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Posted April 23, 2013
The battle casualty figures in the Civil War are hard to take in, like over 50,000 at Gettysburg, 35,000, but Paul focuses on individual figures and brings them to life often using letters they wrote to each other. This was before the internet or telephone. It was when people knew how to put their feelings down on paper. Which was so important when separated by the war.
So here we get a strong sense of what they were like as people and how they were affected. Some were patriotic and eager to sign up, while others did their best to stay out of it. I feel sorry for Milo Grow from New Hampshire who had married a Southern woman and lived with her and their son in Georgia, so had little choice but to fight for a side whose ideals he didn't believe in. Several men write pleading with their sweethearts to marry them as soon as possible but the girls hold back, fearful of being widowed at a young age. One man signs up in a burst of patriotic fervor but omits to let his wife know for over two months; understandably her letters back to him are a bit terse.
This book puts human faces and personalities behind the extraordinary casualty figures. It's full of contemporary photos and is a very readable book about the war that's not all facts, figures and military tactics. This is about the men who stood shoulder to shoulder, rifle in their hands, facing a long line of men just like them, with many about to die. It's about the women they left behind who had to cope as best they could.
It's a very readable and moving book of stories of real human lives in the face of catastrophic events.
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Posted April 24, 2013
What a fantastic, intensely moving book. From a historical perspective, we are provided with a gritty overview of one of the most catastrophic events in American history, and this is brought to life through the letters and romances of real people. It’s an intimate portrayal, looking back into the hearts and minds of soldiers and the women they left behind, with often poetic, beautiful declarations of love from both sides. While fear underwrites every line, there is an abundance of hope and a belief that love will conquer all. Each story is different. There's Sullivan Ballou who wrote the famous letter to be given to his wife in the event that he did not survive: "When my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name." There's the strange tale of Malinda Blalock who disguised herself as a man so she could join up and avoid separation from her beloved Keith. There's the messiness of war in the border states where neighbour was pitched against neighbour, and we hear from generals, surgeons, infantry and cavalrymen, as well as the women struggling to keep going back home, especially in the South where food was running out. The casualty figures are astronomic – huge, incomprehensible numbers from a single day of battle – and many of the couples in this book would not be reunited. It's incredible how many actually were. This book is moving beyond measure, and I highly recommend it.
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Posted March 27, 2013
I like the whole concept of the book and there were many interesting facts about these love stories on either side of the battle but at one point I had to re-read what was written. In the chapter on Stonewall Jackson and his wife, the author wrote "hired six slaves." I am sorry but you cannot hire slaves you own them, so I felt that the wording was giving readers the wrong impression. Also on the next page from that comment, it says that Lincoln called people to arms to fight the rebellion in 1851. I know that is a typo but that is kind of a big one, considering the book is all about the Civil War.
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