Valley of the Shadow

Written by Ralph Peters

This is a rip-snortin’, page-turning Civil War novel. Col. Peters does for the Civil War what Bernard Cornwell has done for medieval warfare. Instead of following Lee and Grant, like 99% of all other Civil War novels do, he bases this story on a plethora of lesser-known names, from Union General Sheridan down to lowly Confederate grunt Nichols.

The novel begins with Confederate General Early’s invasion of Maryland and failed attempt to sack Washington, then shifts to the life-and-death struggle between Early and Sheridan in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. While the battle scenes are vivid, and Cornwellian, Peters also takes you into the minds of the generals and privates alike and will have you cheering for both sides as he switches his narrative from Union to Confederate and back again, and switches point of view among dozens – and then shows how each side snatched defeat from the jaws of victory via dumb mistakes.

Along the way, you will meet a couple of future U.S. Presidents: William McKinley and Rutherford B. Hayes. Comic relief is provided by the flamboyant and self-centered George Armstrong Custer. The only complaint I had with this book was that scenes shifted; it was often impossible to tell whose viewpoint I was supposed to be in until a page or two or three into the scene. Other than that, it would score 100%. The language and the dialogue are superb and serve as a clinic to anyone wanting to write a Civil War-era novel. I can still hear some of my old-timer 19th-century-influenced ranch relatives talking with the syntax and cadence of Peter’s Confederates. Highly recommended.