Peters, Ralph. Cain at Gettysburg. Forge Books. New York, NY. 2012. 429 pages, ISBN 9780765330475. $25.99.
For those who feel that the Civil War fiction sun rises and sets with The Killer Angels you may want to reconsider.
Author Ralph Peters had already built a successful fiction career under his pseudonym Owen Parry. If his Abel Jones series of Civil War mysteries is anywhere near as good as Cain at Gettysburg I will have to find them because his newest work is a masterpiece.
Peters gives us a good telling of the three days battle at Gettysburg. The major events are covered and discussed but not beaten into the ground. If you want to know more about the fights that took place at a specific location just find one of the hundreds of non fiction accounts out there.
This book excels on the human front. Union general George Meade is the key player on the Union side and for my take I feel that James Longstreet is the key Confederate. Robert E. Lee is a major player of course but I think that Longstreet is pushed to the front in this story. We tend to see Lee through Longstreet.
Human interaction pushes this story ahead. As Meade takes over the Union army he realizes he will have to work with Dan Butterfield despite their dislike and distrust of one another. On Day 2 Meade has to deal with political general Dan Sickles who has moved his corps well out of position. There is a well written scene involving the headbutting of generals Winfield Scott Hancock and Henry Hunt over control of artillery on Day 3. Confederate interaction is also well done with the scenes between Lee and Longstreet particularly memorable.
The front line soldier also plays a large part of this story. We see the horrors of the war through their up front and personal eyes. We meet soldiers from varied regiments and backgrounds: Irish and German are prominent. We see jealousy, hatred, humor, bigotry, sadness, and more as they deal with realities of war. Many of these scenes are not pleasant. The violence of the Civil War is not implied but rather is spelled out in clear language. The reader can have no doubt of the hell these men endured as we see them walking through the battlefield able to land on a corpse with each step (see page 162).
A line in the book states that "Wars were won not by the most competent army, but by the least incompetent on a given day" (page 139). As an author Peters is not shy about putting forth those who should come under scrutiny for their actions in July, 1863.
A general knowledge of the battle would be a help for readers but not essential. There are several maps in the book which are helpful. For any reader who enjoyed The Killer Angels or likes to read military related fiction this is a must read. For those who study Gettysburg this is a worthy addition to your library and well worth reading!
Please see my review of The Killer Angels here.
*Thanks go to Tor/Forge Books for sending a complimentary review copy.