August 7, 2012

Review: "Cain at Gettysburg" By Ralph Peters

Cain at Gettysburg, by Ralph Peters, is a new historical novel describing the bloody three-day battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July1-3, 1863.  Gettysburg is still the largest land battle ever fought on the North American continent, and was the bloodiest of the American Civil War. 

While superficially similar in scope to Michael Shaara's epic novel The Killer Angels, Peters' book also focuses on the battle leaders on both sides, as well as several of the enlisted men from a Confederate regiment (the 26th North Carolina) and some of the Union's German-Americans (of the 26th Wisconsin) and Irish-Americans (of the 69th Pennsylvania).  Shaara spent much of his novel telling of the brilliant and dogged defense of the extreme left of the Union line at Little Round Top by the 20th Maine, commanded by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain; and Peters, in Cain at Gettysburg, tells the story of the fierce combat associated with the first day of fighting near Seminary Ridge and the area just north of the town of Gettysburg.  This part of the battlefield was ably contested by elements of the First and Eleventh Corps of the Union Army.  The time bought by the courageous actions of these two army corps allowed the Union Army to slowly fall back and dig in on some very good ground (i.e., up on Cemetery Ridge) that ultimately led to the defeat of the Confederate forces after three days of ferocious combat.

Peters' military background, and that he has been a serious student of the Civil War for 50+ years, has resulted in a historical novel that pays close attention to detail and the facts, and focuses on accurately describing the tactics and consequences of the bloody business that was combat between the regiments and brigades during the Civil War.  Peters is a very good writer and in telling this very compelling tale about one of the seminal moments in American history he really gives it his all.  This is grim, gritty stuff and it is not for the faint of heart, but then war never is, is it?

P.S. If you like historical detective fiction set during the American Civil War, I understand that Ralph Peters, under the pen-name of Owen Parry, has written a series of five or six historical novels featuring his character, Union Major Abel Jones.  I've not yet read any of these, but based upon my enjoyment of Cain at Gettysburg I expect I will try one or two of them.


Cain at Gettysburg
By Ralph Peters
Forge Books, 2012
Hardcover, 432 pages


  1. You are responsible for me adding a lot of books to my library hold list today. Thanks. And I highly recommend Team of Rivals. It's very, very good.

  2. Awesome, Donna! I love being responsible for folks reading more books! Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the endorsement on the Kearns Goodwin book. Cheers! Chris