Part history, part meditation, BATTLEFIELD describes the interaction of an artist with agriculture and history. Peter Svenson, a painter, and his family purchase a tract of land in the Shenendoah Valley of Virginia in order to secure a refuge from twentieth century commerce and “progress.” Their ideal homesite, however, sits upon forty acres of land over which 125 years before armies raged. For Svenson finds his property to be the actual site of a Civil War battle—Cross Keys. This skirmish, which occurred in June of 1862, marked the penultimate action of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign, though Jackson himself and fully half of his army were not engaged. The Confederate Valley campaign succeeded in distracting Union attention and subtracting Union forces from the primary military struggle that summer—General McClelland’s Peninsula Campaign, the Union assault on Richmond. As such Jackson’s Valley maneuvers were, from the Southern point of view, a strategic success, and Cross Keys a tactical triumph.
Svenson’s book is not quite so winning. It attempts to tie together the historic events with Svenson’s struggles to make his homestead a working farm and peripherally to understand his place in the grand scheme of time. But the narrative lacks drama; Svenson succeeds in all he does—renovating an ancient bank barn, forming a pond, constructing his house, acquiring and refurbishing machinery. One never fears for his ultimate success. Yet it...
(The entire section is 466 words.)