Select one of the keywords
Jeff Shaara's Civil War Battlefields: Discovering America's Hallowed Ground    by Jeff Shaara order for
Jeff Shaara's Civil War Battlefields
by Jeff Shaara
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)
Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In his Introduction to Civil War Battlefields, Jeff Shaara tells us that 'In the summer of 1964, a twelve-year-old boy followed his father across a mile of open grassy fields that separated the Union and Confederate lines at Gettysburg ... in the footsteps of the men who crossed this same ground on July 3, 1863 ... The boy was me.' That experience inspired his father Michael Shaara to write The Killer Angels, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975.

Jeff Shaara followed his father's legacy with two Civil War novels - Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure. Now, Shaara brings readers a composite of ten of the War's significant sites, presented chronologically: Shiloh (TN); Antietam (MD); Fredericksburg / Chancellorsville (VA); Gettysburg (PA); Vicksburg (MS); Chickamauga (GA); The Wilderness/Spotsylvania (VA); New Market (VA); Cold Harbor (VA); and Petersburg (VA). Shaara acknowledges that some readers will wonder why only these ten - 'My choices are meant to carry you through some of the most poignant events of our history, by taking you to magnificent places ... this book is intended not for the academic historian, but for the curious ... to paint a portrait of ten specific sites that offer the best interpretation and experience to the visitor'.

Within each chapter are three subdivisions: What Happened Here, Why Is This Battle Important?, and What You Should See. Each is accompanied by maps including: Lee Invades Maryland, Union and Confederate Armies Maneuver Toward Corinth, Mississippi, and Grant's Plan. Numerous sidebars provide highlights of specific points of interest such as Antietam National Cemetery and Lookout Mountain. Now and then photographs offer readers a view of landscapes like The original section of the stone wall, Fredericksburg, VA (which provided the pattern for restoration of the entire wall). Monuments and exhibits of note include: General George Greene, Culp's Hill, Gettysburg PA and Virginia Mourning Her Dead (Virginia Military Institute campus, Lexington, VA).

The battle at Shiloh (Church), TN was called Bull Run by the North, and Manassas by the South (throughout the war, the North referred to waterways, and the South to towns). Nearly 24,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing. Historian Wiley Sword named it the 'Pearl Harbor of the Civil War'. It's a well-preserved site - 'The lay of the land, the position of open fields to woods, is virtually identical to the ground as it was in April 1862.' In Antietam Sharpsburg, MD, Robert E. Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, and entered a bloody campaign, dubbed the Seven Days' Battle. Dividing the army, Lee assigned men to lead each wing - James Longstreet and 'Stonewall' Thomas Jonathan Jackson. The park spreads over 3,300 acres. In 1997, Ron Tunison sculpted a monument to the Irish Brigade with granite shipped from County Wicklow, Ireland.

Fredericksburg and Charlottesville VA are separate, but united by parallel events. The defeat of the Federal Army at Fredericksburg led to the Battle of Chancellorsville. The observation balloon - inflated with hydrogen and tethered, carrying one man - was used for reconnaissance duty. Jackson lost an arm, and died from the onset of pneumonia in May 1863. Fredericksburg's original battlefield lies beneath streets of an enlarged city. In July of 1863, in Gettysburg PA, Lee reorganized his army into three corps under Generals James Longstreet, Richard Ewell and A. P. Hill, providing approximately 80,000 soldiers to cross the Potomac. Lee's vision was to again bring the War North. Federal troops under Alfred Pleasanton, and Confederate under Jeb Stuart met in the Battle of Brandy Station, the 'largest cavalry engagement of the entire war'. Fifty-thousand (plus) were killed, wounded, or missing over three days, 'nearly sixty percent of the Confederates'.

In Vicksburg MS, the Union commander was General Ulysses S. Grant whose capture of the Mississippi severed the Confederacy - east from west. Amidst the soldiers of Company G 95th Infantry was Albert Cashier, later discovered to be a woman named Jenny Hodges. Hodges maintained her secret for decades to draw a soldier's pension. Over a two-day fight in Chickamauga (Creek) VA, Federal and Confederate losses were nearly 30% for each side. This battlefield is the oldest and largest national military park in the country. In the Wilderness and Spotsylvania VA, Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to lieutenant general with 'overall command of the entire Federal army'. In May 1864, 120,000+ Federal soldiers crossed the Rapidan River, and marched southward to enter the Wilderness.

One of many significant events in New Market VA is the entry of Virginia Military Academy cadets into the Confederate troops. Major General John C. Breckinridge made an 'agonizing decision', when the superintendent of the VMI offered the young cadets. In Breckenridge's words: 'Put the boys in, and may God forgive me for the order.' On the VMI parade ground is a statue honoring 'Stonewall' Jackson, and his horse Little Sorel is buried nearby. (The original VMI was founded in 1839, and left in ruins by Union General David Hunter.)

In Cold Harbor VA, the losses to Grant's troops numbered '5,000 in less than 20 minutes'. Lee's forces bunkered-in below a 'formidable defensive position', in trenches dug deep enough to allow soldiers 'to stand while firing'. Petersburg VA was an important Confederate city, with a 'hub of rail lines' also serving Richmond. Grant recognized the importance of controlling Petersburg, which would hurt the Confederate economy. The first attempt with 5,000 Federal soldiers failed under Benjamin Butler. Baldy Smith's 18th Corps numbering 17,000, and backed by Hancock's 2nd Corps of 20,000 were the next deployment. Federal lieutenant colonel Henry Pleasants noted the lay of the land as perfect for burrowing into a hillside. A tunnel was formed in the shape of a 'T', loaded with 8000 lbs. of gunpowder in thirty-five barrels. On April 9, 1865 at the McLean House, Appomattox, VA, Lee surrendered to Grant.

Jeff Shaara and his late father, Michael, have endowed the public with a humbling understanding of the War Between the States. The author's concise narrative of the Civil War Battlefields provides an impressive overview of important battles in the Civil War. Advice is given on walking the sites, with reflections on specific occurrences, and tips on the best vantage points. I commend and recommend Jeff Shaara's book as providing insight into the meaning of the Civil War battles - the why, the what, and by whom, and the monumental significance of these hallowed grounds.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Travel books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews