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Fire in the Wilderness by John Reeves

Book Review by Colin E Wilks

This is most certainly not your usual battle history and isn’t aimed only at Civil War enthusiasts.

If you want detailed troop movements and minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow descriptions of the Wilderness fight then you are well catered for by other authors.

Reeves focuses on the personal experiences of the participants, both high and low, their thoughts, hardships, heroics, and personal experiences. It is unlike any book I have seen on the battle.

He has an engaging style and this is an easy and enjoyable read, at a little over 200 pages I read it over two days.

The reason I suggest this is aimed at a wider audience is that Reeves uses the Battle of the Wilderness (and Spotsylvania Court House) to cover a whole load of general Civil War subjects in detail that you wouldn’t find in a book that concentrates on troop movements, tactics and strategies.

Amongst subjects covered are poetry, prose, medical care both on the battlefield and at hospitals, burial, embalming, desertion, the founding of Arlington National Cemetery the draft and substitution. This is by no means a complete listing of all subjects covered!

Potted biographies are provided of all the major characters as well as private soldiers. In particular, a Union Private William Reeves (no relation to the author). William Reeves joined the Union cause as a substitute for a wealthy citizen. The author uses William’s story to bring in many of the subjects covered in the text.

Time is spent explaining the fortunes of the featured characters before, during and after the war as well as those that didn’t make it to the conclusion of the fighting. This is a book about life, both in and outside the army, during the time of Grant’s Overland Campaign.

The Wilderness is used to glue the whole story together. So, if you’re someone who has not yet progressed beyond Gettysburg, if the American Civil War is a fairly new subject to you, or indeed, you may have read the excellent battle history’s on the Overland Campaign and would now be interested in a more personal study, then I recommend this book to you.

Colin E Wilks January 2022


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