Pulitzer Prizeâ€“winning author John Matteson illuminates three harrowing months of the Civil War and their enduring legacy for America.
December 1862 drove the United States toward a breaking point. The Battle of Fredericksburg shattered Union forces and Northern confidence. As Abraham Lincolnâ€™s government threatened to fracture, this critical moment also tested five extraordinary individuals whose lives reflect the soul of a nation. The changes they underwent led to profound repercussions in the countryâ€™s law, literature, politics, and popular mythology. Taken together, their stories offer a striking restatement of what it means to be American.
Guided by patriotism, driven by desire, all five moved toward singular destinies. A young Harvard intellectual steeped in courageous ideals, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. confronted grave challenges to his concept of duty. The one-eyed army chaplain Arthur Fuller pitted his frail body against the evils of slavery. Walt Whitman, a gay Brooklyn poet condemned by the guardians of propriety, and Louisa May Alcott, a struggling writer seeking an authentic voice and her fatherâ€™s admiration, tended soldiersâ€™ wracked bodies as nurses. On the other side of the national schism, John Pelham, a West Point cadet from Alabama, achieved a unique excellence in artillery tactics as he served a doomed and misbegotten cause.
A Worse Place Than Hell brings together the prodigious forces of war with the intimacy of individual lives. Matteson interweaves the historic and the personal in a work as beautiful as it is powerful.