mentions the Shaaras in his acknowledgments and says: “I read Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels with awe at how he brought the great battle to life.” Michael’s amazingly prolific son, Jeff, expanded the genre with sixteen novels of his own, covering every major conflict from the American Revolution to the Korean War, six of them on the Civil War alone.
This is not to say I did not enjoy Kofman’s book; I did. I have read a lot of Civil War books, both fiction and nonfiction. General George Meade has always been an enigma to me and seemed to be given short shrift compared to the more famous generals. I wanted to learn more about him.
By order of President Lincoln, Meade replaced General Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac just four days before the opening day of the pivotal three-day Battle of Gettysburg. In spite of never having commanded a whole army before, Meade acted quickly to gather his scattered forces and move them north as fast as possible toward Pennsylvania to meet Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia massing near Gettysburg. By Kofman’s account and supported by other historians, Meade performed admirably at Gettysburg. He moved his troops effectively to stymy Lee’s threats wherever they appeared. Lee was not accustomed to losing.
Meade remained General of the Army of the Potomac until the end of the war. But when Ulysses S. Grant was named commander of all Union armies on March 3, 1864, and chose to lead from the field rather than in Washington, Meade’s decisions were often overruled by Grant (much to the detriment of tens of thousands of Union soldiers, one might argue). It did not help that Meade had powerful political and military enemies that continually maligned him and tried to tarnish his role in the
Gettysburg victory. He was not flamboyant and did not seek glory or fame. He was honest and honorable in his dealings with other officers, and he was well liked by his troops. All the same, he bitterly resented the relentless and dishonest criticisms. A common theme throughout the book is his unhappiness about his mistreatment, expressed mostly to himself or to his wife in his almost daily letters to her. A final insult to Meade, a very grievous one in my opinion, was Grant’s failure to invite him to Lee’s surrender ceremony at Appomattox.
What draws me to this genre is the accurate depictions of historic events combined with the authors’ imagined personal interactions. So why do I like the Shaara books better? The differences are subtle, but I feel the Shaaras’ fictionalized conversations,
thoughts, and feelings of their real-life historic figures are more insightful and creative while remaining true to the context. It’s as if the reader is eavesdropping on
private thoughts and conversations. Still, Kofman’s novel is well worth a read, and it goes fast with 106 short chapters plus the dozens of original letters to his wife. It’s headed to our library.
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