Sunday, 5 August 2012

REVIEW OF PITTSBURG LANDING by Robert Burns Clark


Pittsburg Landing is a story of that historical tragedy, the American Civil War, and in particular it deals with the few weeks leading up to the obscene butchery at the place alternatively named Shiloh, the ‘place of peace.’

Mr Clark has done his research into the havoc of Pittsburg Landing so well though he is fortunate that the great battle which occurs at the culmination of his tale has been so richly recorded. But this in itself may be a potential danger to a novelist who must beware not simply to catalogue the material of others, must not merely catalogue the obscenities of war. He must go deeper and plunge his characters into the heart of his murderous matter and this Clark does quite splendidly and movingly.    

The author manoeuvres his main characters skilfully, some from the Union side, others from the Confederacy, to the point where, all strangers to each other, they are opposed in a horrific onslaught which will lead to 23,000 casualties. Some of these are officers, others bewildered boys; there is a man seeking his very young son who has run off to support the cause and a wife who follows her husband to the front. Some survive: others do not. But the author in the course of his narrative makes us care about each of them.

This may be a story about the war between the States though Clark takes no political stance. His view seems to be that whether a war is justifiable or not some involved at the hot steel end will demonstrate courage and nobility but that even those virtues will not save them. For others such noise, such turbulence, such sights are likely to be imprinted on their very souls for the rest of their days.

This is a very well told account of war and I found the final chapters riveting.


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