettysburg battle is required to get the true flavor of this novel. At the beginning of each major section there is a fairly good generic map to aid the reader in situational awareness. If possible I would highly recommend using more definitive maps to follow along the action. Bradley Gottfried's The Maps of Gettysburg is what I used and it has become the definite map source for Gettysburg. I also liked the author's epilogue and final Note. Both tied up any and all loose ends nicely.
Beware as in the interest of authenticity Col. Peters uses some very strong and graphic language. As a retired military man I can attest to its authenticity, so just beware and accept it in the spirit it is written.
Overall 5+ stars my highest rating. Must read for Civil War buffs and anyone interested in the battle at Gettysburg. Well done Col. Peters and I hope you write more on the Civil War.