The Smoke of Dawn by Jeff Shaara

Find in catalogBetween 1863-64 the siege and battle of Chattanooga  takes place on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge above Chattanooga, where the Confederate troops blockade the Union, hunkered down in Chattanooga.  Confederate General Braxton Bragg, a man with hubris, his vision clouded by a petition signed against him by his officers that include General Longstreet and General Patrick Cleburne, is waging a siege against the Union.  Against the Confederate troops entrenched on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman arrive, replacing General William Rosecrans.

Bragg has the full confidence of President Jefferson Davis, who arrives to demonstrate his support of Bragg before the petitioners seeking to have Bragg replaced.  Lincoln has recently placed Grant in charge of the entire theater of the war.

Providing a view of the battle from the common soldier’s perspective are Fritz “Dutchie” Bauer and officer Sammie Willis.  Bauer and Willis have been friends in Shaara’s A Blaze of Glory, Shaara’s book about the Battle of Shiloh.  Since Willis has joined the regular army, being a man who feels he has little to lose, Bauer is joining him in the Regulars.  Their friendship forged in battle causes some discomfort for Willis, now an officer, who must appear impartial.  Shaara’s gift to the reader is his representation of the various levels of battle from the war to conflicts within the ranks as well as between administrators and generals.

Comic if not so tragic, Union soldiers take heavy canister and rifle fire, resulting in casualties in trenches built by and emptied of Confederates.  Willis and other officers decide they don’t like “what happens” once their assigned task is complete.  The generals’ plan had been to occupy, hold those trenches and then “see what happens.”  Ironically, they didn’t care for the “what happens” leadership of Willis and other practical officers’  responding to life or death circumstances. They take matters into their own hands, deciding to move out and up the ridge.

I never thought I’d enjoy reading a novel detailing battles of the Civil War.  Shaara’s A Blaze of Glory kept me up late at night reading.  However, like the troops under siege at Chattanooga, I found slow going in The Smoke at Dawn.  However, both books are well worth the time and effort.

Shaara’s newest book that begins where A Blaze of Glory ends has recently hit the book stores: The Fateful Lightning.  The logical next step to Grant and Sherman are to take Atlanta.


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