The grit, tragedy and bold strategy of the American Civil War play out in Jim Stempel’s Windmill Point. Am I glad I read it? You bet. Stempel’s writing is vivid and meticulous. He tells the story of the pivotal events that took place in little more than two weeks in such a compelling fashion that even knowing what happens, you still feel the inexorable pull of tension. At the time of Cold Harbor – June 1864 – the outcome of the war is uncertain. Will the North give up in face of a public increasingly distraught with the horrible toll of death and destruction? Will the South succumb to the greater numbers arrayed against it?
Alternating between voices from North and South – those of Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, sharpshooter Wyman White, artillery commander General Alexander Porter, ‘bad boy’ General George Custer, cavalry leader General Wade Hampton and others – Stempel creates not just a story of war but a story of the individuals involved, their strengths and weaknesses, their beliefs and character traits, and their lives on and off the battlefield.
The author is particularly adept at explaining the technical aspects of war and framing the decisions made by Lee, Grant and others so that the average reader can understand and appreciate them. General Porter, for example, examines the flawless placement of artillery that savaged the Army of the Potomac. Wyman White shows us the patience and skill of sharpshooters. Through Wade Hampton’s and George Custer’s eyes we see the chaos and intensity of cavalry in action. Most significantly, of course, are the actions and thoughts of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant as they try to outwit one another. Highly recommended.