Sherman's March

Cynthia Bass, Author Villard Books $21 (228p) ISBN 978-0-679-43033-9
The end of the Civil War, according to Bass's powerful debut novel, began in November 1864, when General William Tecumseh Sherman signed Special Order Number 120. Underlying that order, which contained ``explicit and careful instructions for the March to the Sea,'' was Sherman's conviction that civilians in the South had to suffer all the ravages of war before they could be persuaded to give up the Confederate cause (``Harder war, stricter war, crueller, deeper . . . until the people themselves sample its sting''). Bass firmly roots this conviction in Sherman's complex personality, revealed through the general's narration, which occupies a third of the novel. Two contrasting voices follow Sherman's: Union captain Nick Whiteman speaks of the conflict's tedium and savagery, and Confederate widow Annie Baker limns the grinding, yet curiously freeing, experience of the refugee. Bass's depiction of how Sherman's order brought out the murderous beasts in once-honorable men is convincingly horrific, but scenes dealing with casual betrayal of freed slaves by both sides seem contrived merely to lend some justification to the brutal March. Sherman sees his March as the only way to peace--but, as circumstances bring the three narrators together, it's left to the reader to decide whether peace is worth obtaining at such a terrible cost. Sherman is a powerful creation--so persuasively drawn, so vital, that when he's off the page the story flags, however slightly. This impressive novel should attract not only Civil War buffs and fans of historical fiction but others interested in quality fiction. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/30/1994
Release date: 06/01/1994
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-553-37547-3
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