Review: A Blaze of Glory | Shiloh, Bloody Shiloh

A Blaze of Glory
Jeff Shaara (2012)

My historical road trip last summer took me to the Civil War battlefield in Shiloh, Tennessee. I brought along this book to illuminate events and further my understanding of what was (up to that point) the bloodiest day in U.S. history. As always, author Jeff Shaara has conjured up comprehensive, stirring, and intimate battlefield fiction with dialog and description that paints a vivid picture of events as they unfolded. Gripping and very readable, A Blaze of Glory is accessible for even the most novice of history buffs, but probably not for everyone.

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2012 Road Trip Catch-Up: Manassas National Battlefield Park

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

We start the day with a family breakfast and spontaneous mini-college reunion. We meet Tony, Laurie and her five-year-old daughter Beatrix for breakfast–so great to see Laurie and finally meet her (not-so) little one, adorable with personality to spare. During our meal, Karen’s college roommate pops by for an impromptu and very brief meet-up. Rebbie is days away from moving to Hawaii and just happens to be in Manassas at the same time we were. Thanks to Facebook postings, we’re able to get together for a quick catch-up over coffee.

We say our goodbyes to Laurie and Beatrix and follow Tony over to the Manassas Battlefield National Park visitors’ center to begin our personal guided tour. As we stand over-looking the Bull Run battlefield, he gives us a run-down of the First Battle of Manassas. Throughout the hour we’re there, other visitors wander over and eavesdrop on Tony’s lecture.

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Stonewall

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Farm on the Manassas National Battlefield Park

Second Manassas BattlefieldNext, it’s time to see the sights of Second Manassas. We all climb into the car and drive from one battlefield to another as Tony tells the tales of what transpired in 1862. Tony really knows his stuff and communicates the history like a master storyteller, bringing the past to life. As a veteran himself, Tony’s first-person perspective of battle are given a certain amount of gravity. Four hours and as many stops later, we can’t believe how time had flown by. This has been a phenomenal way to immerse ourselves in history and we can’t wait to do it again, hopefully sometime soon.

After saying goodbye to Tony, we head back to the gift shop to buy postcards and walk the first battlefield, shooting photos in the light of late day. Next stop, Fredericksburg, our base for the next few days on the Civil War battlefield tour.

Our hotel is located in the historic section of Fredericksburg and we enjoy walking the streets (the same trod by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) and window shopping on our way to dinner. We score big at yet another local/sustainable/organic eatery, Foode, a small, vibrant restaurant with fantastic food and an impressive beer and wine selection. Jan and I have the BBQ chicken, served over tasty mashed potatoes, and crisp green kale with cherry tomatoes and lemon. So good.

On our way back to the hotel, we walk over a bridge to get a peek at the nearby Rappahannock River, which is looking very low. After treating ourselves to ice cream at a local shop, we spend a quiet evening writing and reading.

Book Review: Gods and Generals

Jeff Shaara (1996)

A splendid recreation of the Civil War battles leading up to Gettysburg; a prequel of sorts to The Killer Angels, the Pulitzer prize-winning book written by the author’s father, Michael Shaara. (Angels chronicles the Battle of Gettysburg in dramatic narrative form and is another must-read book. After I’d read Generals, I revisited Angels and can definitely say it’s one of my all-time favorites.)

Written like a work of fiction, with gripping battle scenes and extremely moving passages highlighting the personal experience of battle, Jeff has inherited his father’s ability to bring history vividly to life. I’d say it’s a given that the third book in this Civil War trilogy will make an appearance on next year’s Best List.