Jeff Shaara and the American Civil War. We have come to expect a great adventure and The Smoke at Dawn delivers. In addition to the expected vividly painted battlefield action, Shaara has given us an in depth character study of the major characters in this drama. Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Bragg, Cleburne, Longstreet, Forrest and others come alive as we read their thoughts and learn of their very human foibles.
The battlefield drama takes place in and around Chattanooga, Tennessee. There is major fighting on Lookout Mountain, Orchard Nob, Missionary Ridge, and in Chattanooga itself. Collectively known as the Battle of Chattanooga, these various venues provide the Union and Confederate generals the opportunity to lead and mislead their troops in some of the war's decisive fighting.
As the book opens, the Union troops of Rosecrans has just experienced a humiliating defeat at Chicakamauga in norrthern Georgia. The Union retreats to Chattanooga and settles in. A furious Abraham Lincoln replaces Rosecrans with Ulysses S. Grant who immediately begins reinforcing the depleted troops and supplies.
Across the river, Braxton Bragg has settled in to 'wait out' the union, thinking to starve them out. Because Bragg did not persue Rosecrans when he was retreating, many Confederate leaders have lost faith in Bragg's ability to lead and call for his ouster. His friend, Jefferson Davis, refuses to do this. So the 'wait them out and we will have a victory' mentality prevails.
In both camps the mistrust, jealousies, and second guessing runs rampant. Each man, regardless of his level of leadership, is portrayed with all his egocentric thoughts, doubts, and feelings of self-importance. The officers on each side seemed as much at war with each other as with the enemy across the way.
Grant still needs reinforcements and someone he can trust. He sends for Sherman to come in from the west. When Sherman finally arrives with 30,000 men, Grant expects only victories from him.
For days the two armies engage each other in and around Chattanooga. Finally Sherman begins his assult, expecting to run over the Confederate flank he is facing. The Confederate leader, Cleburne, has other ideas and in some of the bloodiest fighting his troops repulse Sherman's advances time and time again. Ultimately the surperior numbers of Sherman's Union troops overwhelm Cleburne's much smaller Confederate troops.
Throughout these bloody days of battle, Braxton Bragg is indecisve, waiting, and making decisions based upon petty jealouslies. In the Union forces, jealousies often overtake the sound decision making.
Before reading the book, I had a general knowledge of the Battle of Chattanooga and knew that the Union was finally victorious, but I had no idea that both sides were plagued with such personality conflicts. These conflicts and the reasons behind them were fascinating.
As always, Shaara has done his research, in great depth, and has managed to take that research and give us a marvelous look at a pivotal battle in the American Civil War.
Civil War buff are going to love this, and we know it leads us to what must surely be Shaara's next book or books...Sherman, Atlanta, and the destruction of Georgia.
Available June 3, 2014. Just in time for Father's Day.