Amidst all the powerful Civil War historical fiction of recent years, Bahr's first novel stands as a memorable story of war at its most emotional and painful. The battle at Franklin, Tenn., in November 1864 was a classic Pyrrhic victory for the South. The Confederate army of General John Bell Hood, though victorious, was utterly destroyed in the fighting. Bushrod Carter is a soldier in the Cumberland Rifles, a Mississippi outfit whittled down to a few souls by years of war. Facing yet another grim day's work in the blood and smoke, Bushrod and his closest friends, starved and tired, go through their pre-battle rituals. As seasoned veterans, they know what is to come and face their fate stoically, with an almost supernatural feeling of displacement as they jest grimly about the black flower, a soldier's sense of foreboding. The aftermath is even more horrible than the chaos and terror of close combat. Friends are dead or missing. Deserters scour the battlefield looting the dead. The wounded are dragged to makeshift field hospitals where drunken surgeons wait with dull saws. Not a few men go crazy. Bushrod barely survives. He is badly wounded and falls under the tender, hypnotic spell of Anna Hereford, a young woman assisting at the field hospital. In their short time together, Bushrod and Anna seek salvation and understanding from each other, but the black flower is always present. Bahr's blend of historical fact with gut-wrenching emotion has produced a riveting novel of the Civil War, a frighteningly realistic portrait of men and women caught in an awfulness beyond their control. BOMC and QPB alternates. (Apr.) FYI: Black Flower was nominated for the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction.