LEE AT CHATTANOOGA
by Dennis P. McIntire
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Dennis P. McIntire focuses his attention on the Civil War’s Chickamauga Campaign in Lee at Chattanooga, which details General Robert E. Lee’s mission to support and advise General Braxton Bragg following the Confederate success at Missionary Ridge. The story is told from the point of view of Major Jedidiah Hotchkiss, a geographer assigned to Lee as an aide while attached to Bragg’s army.
McIntire has elected to use a framing device of Major Hotchkiss relating the events of the battle to Jefferson Davis’s personal secretary, Edward Deslauries several years after the war. This results in the reader having a vague idea how McIntire’s history differs from our own. In doing so, McIntire is hoping the reader will keep reading in order to learn the specifics, although it also results in the narrative losing some of its sense of urgency.
However, McIntire has thought through the changes in strategy and tactics his Confederacy and Union troops employ and his battle does not simply provide an overriding advantage for one side or the other. Hotchkiss’s position as an aide to Lee gives him insight a common soldier wouldn’t have had, but he rarely applies hindsight in telling his story, which adds to the strangeness of McIntire’s decision to use a framing technique.
Many of the fictional characters in Lee at Chattanooga are presented in terms reminiscent of Mark Twain, although without Twain’s obvious affection and sense of bemusement for their concerns and foibles. His historical characters are clearly based on the people they represent, although they are often little more than caricatures of their best or worst qualities as seen through Hotchkiss’s eyes (Lee and Bragg respectively). This may be dismissed as a result of seeing these characters through Hotchkiss’s point of view, except all we see of Hotchkiss is a man who hero worships Lee and can barely bring himself to offer any advice counter to Lee’s own opinion.
Of course, one of the central questions raised by alternate history is whether a single individual can make a difference, and this, in the end, turns out to be McIntire's focus. Lee is the the crux of the matter as his presence at Chattanooga is the catalyst for any changes which might occur. McIntire comes to an interesting and reasonable resolution to the Great Man question in Lee's ultimate affect on the situation.
Lee at Chattanooga assumes that the reader has a general knowledge of the battle, however it does not dwell on the changes to such an extent that a reader who is unfamiliar with the characters and the situation will feel at a loss reading the novel. In fact, there is little that the reader need know about the actual campaign in order to enjoy McIntire’s novel. The changes that matter are clearly described and the end result is different enough from our own history that readers will be able to follow McIntire’s changes.
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