A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

Pegasus. May 2021. 352p. ISBN 9781643137001. $28.95. HIST
Reeves (The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee) tells a revealing and moving story of two horrible but inconclusive Civil War engagements in May 1864. He devotes most attention to the Battle of the Wilderness, fought in heavy Virginia undergrowth with fierce close-range fighting and fires that contributed to heavy casualties on both sides, but no clear victor. Later chapters recount Union troops moving toward Spotsylvania Court House, where Confederates built fortifications that created a stalemate. While Reeves provides effective accounts of troop movements and commanders in the field, he shines in offering insights into the look and feel of these battles from the personal point of view. He focuses on thoughts and actions of several individuals, which he conveys through often-poignant letters and other firsthand accounts. Stories of soldiers and officers being killed in battle are gut-wrenching, as are details about those who survived but suffered grim wounds and lingered on the battlefield or in horrific conditions in overcrowded field hospitals with ineffective medical care.
VERDICT Reeves shows that battles can reveal heroism not through victories but at a basic level of survival. He has produced an evocative account of the human costs of the Civil War.
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