Monday, July 19, 2010

An Impoverished Army

This is from my favorite fiction account of the Civil War. It is written from the South's point of view, in a humanistic and somewhat stream-of-consciousness style: The Black Flower. The author, Howard Bahr, lives in Oxford Mississippi. For a time, he ran William Faulkner's home and museum. He has been acquainted Shelby Foote and other Southern writers and historians of note.  None of that is important compared to how well he describes the near-end of the Confederate effort, through the medium of one man and one woman.

In the book, a single woman, Anna Hereford, has lost two Confederate suitors already to war. She befriends an exhausted and mildly-wounded Confederate soldier in Tennessee in 1864. The plantation house is surrounded by troops about to go into battle. In true Southern style, the Confederate leader brings his compliments, and asks if the house may be used as an infirmary. Thus it is filled with soldiers: exhausted, dragging, hungry.  Some are bent on rape and pillage; others, decent men with no luck at all.

For instance, Bushrod Carter's mild wound is not mild for long.
Bushrod's body was white, hairless, frail, etched with grime . . .  Anna wondered dully how such a slight frame could be a soldier's.
The surgeon offered only a glance at Bushrod's arm. 'It has to come off," he said.
"No!" said Anna.
The surgeon shrugged. "Then he will die. You can see that for yourself."
Anna could, indeed, see that for herself. The arm was beginning to turn the color of blackberries. It was swelling too, and the red streaks coursed through the puffy flesh from the hand to the elbow. It was already beginning to smell.
"It came so fast,' said Anna. 'It was just . . . . . so fast!"
"It is how it happens," said the surgeon, gentler now. "These boys--they live on parched corn and bacon and coffee, they never sleep, never quit, and when somethin happens to em they got nothin to prop em up. It is a wonder any of em can still put one foot in front of another."
The black flower is a bullet wound, and perhaps a symbol of other things. Every page in this book gives some idea of what the culture of the Confederacy wrought, how it withered, and what remained: then, for years after, and into the present day.

I did not enjoy Bahr's sequel quite as much. But I would pick this first novel over Cold Mountain, although with some regrets; I would quickly choose it over Shaara's fictional Killer Angels. Michael Shaara presumes too much into the mind of Lee to please me, and I think he thereby trivialized Lee's intellect and strategy. But that is just another opinion. . . on yet another book.

The Black Flower. Howard Bahr. Available.

Picture below: Dead soldier, near Fredericksburg.


Bob G. said...

The horrors of war were brought all too close to home when photography came into being.

And this book sounds like a vivid example of such results.

Hard to believe it's a NOVEL...
Very well written (thanks to the excerpts).
As many soldiers that died of wounds suffered, just as many (perhaps more) died from DISEASE.
Same was true in the Revolutionary War.

Good stuff!

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
I am glad you enjoyed!

I should have posted something on Civil War photographers. Perhaps I will do that later in the month.

Thanks for a great idea! And for stopping by!


The Observer said...

Ann T:
If there is any good that comes out of war, it is the lessons in medical care we have learned. Each war has resulted in mind boggling advances in trauma care that have saved countless lives, not just in the battlefield, but in the bad neighborhood and on the highway too.

It's a pity that such lessons come at the cost of the death and destruction that war brings.

I've been contemplating violence due to our latest murder in our police division/precinct/patrol...

The Observer