Gray Victory

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

It is summer, 1866. Richmond, the capital of the Confederate States of America, is a thriving, restless city. President Jefferson Davis is due to run for reelection in December. He is being indirectly but scathingly attacked in the press by a venomous journalist’s accusations that General J.E.B. Stuart, now chief of cavalry in the new country’s War Department, had caused the Southern defeat at Gettysburg through dereliction of duty. Davis decides to convene a court of inquiry to put to rest, once and for all, the rumors about Gettysburg that continue to flourish in the wake of that tragic battle. He plans to control the inquiry by handpicking the hearing officers and, if need be, sacrificing Stuart to the greater good of Davis’ eventual reelection.

Defending Jeb Stuart at the court of inquiry is Lieutenant Colonel John S. Mosby, the chief of military intelligence for the Confederacy. He refuses to knuckle under to the government’s pressure to scapegoat Stuart and accept a Gettysburg whitewash. Mosby has deeper concerns as well. The still-suppressed black population is beginning to stir and organize. Their leadership is strong and intelligent, and Mosby is working to forge a strong working relationship with that leadership.

Into the summer’s turbulence comes a new, ominous threat, Amistad, a terrorist squad created by a Northern abolitionist extremist to destabilize the fragile Confederate government and force renewal of the war. Amistad’s appointed captain is the fanatic Salmon Brown, son of the famous John Brown. Joining him is Verita, a beautiful and ruthless octaroon. Both are as insanely committed to their cause as others are to subverting it. Just as Davis loses control of the inquiry, so Amistad’s Northern creator loses control of Brown and Verita. The climax is gripping, violent, tragic, and inevitable.

It is daring and audacious to devise a new outcome for the Civil War and construct a story compelling enough to make the reader forget the truth. Fancy is superimposed on fact as the real story of the Battle of Gettysburg is told through the counterpoint of fictional and nonfictional characters and events. The author conquers skepticism as surely as General Ulysses S. Grant took Vicksburg, and only in the opening and closing pages of the book is the reader’s credulity somewhat strained.