A Courier Book Reviewed by Stuart McClung
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The 1862 Maryland Campaign has gotten wide coverage over the years by any number of authors, Stephen Sears and D. Scott Hartwig immediately come to mind. However, their publications were narratives or campaign studies. In this case, it is a novel of historical fiction.
Author Alexander Rossino has written a story of what is essentially an insider’s look at the main Confederate players, Lee, Longstreet, etc., their perspectives and decisions made in addition to some rank and file soldiers. In particular, these are men of the Raccoon Roughs, Co. D, of the 6th Alabama Infantry of Robert Rodes’ Brigade.
In the run up to the Battle of Sharpsburg, all of the travails associated with this campaign come to the fore: Lee’s injuries to his wrists and hands and consequent need to ride in an ambulance, Longstreet’s worn heel and need to wear a slipper, the “Lost Orders” and the uncertainty that McClellan caused in the Confederate high command as a result, Stuart’s failure to keep D.H. Hill informed at South Mountain and the defensive struggle there which ended any possibility of a further advance into Maryland or Pennsylvania and the withdrawal to Sharpsburg to fight a battle which might salvage some measure of the intended campaign to bring about Southern independence.
All of these historic events are incorporated into the story’s thread as the author also focuses on the personal stories of other characters. One is an officer, native to the Sharpsburg area, attached to Jackson’s staff, concerned that his extended family is in harm’s way as battle approaches and then also the aforementioned members of the Raccoon Roughs who provide valued context in terms of what the soldier in the ranks experienced when it came to combat and loss of friends therein, thoughts of home and family, obtaining food, water and shelter and wondering if they would live to see another day.
A highlight is the well-written description of the fighting in the two battles which occurred in the six day period. Specifically, this would be the confusion, uncertainty and fog of war inherent in combat for all participants; indeed the swirling nature of it where one only knows what is going on in one’s immediate vicinity.
To his credit, Rossino covers all three phases of the Battle of Sharpsburg, from Hooker’s advance down the Hagerstown Pike in the early morning, to the fighting in the Sunken Road where Gordon and the 6th Alabama played a major role, to the “rescue” of Lee’s army with the timely arrival of A.P. Hill’s Division from Harpers Ferry just when it appeared that all was lost. An added bonus is the inclusion of the episode where Lee plans a counter-attack against the Union right during an ebb in the fighting. Not everyone knows or is familiar with this event.
By the end of the battle, the exhaustion from combat is almost palpable as Lee and his army prepare to move back across the Potomac River into Virginia and the survivors are left to contemplate the deaths of many and the carnage and destruction on the battlefield.
As a first time foray into historical fiction, Rossino has parlayed a virtual life-long interest in the Civil War into an interesting and engaging story which rises above the usual battle narrative with inter-personal dialogue and emphasizes the decisions and dilemmas forced on Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia by the circumstances in which they found themselves.
Understandably, there are no photographs (other than those on the cover) and the one map provides the detail and scale needed to show the theater of operations of Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and western Maryland.
Other than some minor mistakes of 19th Century terminology or nomenclature, there is certainly nothing here to criticize. As noted by the endorsement of James McPherson on the cover, “this page-turner of a novel…….provides the most vivid description” that one might want to consider in a fictional setting about one of the most important six day periods of the American experience.
Title: Six Days in September: A Novel of the 1862 Maryland Campaign
Author: Alexander Rossino