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The Judas Field: A Novel of the Civil War by…
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The Judas Field: A Novel of the Civil War

by Howard Bahr (Author)

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This is one of the best, if not the best, books about the Civil War I've read. It is a beautifully written, very sad and wonderful story with realistic characters. A must for anyone interested in this era. ( )
  shesinplainview | Apr 1, 2013 |
First Line: Cass Wakefield was born in a double-pen log cabin just at the break of day, and before he was twenty minutes old, he was almost thrown out with the bedclothes.

Since that rather inauspicious beginning, Cass Wakefield piloted steamboats, married, was a soldier, and became a widower. For the last twenty years, he's lived in Cumberland, Mississippi, and been a traveling salesman selling Colt revolvers.

Alison Sansing lost her father and brother in the war, and for the last twenty years, she's lived in that big old house in Cumberland alone. Having just been told by her doctor that she has cancer and hasn't long to live, the thing Alison fears most is being buried in the family cemetery alone. She asks Cass Wakefield to accompany her to Franklin, Tennessee-- where her father and brother died in battle-- to recover their bodies and bring them back to Cumberland to be buried at home.

Having fought in the Battle of Franklin himself, Cass has no desire whatsoever to return to the area, but he does... for Alison. Two friends who fought alongside Cass travel with the pair, and the closer they all get to Franklin, the more vivid their memories become.

I chose to read this book because my great-great-great-grandfather fought and died in the Battle of Franklin, and the fact that James Henry Brown's uniform was blue not gray, doesn't make a bit of difference. Bahr sets his scene very carefully. The pace felt like a steam locomotive pulling out of the station and gradually gaining speed. A profound sense of sadness, of sorrow, for all that was lost, for all the lives that were forever changed, permeates the book. At one point Alison asks what the fighting was like, and the response is one of the best I've ever read about the impossibility of telling someone who wasn't there what it's like to fight in the midst of the bloodbath of battle:

"If we live a thousand years, won't ever find a way to tell it." He coughed , and turned his head to spit. "In a battle, everything is wrong, nothing you ever learned is true anymore. And when you come out-- if you do-- you can't remember. You have to put it back together by the rules you know, and you end up with a lie. That's the best you can do, and when you tell it, it'll still be a lie."

The book's sadness turns to heartbreak as the men arrive in Franklin and try to locate where the bodies were buried so long ago. Yes, things have changed, but there are still roads, still buildings, that unleash an overwhelming tide of memory and loss. It's some of the best writing about war I've ever read because Bahr never once lets graphic carnage carry his story. It's a wonderful thing when a writer credits his readers with enough imagination and feeling to fill in the blanks for themselves.

Cass Wakefield is a beautifully realized character. One I will long remember, as I will remember The Judas Field. I come away from the book feeling that I now have a tiny idea of what my ancestor went through in that time and place so long ago. ( )
  cathyskye | Nov 2, 2011 |
The Judas Field
by Howard Bahr
Picador
July 2007
978-0--312-42693-4
$14.00, $16.25 CAN, pb
304 pp.

The Judas Field is an astounding work of historical fiction that will rip deep into your heart and settle into your soul like a haunting bad dream. Howard Bahr provides a sharply detailed journalistic view of The Battle of Franklin through the eyes of Cass Wakefield, a soldier who is unable to reconcile the past. His life is empty and emotionless, haunted by memories he would rather forget. When a childhood friend asks him to recover her kin who died in the infamous battle, he reluctantly agrees to help.

The Judas Field, is based on the events surrounding the actual Battle of Franklin. It has been called, “The Gettysburg of the West.” and lasted only about five hours. It took place in the yard of the Carter Family, while the family hid in the house during the fight. When silence settled over the area, the casualties combined were over 9,000.

As you travel north to Tennessee from Mississippi with Cass, the reader will without a doubt empathize with Cass when his painful past insinuates itself into the safe cocoon of reflection he prefers. Uninvited images flash momentarily. War is loud. The repeated pounding and thunderous cacophony of canon fire and the constant ping and ring from ricochetted stray bullets whiz capriciously overhead. The ammunition is meant to kill and maim and bayonets are drawn. Sometimes, when a prayer is answered a bedraggled soldier will be spared. It doesn’t matter which side, the bullets and cannonballs originate, they are meant to kill, meant to deafen the sensitive ears and meant to produce the piles of bloody bodies that carpet the hellish landscape. All sense of beauty erased as the scavengers claim clothes, shoes, food and weapons from the dead.

War is quiet. The animals know to flee. The residents of the house disappear from view. as their property and yard become a battlefield. They huddle in a cellar, a barn, or escape to a cave or copse of trees, any shelter in hopes they will be spared. This is ground zero and a there is a still, eerie quiet , so quiet it is as both sides stopped breathing. The stillness hovers over terrified soldiers as they wait for the engagement of another day. One of many that they have seen and one of the many they will face again.

Howard Bahr has a wondrously rich and picturesque style. You can’t get much closer to being a true witness than you will with the acutely sensitive descriptions that make his story tangible. Howard Bahr’s writing allows the reader to visualize, hear and feel the battle. You will witness a slaughter from the soldiers’ point of view. You will see the the nefarious images they encounter of the dead and grossly maimed. It is an unworldly place to be. Likewise he is sensitive to the emotional pain and thoughts of his characters with phrases that will wrap around you like a warm hug. His prose is poetry.

It is the memories of those who survived, yet are slowly dying of the past that this story is about. The journey, whether the past will win is what makes this story so unique. If you have not read The Judas Field, it comes with my recommended high praise. I will treasure my copy.


© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011]. ( )
  WisteriaLeigh | Jun 28, 2011 |
Started to read but I needed lighter fare while on vacation. As it's about the Civil War, I released it in a spot which still bears the name of civil war activities, Battery Park Ave, in Asheville.
  bookczuk | Sep 8, 2010 |
Last night was a sad night for me. It wasn't totally due to the sadness that Howard Bahr is able to evoke but partly because I have come to the end of his trilogy. The Black Flower, part one, remains near the top of my list of favorite books of all time. It very well could be number one. The Year of Jubilo was a worthy follow up. It wasn't on the level of The Black Flower in my opinion, but it was still a damn good book. I gave The Black Flower 5*'s and Jubilo 4*'s.

The Judas Field is on par with The Black Flower. It is just magnificent. There are pages that I would re-read many times and each time I felt the same wave of emotion, understanding, and sympathy that I had the first time.

The soldier's referred to death in a spirtual and physical form. They referred to death as The Death Angel. I would like to share a passsage:

"The Death Angel was everywhere waiting, counting them over and over, eager to subtract. He marched beside them in the ranks; he moved among them when they slept, peering into their faces. He was eager for the little slip, the moment of weakness or forgetfulness. He courted them all. "

......

" So they grieved, and more; they were harried by guilt. That, too, was the work of the Death Angel, who chose one and let another live, who dropped this one by the roadside while his comrade walked on. The soldiers traveled always in the company of those who were gone, who were transformed by memory into better men -- gentler, funnier, braver men -- than they might have been in life. The Death Angel reminded the living always of how much promise was lost, and how, beside it, their own possibilities shrank to no consequence. He whispered how they could never do enough, be enough now to be worthy of the gift of life. " And yet, are you not relieved?" he would whisper. "Tell yourself truly -- are you not glad it was him and not you?" The soldiers might speak of tomorrow, of what good deeds they would do, of redemption or love or promise or hope, but deep in their hearts, they knew it to be a lie, a tale they told themselves to beguile their shame. "

Treat yourself folks. Treat yourself to Howard Bahr. ( )
  homan9118 | Apr 26, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312426933, Paperback)

After returning from the Civil War, Cass Wakefield means to live out the rest of his days in his hometown in Mississippi. But when a childhood friend asks him to accompany her to Franklin, Tennessee, to recover the bodies of her father and brother from the battlefield where they died, Cass cannot refuse. As they make their way north in the company of two of Cass's brothers-in-arms, memories of the war emerge with overwhelming vividness. Before long the group has assembled on the haunted ground of Franklin, where past and present--the legacy of war and the narrow hope of redemption--will draw each of them to a painful reckoning.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:11 -0400)

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During a trip to Franklin, Tennessee to recover the bodies of two men killed in the Civil War, a man becomes increasingly haunted by his own battlefield memories.

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