This is a tragic tale of a war-weary, used-up, half-crazy with post-traumatic stress Confederate private, his two war buddies, a conscripted man who is apparently slightly mentally retarded and should have never been forced to be a soldier, a sadistic psychopathic deserter and theif, and a young woman who is overwhelmed when her cousin's house is commissioned as a hospital for the hundreds of Confederate wounded and she must take on the role of nurse for which she is ill-prepared.
The soldiers, hungry and exhausted by the years of endless, dehumanizing, and increasingly hopeless conflict must once again somehow muster the courage (or nerve) to face another battle, this time in Franklin, Tennessee, which hosted of the Civil War's last big battles before the war ended a few months later. (Historically, in the Battle of Franklin, the Confederate army was just about slaughtered wholesale.)
In the aftermath of the battle, the characters meet, work through their trauma and feelings of hopelessness (well...with the exception of the psycho who is killed when in an attempt to exact revenge on the private, attacts the nurse). I suppose that the main characters's souls heal to a certain extent and even develop a doomed romance before the private dies of infection from a reletively minor wound at the end of the story. and For the survivors, the war goes on and on.
The decriptions and characterizations, including a whole host of secondary characters, each with their often shattered hopes and dreams, are written in beautiful, deep, poetic, and lyrical prose. You don't want to read this story quickly.
Unfortunaely, at least with me, deep, poetic prose often stalls the overall action of the book and sometimes becomes tedious after a time.
The characters are well-developed, complex, approachable, and deeply human in their good and bad thoughts, hopes, dying dreams, and actions. Before the battle, the main character, who was once a rather artistic dreamer, wishes he could meet one of the Strangers (Yankees) as a friend, to talk together about their hopes and dreams. After all, he figures, I am not such a bad guy. Why are you trying to kill me?
(Bu, as my own side note, in battle, a soldier's job is kill or be killed. Nothing personal.)
However, their backstories, told often in sudden flashbacks, become confusing to me. Part of me thinks that the backstories are overworked. On the other hand, it adds to the overall feeling not only of the battle, but the people involved with all their good and bad parts. After all, battles and the aftermath, and indeed any historical event, involve individual men and woman which is something the history books rarely show. The book is excellent in making the characters who participated in this moment in history real.
Another problem is that the author at one point jumped into the future and discussed how Southern women romantisized the soldiers and events during the Confederacy, possibly, the author seemed to suggest, in part as a way of dealing with the Confederacy defeat.
Um...well, unless the guys and gals, the characters, involved in the Civil War, actually developed a means of time travel, they would not have know about modern attitudes. While the comments and ideas are interesting and well-put, they would have been much better served, in my opinion, in the author's afterword or foreword, not in the text of the story itself, where, I felt, it had no place and was, as a matter of fact, a distraction to me.
Another problem I had was that I thought the ending was a bit too drawn out, which took away from some of the emotion.
Still, overall, I would say this was a very good book, but it had too many flaws to be one of my favorites.
By the way, if you want another story involving the Battle of Franklin, you might read "The Widow of the South". (Yes, the Caroline in this story and the use of her house as a hospital were real.) That book, however, also has it's flaws, because, in my opinion, the characters are much harder to like or relate to.