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Release Date: Jan. 25, 2016
"It is good that war has become so terrible, else we shall grow too fond of it," General Robert E. Lee famously said to his officers as they watched the carnage his cannon made of Union brigades assaulting Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, Virginia.
The Wastage, a novel by Dean Halliday Smith (aka Ron Smith) is about the mid-winter battle in December, 1862 that almost brought the American government to its knees. Fredericksburg was the "Valley Forge" for the Army of the Potomac and the national government during the civil war. It is a must read for those students of the era.
The movie and book, Gods and Generals, which focused on Confederate General Stonewall Jackson touches on the battle at Fredericksburg but the focus was on Jackson and not the other major personalities. Americans who have stood at the stone wall and imagined the brigades of Union troops advancing on the Confederate positions, one and two at a time, bayonets forward, into an inhuman caldron of fire, can only imagine the courage it took to make that advance.
And when Second Corps repulsed Picketts Charge at Gettysburg six months later, they jeered at the rebels retreating, "Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!" Second corps had earned their metal trying to take Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg and they knew the folly that Pickett's men had advanced into.
Fredericksburg was a debacle that everyone saw coming. General Longstreet's chief of Artillery, Porter Alexander, predicted when his cannon opened fire with canister, "A chicken won't be able to live on that field." The machines of war had taken over, a mechanized killing that would carry over to "modern" American wars in the 20th and 21st century.
There was heroism and great sacrifice by many. Fredericksburg became the first southern city whose inhabitants were ordered to evacuate, and those that did not were bombarded by federal guns. Martha Stevens, the magdalene who "kept a house" at the end of Telegraph Lane, where the killing was greatest, saw her house turned into an ill-equipped hospital. Henry Villard, a newspaperman, sees the developing horror close and personal.
Historians like to claim that Fredericksburg was a sideshow and stalemate compared to the horrific battles to come, especially at Gettysburg and the spring campaigns of 1864. The casualties at Fredericksburg, however, caused a near collapse of Abraham Lincoln's presidency just when Lincoln needed military victories to support his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. For the only time in our national history a Congressional cabal of Senators attempted to take over a wayward Presidency. Only Lincoln's deft manipulation of Congress Republican leadership avoided a constitutional disaster.
The Wastage is out now and in bookstores everywhere! Avid civil war readers will want their own copy of "The Wastage."