Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Civil General by David Stinebeck and Scannell Gill

A Civil General by David Stinebeck and Scannell Gill
Copyright 2008
Sunstone Press - Fiction/Historical (Civil War)
159 pages

People in the South are polite only up to a point; if you threaten what they hold most dear, the system that enables them to live well, you have done something worse than murder. It is an act of disloyalty that is beyond indecency.

I ordered bayonets fixed; the enemy did the same. We were only twenty paces apart. Every one of my men knew that this was their moment of judgment. You could hear loud prayers and exclamations, goodbyes to wives and children back home, curses toward enemy soldiers uttering the same goodbyes and exclamations. We threw stones at them, and they at us. They were us. We were back in the school playgrounds fighting in the dirt over some meaningless insult. We were angry, very angry, but we also knew that there was something unacceptable about this fight, something deeply unfair.

A Civil General is the story of George Henry Thomas. "Once considered the most successful general in the Civil War . . . he has been nearly forgotten by historians," according to the cover blurb. The story is narrated by a young Colonel named Swain, who becomes the general's confidante. Swain describes Thomas as a strong leader to his Northern charges in the Army of the Cumberland (and beyond, as his men eventually march to the sea with Sherman and he must turn back toward Tennessee with a much smaller group of men), a Southerner --schooled at West Point -- whose family disowned him when he chose to fight for the North, a devoted husband, and a slightly melancholy but determined man who commanded respect.

I found parts of A Civil General absolutely enthralling, especially some of the battle scenes. There were times during those intense action scenes that I got that sensation most bibliophiles live for: the I was there feeling. There were also stretches during which I felt drawn away from the action by the details. Sometimes there was too much description about movement of troops and military strategy for my taste. I think Civil War buffs who really know and understand the meaning of what the authors described would probably find those sections more comprehensible and interesting than I did.

Character-wise, I was glad the authors didn't simply zone in and narrow their narrator to a caricature who thought about nothing but the general he worked for. He was very human and focused not only his deep admiration of General Thomas (although, yes, sometimes he definitely did go overboard on his praise) but also on describing his personal experiences with a believable depth of emotion, occasionally longing for home and the woman he hoped to marry, often despairing at the insanity of war.

I was a little surprised by the descriptions of Ulysses S. Grant. I've read about his drunkenness and inability to find a successful profession before the war; but, in A Civil General he's described as clearly biased against Thomas in spite of Thomas' successes. Interesting. Again, I'm not informed enough to know how accurate that description may be, but I will say that the authors note their gratitude to two Civil War captains (one with the last name Stinebeck, obviously a relative/ancestor of one of the authors) for their wartime recollections. My impression, as I was reading, was that they had a better understanding of what it was like to be a involved in that war -- it's causes, life as a soldier and the poor judgments that drew it out -- than most.

The story goes beyond the Civil War, describing the death of Thomas and his funeral, which brought tears to my eyes. While I struggled a little bit during descriptions of military movement, the book is so heavy on the senses and left me with such a terrific impression of having been placed within some of the scenes that my feeling as I closed the book was something akin to, "Wow." It was definitely the kind of book that makes you want to read further about the subject matter and the real-life characters.

Recommended, particularly to those who know their Civil War history. For those who are on the ignorant side, I still think it's worth reading but some might find that you'll zone out a bit when they talk military movement. That obviously didn't bother me enough to set the book aside. I'd just shake myself a little and move on. Overall, I think the book is excellent.

Up next will be the answer to who wins The Box of Oh How I Love You. Thanks to all who have entered my drawing! We've had a rollicking fine time reading the answers to my son's silly question.

Anybody see that gorgeous full moon, last night? If not, here you go:

This is one of those things that make me want to blurt out, "Yeah! Go, God!" Blog at you later!


  1. Anonymous8:00 AM

    Oh my gosh! Did you take that picture? It is stunning.

  2. Kathy,

    Thanks, yes, I took that. I can't even remember why I stepped outside -- to take the trash out, maybe? The moon was so pretty that I rushed back inside to grab my camera. I love a full moon. :)

  3. Yes! We did see the moon! It was amazing and so glowing - it was brighter than the street lights. Around 6 pm I was driving with my 2 girls and they were all agog by the size of the moon. It put me to mind of Life As We Knew It, kinda scary.

    Amazing picture. Isn't it neat that we were in far away places and had the same experience?

  4. Whooohoooo! What a great shot, Nancy!! Five stars. You are my inspiration. I definitely need to learn how to take photos like this. Guess I need a tripod, eh? ;)

  5. The moon last night was beautiful. I happened to notice it while glancing out the window. I wish I'd thought to take a photo.

    This book sounds like something my dad or husband would really like. They both are really into the Civil War. Thanks for another great book review, Nancy.

  6. Whoa! What a gosh, that is gorgeous!!!

    I didn't realize he'd been forgotten by history...Annie and I ran across him quite a few times during our Civil War ventures. "Pap," right? I think I'm going to have to get this one for Annie! She is just so enthralled with the Civil War now. She's currently reading Gods & Generals (the prequel Shaara's son wrote to The Killer Angels). Not sure if I'll get around to reading Gods & Generals, but man, did I love The Killer Angels.

  7. Yes, that moon was pretty amazing last night. The full bright moon and chilly air added fuel to my fire to read some good science fiction. Beautiful picture that you included there. Go God indeed!

  8. Raidergirl,

    Same here -- it was absolutely brilliant, much brighter than the streetlamps. I know what you mean about that scary feeling. When I look at a large photo of the moon, now, I always think of Life As We Knew It. Kind of a freaky thing to be reminded of, isn't it?

    Isn't it wonderful that we all share the same moon? I thought of that, too. :)


    Thank you, dear, but guess what? Idiot Nancy did NOT use a tripod. That's a photo I took with my new whopper lens, hand-held. AGAIN! I've got to stop doing that! Imagine what it might have looked like with a tripod!!


    It's so cool to realize that several of us were looking at that same beautiful moon in different parts of the world, isn't it? Definitely snap a few photos, next time you see the moon looking so brilliant. The moon makes a great desktop background!

    I thought A Civil General was really good. There were times I zoned out, but they didn't usually last long and since your hubby and dad know more than I do, they might even enjoy those bits.


    Thank you! I get all giddy when I see such a bright, shiny moon. :)

    I didn't realize that, either, but I'm kind of a baby when it comes to learning about the Civil War. I do recall reading about Gen. Thomas in The Words of War and tracking his movements. I think part of the point the author was trying to make was that even though Chickamauga was a disaster for his men, he was so well-respected that people still admired his leadership during the battle. I don't recall seeing him referred to as "Pap".

    I haven't read any Shaara, yet, but have Annie write to Jeff Shaara when she's done, if you haven't. His website made me smile and he answers *every* letter. I wrote to him just to say thanks for the smile, when I read the info at his website and he wrote back a really nice note. He seems like a swell guy.

  9. Seriously?!?! I've got to get a bigger lens!! Unfortunately, I have an Olympus and the longer (larger?) lenses are VERY expensive. Sigh. Might have to just get a new camera. ;)

  10. Carl,

    That's exactly what I've been thinking! A big, beautiful moon and chilly air just scream "Sci-fi!". I came *this* close to buying a John Scalzi book, today, but the one I wanted was damaged. I'm going to have to dig around and see what I've got. And, thank you! :)


    Yeppers. My 500 is a cheapie with mirrors, but one of the nice things about staying with Minolta/Sony is that they do have a very wide variety of lenses available. Any excuse to upgrade cameras is a good one. ;)

  11. Anonymous5:12 AM

    My photos of the moon just come out as blurry big dots. This is absolutely GORGEOUS. Thanks for sharing. Wahoo!

  12. Oh Nancy, thank you so much! Annie will get an enormous thrill out of getting a response from Mr. Shaara! Seriously, this news just made me giddy thinking about how giddy it's going to make Annie!

    And I definitely fit in the "baby" category when it comes to learning about the Civil War, too.

  13. Care,

    My moon photos were big, blurry dots till I found out you're supposed to expose for daylight when you take the moon's photo. If you have a camera you can adjust to a daylight setting, try that, next time you're out on a full-moon night! Thank you!


    I'm sure she'll love talking to him! I didn't even write him about reading one of his books but he still wrote back. Isn't that great?

    Yeah, two big Civil War babies. LOL I'm sure Annie will be thrilled to teach you, though. ;)

  14. You know, Nancyroo, this isn't a book I would've ever thought I'd be interested in, but your powerful pen (keyboard?) has changed my mind! It sounds really good.

  15. Andi,

    I'm not sure whether you'd like this one, but I'm giving my copy (an ARC) away in one of my boxes, soon. That would be a good way to find out! :) Thanks, you're too kind. I like that -- "powerful keyboard". LOL

  16. I love the "I was there feeling"! I haven't been that crazy about the books I've been reading recently and I think it might be because I'm craving a historical lol. The Civil War has always been fascinating to read about especially since I've been to many of the real life battle grounds and forts.

  17. Tink,

    I'm going to pass this one on in a box of historical fiction (it's an ARC, but not all will be) so drop back to check on that. I'm new to reading about the Civil War, but I can't say why. I've been to a few battlegrounds and the stories are fascinating. I think I just was too focused on WWII to bother, for a long time!

  18. That's a great pic!

    Sounds like an interesting book. I don't know all that much about the Civil War, but I'm always interested in war books. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention!

    Diary of an Eccentric


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