Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lightning is striking again and again

I enjoyed reading "The Fateful Lightning" during a vacation in Charleston, South Carolina. I began the book a bit before the vacation so I'd be able to get into the meat of the story while in Charleston.

The historical setting added to the enjoyment and appreciation of the book.

The story centers on Gen William J. Hardee; Capt. James Seeley; Gen. Joseph Wheeler and Gen.Joseph E. Johnson for the South and Franklin (a former slave); Gen Oliver Howard, Gen. Henry Slocum; Maj. Lewis Dayton; Maj. James McCoy; Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and Gen. William T. Sherman.

We learn about events through the character's words and opinions of those around or opposed to them. The figures loom so high during the Civil War but many of the combatants were relatively young men. In the 1864 time frame of "The Fateful Lightning"  Sherman was age 40; Henry Slocum was 37; Kilpatrick 28; Wheeler 28; Hardee 49. Their achievements were so staggering that it's difficult to imagine them doing so at their relatively young ages.

Franklin's story is told as he becomes a free man and follows Sherman's army, wanting to do as much as he can to assure a Northern victory.

The author also brings out the idea that many of the Confederate officers were not up to the combat and troop movement skills of their northern counterparts. At one point, South Carolina Governor Magrath says to Gen. Hardee, " has long been understood that President Davis attends to matters close to his own priorities, which do not include any army that he himself is not managing."

Some of the failures mentioned is one Confederate General being overly cautious and not taking advantage of battle situations, another Connecticut General was overly aggressive and then would change the description of events to meet his own version. In Gen Bragg's case,  as the battle over Macon is getting underway, Bragg is taking over the command at the Confederate Garrison in Augusta. This surprises Sherman who has already defeated him in a number of battles.

When the governor of a Georgia recalled his militias, it greatly weakened Hardee's forces but in a battle of states rights, the Governor controlled this segment of the army.

There is also an author postscript telling what became of a number of the central figures, such as Slocum's work on the Brooklyn Bridge and in New York politics, Wade Hampton being elected Governor of South Carolina and Henry Hitchcock's return to his law practice and later being a cofounder of the American Bar Association. All of these accomplishments made me think how much the country had lost from those who were killed during the Civil War and their possible accomplishments died with them.

The book is richly researched and provides a good view of the characters, the settings and the politics of the final days of the Civil War.

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