HISTORY

A Worse Place Than Hell: How the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg Changed a Nation

Norton. Feb. 2021. 528p. ISBN 9780393247077. $35. HIST
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Matteson's (Eden's Outcasts) sweeping collective biography is not a conventional study of the bloody Civil War battle at Fredericksburg, VA. While skillfully conveying the historical importance of the events of December 1862, he focuses on the significance of the battle in the lives of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., John Pelham, Walt Whitman, Arthur B. Fuller, and Louisa May Alcott. Pelham, daring fighter and sole Southerner of this group, died later in the war, while Fuller, a chaplain, perished at Fredericksburg early and with little notoriety. Holmes, Whitman, and Alcott achieved wide recognition in the years following the war. With keen biographical skill, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Matteson deftly interweaves the wartime actions of these five with what occurred in their lives and minds before, during, and, for all but one, after the battle. The author shows how, in different ways, Fredericksburg offered Whitman and Alcott distinctive memories of military hospitals. Holmes, Pelham, and Fuller faced the intense fighting differently, each according to past experiences and commitment to their causes. Matteson also effectively demonstrates how the lives of these individuals connected with more familiar characters of the battle and war.
VERDICT Highly recommended for fans of historical biography, especially as it intersects with the Civil War.

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