Usaph Bumpass is the hub around whom the many spokes of the novel revolve. Although he never actually encounters the leading actors in the two major subplots, Stonewall Jackson and Horace Searcy, their actions affect him so directly that they nevertheless constitute a part of his personal universe. In keeping with his centrality to the novel’s narrative, Bumpass is in most respects an average sort of fellow: He follows orders, does not stick his neck out, and envies those who, like the artist Decatur Cate and the musically talented Gus Ramseur, have special gifts that lift them above the run-of-the-mill. Even Bumpass’ basic equanimity, however, is broken down by the wear and tear of fighting and his apprehensions regarding his wife’s faithfulness, the latter being brought to the boiling point by the appearance of Cate.
Cate’s feelings for Bumpass, a combination of almost brotherly affection and simple pity, make him one of the most interesting characters in the book. Cate believes that he has been truly and deeply loved by Ephephtha and that this makes him and Bumpass confederates in love as well as in war; for Bumpass, however, Cate is simply an intrusion, a painful reminder that Ephephtha is now beyond his influence. The dynamics of this interaction, in which Cate is compelled to pursue Bumpass and he, in turn, is driven to despise Cate, tend to overshadow the relationship that each has had with Ephephtha, who is described as a very attractive...
(The entire section is 576 words.)