I'd intended to read this book for years (came across it in a book of good reading recommendations), but didn't start reading it till last week. It is a real page-turner, and not only held my attention as I read it but made the kiind of impact that led me, after I had finished the book, to brouse through it again.
In my opinion, it is not only a major fictional recreation of a key stage in the U.S. Civil War (basically, the months that culminated in the battle known to the north as Antietam [the south as Sharpsburg, which is how it shows up in the endpaper maps], but one of the top ten war novels that I've read over the last 50-odd years. I'd rank Keneally's CONFEDERATES just below WAR AND PEACE and Crane's RED BADGE OF COURAGE, and somewhat above Hemingway and the few good World War II novels (Mailer, Waugh, and the forgotten Russian Stalin-era novel, Simonov's DAYS AND NIGHTS).
The detail in the book, both of the feellings of soldiers in combat and of factual material (very good material on field surgery in the Confederacy - probably not hugely different than in the North, but the whole book is done, with a few exceptions, from the perspective of the "doomed cause" of the South) surpasses most of what I've read. The feel of the book (its literary quality) is interesting: it is gritty and realistic, but the rhythm and style sufficiently echoes nineteenth century writing at its best so that you really feel you are there, with men and women of that era.
I have three suggestions:
1. If you haven't read this book, get a copy and read it.
2. If you read it years ago, read it again. I've noted in my calendar to read it again in a few years. Among other things, it adds to our insight, I think (as good books often do), on situations that we are trying to understand and deal with today.
3. The publishers should bring this book back into print and movie producers (or TV) should give it serious consideration for a high-quality production.