Author: James Stempel

Publisher: Penmore Press LLC (March 20, 2016)
ISBN 978-1-942756-50-7


While I cannot describe myself as a historian, much less one with any expertise on the Civil War, I can easily say Windmill Point is now my favorite novel dealing with the War Between the States.

That’s for several reasons. First, the novel traces the events from June 2 to June 15, 1864 when the forces led by U.S. Grant faced the Army of Virginia led by Robert E. Lee at the battle of Cold Harbor. While other Civil War battles from Bull Run to Gettysburg to Vicksburg have been noted as important turning points in the war, Stempel uses his novel to establish the case that Cold Harbor was really where the endgame of the Civil War began.

Stempel does this with a very detailed exploration of what happened when, why, and how. He takes the reader inside the minds of Grant and Lee, sketches their motivations and strategies, and notably shows how Grant reached the brilliant decision that reversed defeat into victory.

But Stempel also takes us inside the minds of field commanders, such as George Armstrong Custor, as well as snipers, artillery officers, Calvary riders, and simple grunts. We come to know many of these soldiers very well as they endure the heat, homesickness, and exhaustion of war. Stempel paints the shifting settings with the sounds and smells of what is happening on the frontline, in the camps, and in the tents of the commanding officers. We hear the clangs of canteens and smell the cooking fires, at least when there are rations to cook. We see the impact of devastating artillery barrages, cringe at deadly blunders, and experience the resulting carnage on the fields. We hear the thoughts and words of the euphoric Confederates and the declining morale of the Union soldiers.

Along the way, Stempel shows us, sometimes minute by minute, how actions were carried out, where they occurred on the battlefield, and why the generals chose to try a charge here, a flanking maneuver there, a diversion way over there. In short, Stempel makes us witnesses to every phase of an important battle that could very well have resulted in the end of the war in favor of the Army of Virginia. If not for some inventive ideas from U.S. grant at virtually the last minute, the United States of America could have ceased to exist in 1864. And that’s not speculative fiction, at least if you accept the depth of the research shown in Windmill Point.

Obviously, history buffs, especially Civil War buffs, will find Windmill Point irresistible reading. As Stempel says, by telling the story as a novel and not as nonfiction, perhaps a wider readership will be exposed to a chapter of history that’s rather neglected in many quarters. It’s a book well worth joining your spring or summer reading list.