Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Civil War Fiction: CWL's List Of The Top Five

In response to an online query, CWL offers a list of five novels that will satisfy the Civil War reader and probably anyone with an undergraduate degree in history or English.The Crater, Richard Slotkin; Shiloh, Shelby Foote; The Falling Hills, Perry Lentz; Bright, Starry Banner, Alden Carter; and of course, Killer Angels, Michael Shaara. These titles are not in any particular order.

Also, on a separate list are the novels by Howard Bahr: The Black Flower, The Year of Jubilo, The Judas Field, Home of Christmas. I could begin reading again any one of them at any time of the day.

Here's two of the top five with the others coming soon.

The Falling Hills, by Perry Lentz was published in 1994 by the University of South Carolina Press. The novel's 470 pages offers a driving narrative of black Federal soldiers, white Federal officers, Confederate cavalrymen, Southern civilians who loyal Unionists and loyal Confederates. The very structures and cultures of Fort Pillow and west Tennessee come alive with colorful and menacing details. Combat scenes are exceptionally well done.

Bright, Starry Banner, by Alden Carter was published by Soho Press in 2004. I was skeptical because of the cover: Modern Neo-Confederate art work and the title: Bright Starry Banner. But I was wrong. I have visited Stones River National Battlefield Park and had a fair understanding of the battle. Alden recreates it accurately. The other strengths of this novel is the characterizations of the privates to the generals.

The bright starry banner of the title describes both flags, not just the one on the cover. From CWL's reading of diaries and experience as a reenactor, the grit of the battle lines and reactions of soldiers on the front rings true. The generals are not gods; they are very human in Alden's novel. What makes this book better than most CW fiction are the ideas in it. It's not all fighting; God, faith, slavery, honor, and sex are on the minds of these characters and these ideas are not the modern notions of them but are placed in the context of mid-19th century America but not constrained by it.

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