Tag Archives: Civil War

‘Hell or Richmond,’ by Ralph Peters

Hell or Richmond

For all his concerns, his heart leapt at the prospect of fighting again. Lee smelled powder the way a horse smelled oats. There were things he dared not discuss with other men, matters he preferred not to think on too much himself. He loved war, that was the wicked truth. God forgive him, he loved it. Worse, this army had become his greatest love. It was a terrible thing for a man of faith, or any man, to recognize.

I wonder if it’s possible for a novel to be too successful. Not in the marketing sense – though there are certain authors whose success, in my opinion, is unmerited – but in the artistic sense. A novel that does such a good job of fulfilling its creative goals that the experience becomes nearly unendurable for the reader. Due to the subject matter.

That was my problem with Ralph Peters’ Hell or Richmond, a fantastically successful attempt to bring to life the experience of the 1864 Overland Campaign, during the American Civil War. Like his earlier novel, Cain at Gettysburg (which I admired greatly and reviewed here), it resurrects the historical events on both the macro and the micro level. Peters is a marvelous prose stylist, and succeeds in conveying not only the sights and sounds, but especially the sensations – the weariness, the thirst, the pervasive discomforts from an infantryman’s poison ivy to an officer’s inflamed feet, to Robert E. Lee’s digestive ailments. And the suffering goes on and on, far worse than Gettysburg, which seemed bad enough – through the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse to Cold Harbor, all of them famous slaughters. Continue reading ‘Hell or Richmond,’ by Ralph Peters

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

Charge!

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Or is it something else?

“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a wonderfully catchy tune that many have sung on the Fourth and even in church, because it talks about God’s truth marching forward, right? Just like “Onward Christian Soldiers,” isn’t it?

The writer, Julia Ward Howe, was a Unitarian, poet, and active supporter of abolition, women’s rights, prison reform, and education. Her public support of these issues was opposed by her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, and put a strain on their marriage for years. He wanted her to keep her work domestic. When she published a book of poetry anonymously (but discovered a short time afterward), Samuel felt betrayed.

In November 1861, Samuel and Julia were visiting Union encampments close to Washington, D.C. as part of a presidential commission. Some of the men began singing, and one of their songs was “John Brown’s Body,” a song in praise of the violent abolitionist John Brown.

“John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave
But his soul goes marching on.

“He’s gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord,
His soul goes marching on.”

Reverend James Freeman Clarke was touring with the Howes and remarked that while the tune was great, the lyric could be stronger. He suggested Julia write new words to it, and she replied that she had had a similar idea. Continue reading The Battle Hymn of the Republic