Jeff Shaara’s last installment in his Civil War series is the story  of William Tecumseh Sherman, and the final eight months of the war. The Fateful Lightning picks up Sherman’s march immediately after the sacking of Atlanta and follows his army through Georgia and the Carolinas.


There is little middle ground in the world of Civil War analysis regarding Sherman. The general is either hated as savage and brutal or respected as the finest battlefield commander of the war.  The Fateful Lightning, through Shaara’s use of the historical novel, brings a semblance  of balance to the Sherman legacy. Shaara’s  research is excellent.

Like all of Shaara’s  writing, using the vehicle of the novel, the key players are humanized. The genre also allows for the creation of fictional characters to flush out the story line. In this case a young slave, freed by Sherman’s march is among the thousands of  former slaves who follow Sherman’s army of liberation as it heads north, taking them away from their masters and plantations.  The story of freed slaves following the Union Army is also well told in another book, E.L. Doctorow’s The March.  Search gordonsgoodreads for an overview.

I also recommend the other three books in Shaara’s series.  A Blaze of Glory,  A Chain of Thunder, and The Smoke at Dawn. You will find my overviews of them here at gordonsgood reads. 

Shaara also wrote Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s The Killer Angels.









The Smoke at Dawn/ General Bragg’s Waterloo At Chattanooga

President Lincoln’s brilliant decision to elevate Ulysses  S. Grant to General in Chief of the Union Army following Grant’s victory at Vicksburg on July 3, 1863 was further justified by the success of Grants first assignment following his promotion in the battle of Chattanooga, Tennessee.


Jeff Shaara in his new historical novel The Smoke at Dawn , the third in his Civil War Trilogy, places Grant in the Cumberland following the Confederate defeat of General Rosecrans by Braxton Bragg at the Battle of Chickamauga Creek. Grant immediately demoted Rosecrans and replaces him with General George Thomas and brings in Sherman’ s army for support. The Union army has been under siege in Chattanooga and Grant orders the siege broken at whatever the cost. Bragg, sinking in his own bombast and his repeated failure to lead , is on the verge of converting a great Confederate victory into a bitter defeat. As Sherman rides to the rescue  of General Thomas and the Union Army, he makes a rare mistake by misreading the geography, giving Bragg one last chance of grasping victory from the jaws of defeat.

There is plenty of drama as Shaara tells the story of this epic battle with the versatile vehicle of historical fiction that , following in his fathers footsteps , is his trademark. Shaara is the son of Pulitzer Prize winning Michael Shaara, author of The Killer Angles.

The two previous novels in the trilogy are A Blaze of Glory , the battle Shiloh and A Chain of Thunder, the Siege of Vicksburg.  Search reads for other Jeff Shaara historical novels based upon the Revolutionary War, Civil War and World War II.


The first week of July, 2013 commemorates the 150 anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, considered by many historians as the greatest battle of the war and the fateful turning point leading to the ultimate defeat  and surrender of Robert E. Lee and the demise of the Confederacy.  The great battle took place in three engagements on July 1, 2 and concluding with the disastrous Confederate Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, 1863.  The sun rose on July 4th over a battlefield that witnessed over 5,700 killed and more than 27,000  wounded, thousands of whom died from wounds in the ensuing weeks.  More has been written regarding this great battle than any other in history, including  D-Day.


This week another new book,  Gettysburg by Allen C. Guelzo is added to the library of Gettysburg non-fiction.  Simultaneous to the release of Guelzo’s book and in conjunction with the Gettysburg 150th anniversary, the Smithsonian has released a fabulous interactive map that helps explain why General Lee made a critical mistake in underestimating the depth of the Union Forces he faced. The map addresses the issue of the extreme lack of intelligence and reconnaissance on behalf of either side during all of the Civil War engagements.  Prior to the commencement of hostilities, Lee climbed to the top of  cupolas, one at the Lutheran Seminary and the other at Gettysburg College to survey Union troops.  The Smithsonian GIS generated map, together with the research of Middlebury College professor Anne Knowles, clearly shows that deceptive terrain made it impossible for Lee to judge the magnitude of the Union forces. Lee’s problems were of course magnified  by the absence of his cavalry led be Jeb  Stuart. To examine the new GIS map of the Gettysburg battlefield go to :


With the natural focus this week on the Gettysburg anniversary it is easy to overlook yet another monumental Civil War battle that historically may equal and in some sense eclipse the great Gettysburg turning point. General  U.S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg  which culminated on July 3, ( the same day as Pickett’s Charge) in some sense had a greater impact on the war’s outcome than Gettysburg.  

Following two weeks of battle including fierce fighting at Jackson Mississippi and Champion Hill  Grant turned his forces West to Vicksburg, the last remaining Confederate obstacle to opening the entire Mississippi River to Union control.  Following days of brutal fighting and bombardment Grant laid siege to the city and finally on July 4th, 1863 accepted the surrender of General Pemberton’s  Confederate forces and took control of  what had been an impregnable citadel above the river.

While there  continues to be much debate over the work of Civil War historians  ( See David Blight’s  article That a Nation Might Live in the July 1 Book Section of  New York Times ), it will come as no surprise to followers of Gordon’s Good Reads  that I have turned to historical fiction and Jeff Shaara’s new Civil War book A Chain of Thunder, A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg. Jeff Shaara is the son of Michael Shaara, author of Killer Angels, the story of  the Gettysburg battle. Like the writing of the father, Jeff Shaara places the reader in the boots of the front line soldiers and additionally, in the case of A Chain of Thunder the devastated lives of the Vicksburg’s citizens.

Why does Vicksburg equal the historical importance of Gettysburg? The answer lies in President Lincoln’s recognition  that  he found in Grant following Vicksburg and his earlier victory at Ft. Donnelson,  a commander who could ” win.”!   There is little doubt that the victory at Vicksburg catapulted Grant into being named General In Chief of all Union Forces. In that capacity, Grant’s tenacity, with Lincoln’s unbridled support,  forged the final Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.   There is no doubt that the Grant Civil War legacy led to his becoming President of the United States, following the failed short-term of Vice President Andrew Johnson following Lincoln’s assassination.

Whether you prefer non-fiction or historical fiction of any combination thereof, The Civil War is an epic human story that changed the future of not only the nation, but the world.

Other Civil War historical novels by Jeff Shaara”  Gods and Generals, The Last Full Measure, A Blaze of Glory.










Jeff Shaara continues his magnificent writing  with another Civil War historical novel.  A Blaze of Glory takes the reader to the western theater of the war and the battle of Shiloh. It is the first of  a new Shaara trilogy.  Jeff is the son of  Michael Shaara, author of  the Pulitzer Prize winning Killer Angels. 

Gordon’s Good Reads last reviewed Shaara’s The Final Storm , the World War II battle of Okinawa. (June, 2011)   A Blaze of Glory uses the same Shaara style by viewing the horror of battle through characters with boots on the ground. In this case, a Confederate Cavalry Lieutenant and a Union Private. Shaara holds nothing back in the vivid portrayal of the hand to combat and carnage that occurred when armies lined in formation across from one another enduring volleys of musket fire, artillery canister and grape-shot. He captures egos and indecision as well as bravery and heroism.

” The fight around Shiloh Church had come from the plans and ambitions of generals, and no matter the disaster of that, it was the foot soldiers who would still do the deed, who would be asked to decide the fate of the town, of the country, and more important to many, the fate of the men around them.”  You will walk in the footsteps of Lieutenant James Seeley and Private Fritz “Dutchie” Bauer.

April 6, 1862, 100,000 troops on the field of battle, 25,000 casualties,  including the death of a Confederate General that many say could have determined the outcome of the Civil War and the fate of the Union. Egos abound!  Grant, Beauregard, Johnston, Buell and Sherman are all present. A surprise Confederate attack on superior Union forces. Victory is in hand and then, a stunning decision that is the subject of discussion by Civil War historians to this day. Did  a need for personal glory determine the outcome at Shiloh?

Several years ago Shaara completed the initial Civil war trilogy begun by his father’s Killer Angels by writing Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure. This new trilogy which begins with A Blaze of Glory will concentrate on the war in the western theater and follow Grant’s rise to his appointment by President Lincoln as General in Chief of all Union Forces.

Jeff  Shaara’s historical novels on World War II in addition to The Final Storm ( Okinawa and the dropping of the atomic bomb) are: No Less than Victory ( The Battle of the Bulge, and the fall of the Third Reich)The Steel Wave, ( The Normandy Invasion) and The Rising Tide ( The North Africa and Italy campaign).  He also wrote Gone for Soldiers a novel on the war with Mexico and two books on the American revolution Rise to Rebellion and The Glorious Cause. In Gone for Soldiers you will meet many of the Mexican War officers that later became the generals in Shaara’s Civil War novels.



During this week as we reflect upon the 67th anniversary of D-Day I completed the fourth book in Jeff Shaara’s historical novels on World War Two. 

The Final Storm, which has just been released is the story of the War in the Pacific culminating and with the greatest emphasis on the battle for the island of Okinawa. Okinawa was to be the last stepping stone before an invasion of Japan.  The Japanese land invasion was of course preempted by the decision to drop the Atomic Bomb.

Shaara , as always,  magnificently tells his war epochs by placing the reader in the boots of the soldier, slogging through the life and death drama of war.  It would be impossible to put down The Final Storm without the greatest empathy and understanding of the men who gave everything to defeat the Japanese, not only on Okinawa ,but on all of the Japanese held Pacific Islands.   The book also provides dramatic personalized insight into the decision and the actual dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima.

The earlier books in this Shaara collection concern the North Africa Campaign and an introduction to Eisenhower and Rommel in The Rising Tide,  the European Invasion and D-Day in The Steel Wave, and the great march across Europe including the Ardennes and the Battle of the Bulge in No Less Than Victory.

It would be difficult for anyone with an interest in WWII  to overlook these four volumes.  

Shaara’s portrayal  of the reality of war through  the prism of historical fiction is in my view unequaled.  Then again, having read his father Michael Shaara’s   Killer Angels, you know it is in the genes.

If your interest lies with the Civil War you will want to read Jeff Shaara’s  Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure. Also do not overlook his  great novel on the American Revolution,  Rise to Rebellion.

Here is a promise. After reading a Shaara  novel  you will regard all service men and women with awe, respect and gratitude. An important thought during this period encompassing  Memorial Day, D-Day and the Fourth of July.

Civil War/ Lincoln Assassination/ Anniversary Week

Today, April 12, marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War with the firing on Fort Sumter, South Carolina.  April 15, Friday, marks the 146 anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Earlier this week I commended to you Jay Winik’s April 1865,  an important work of non-fiction on the assassination and the tumultuous period that followed.

Hundreds of volumes have been written on the Civil War. On this anniversary I suggest to you three writings of fiction that I believe will give the reader the most vivid portrait of this monumental period in American History.  If you choose to read them all, I would suggest the following order.  Jeff Shaara’s  Gods & Generals, Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels ( The battle at Gettysburgand then Jeff Shaara’s The Last Full Measure. Jeff Shaara is the son of Michael Shaara.

These three historical novels describe the Civil War from the viewpoint of those who fought in and directed the great battles.  You will be present at the siege of Richmond, at Pickett’s Charge and on Little Round Top with the 20th Maine at Gettysburg and at the  Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse .

The knowledge of the Civil War that you will gain from these three works of historical fiction is  priceless!