In the spring of 1864, President Lincoln feared that he might not be able to save the Union. The Army of the Potomac had performed poorly over the previous two years, and many Northerners were understandably critical of the war effort. Lincoln assumed he'd lose the November election, and he firmly believed a Democratic successor would seek peace immediately, spelling an end to the Union. A Fire in the Wilderness tells the story of that perilous time when the future of the United States depended on the Union Army's success in a desolate forest roughly sixty-five miles from the nation's capital.
... revealing and moving ... [Reeves] devotes most attention to the Battle of the Wilderness ... While Reeves provides effective accounts of troop movements and commanders in the field, he shines in offering insights into the look and feel of these battles from the personal point of view. He focuses on thoughts and actions of several individuals, which he conveys through often-poignant letters and other firsthand accounts ... Reeves shows that battles can reveal heroism not through victories but at a basic level of survival. He has produced an evocative account of the human costs of the Civil War.
Reeves offers visceral descriptions of the fires that spread through the dry forest, burning to death hundreds of wounded soldiers, as well as vivid accounts of movements, battles, debates between commanding generals, and a generous helping of anecdotes from individual soldiers. He has clearly absorbed the confused geography of the Wilderness, but the maps could use improvement. Readers should keep a Civil War military atlas on hand. An expert account of a particularly horrific Civil War battle.
Historian Reeves (The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee) delivers an exhaustive and intermittently riveting account of the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness. Interweaving high-level strategy with the perspectives of frontline soldiers, Reeves recounts how Union Army commander Ulysses S. Grant planned to cross Virginia’s Rapidan River, pass through the heavily forested region known as the Wilderness, and attack Gen. Robert E. Lee on his right flank before capturing Richmond and ending the war ... Reeves has a firm grasp of the subject and skillfully draws from firsthand accounts, but often stops the action for long-winded asides. This deep dive is best suited for Civil War completists.