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Saturday, February 28, 2009


Never Call Retreat is the third and final installment of this "what if" series by Newt Gingrich and Willian R. Forstchen, and it is as splendid as the previous two novels. What if the South won the Battle of Gettysburg? History tells us that the devastating losses the South suffered at this infamous battle so depleted its military strength that it never recovered. Indeed, Gettysburg was as far north as the South ever came.

By only slightly tweaking history, Gingrich and Forstchen have Robert E. Lee listen to General Longstreet's battle suggestion, change the original battle plan and site, and win the Battle of Gettysburg which fictionally occurs at another locale. The next two books, again by only slightly tweaking the circumstances or decisions of the commanding generals illustrate how difficult it is to plan a war, how colossal the losses may be, and how luck, weather, or a host of other unpredictable circumstances often influence the outcome of a battle, a campaign, or an entire war. These novels alter so little of history that their fiction seems plausible.

History does out as it must, but throughout the novels, readers are tense with expectation and suspense. Never Call Retreat is so well written that even a knowledge of history is sometimes muddled, and we wait to read the outcome--or at least the path to that outcome. The description of the battles, the thinking of the men in charge, and the recurrent appearances of characters, both historic and fictional, add to the evolution of the authors' thoughts.

One thing is certain. As historians, Gingrich and Forstchen respect both Grant and Lee. They are treated as the great leaders they were--noble in victory, humble and proud in defeat. Surely both men, despite ordering others to almost certain death, displayed a respect for life and love of country despite their fundamental differences.

Believe this--there is even a surprise ending! It brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.

Kudos to Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. These three novels are excellent in the way they treat history and the men and events that shape our history. I was so impressed by this series that I bought another "what if" book by them, Pearl Harbor. I'm looking forward to it.

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