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The Battle of Five Forks was one of the the last battles of the American Civil War. A week later, Lee surrendered. Two weeks later, Lincoln was dead. In this meditation on that battle, Alexander juxtaposes the story of the battle, which he tells through narrative, letters, and journal entries, with his own impressions, viewing the South through Northern eyes. In addition, he views contemporary American society through the story of the Civil War and specifically through the story of Five Forks. If it is true that we meet our past coming to us out of the future, then, Alexander posits, America is still grappling with issues unresolved by the Civil War. Those issues are not just the obvious ones of race and class, or of North vs. South, but also the more ephemeral issues surrounding the mythos Americans live by.
Alexander is not a historian, and this is much more a literary work than a battle story. However, the immediacy with which Alexander tells his tale leads the reader to experience Five Forks—the land, the smells, the cries—as if present there in 1865. Thus, he does not just describe a battle; he captures the spirit of all battles, all wars.
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Robert Alexander is a poet and writer living in Madison, Wisconsin, and Grand Marais, Michigan. He is author of White Pine Sucker River: Poems, 1970–1990 and was Creative Director of New Rivers Press.Review:
"Robert Alexander's Five Forks is a splendid and intriguing study of the South's Waterloo. I can't recommend too highly this book that so clearly belongs in anyone's permanent Civil War collection. The prose is improbably lucid and lovely."
"I have read a range of work from Hart Crane and Walt Whitman to contemporary writers. Five Forks stands with the best of them, an original and imaginative creation the structure of which--part narrative, part poetry, part history, part journal--sets it apart and heightens its appeal."
"Alexander's purpose is not to furnish us with another tactical account of the Battle of Five Forks, fought April 1, 1865, but rather to entwine a narrative of those events which led up to this climatic battle of the Civil War known as the Waterloo of the Confederacy.' With the generous use of primary sources, from commanding generals to the common soldier, he interweaves their stories in telling how the two contending armies got to Petersburg along with providing a lively discussion on how the war actually came to be. It is a thought provoking read and recommended for all who enjoy this time period in America's history."
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