“The Siege of Knoxville” by Jack Martin is set during the Civil War. It is a fictional tale of conspiracy, murder, and espionage and yet with exacting details and precise descriptions that pull readers into that time and place. The conversation-driven plot incorporates a mystery as well as war-time drama, procedures, travel, and communication. Underlying all is the human wreckage of war and the personal conflicts of the time that never make the pages of history books.
The story is told mostly from a Union point of view through the perspective of Captain Alphonso Clay, of General Grant’s staff. Characters are complex and detailed, reflecting society at this time of great political and social conflict. Actual figures from history are interspersed to add color and realism. Characters strive to save the Union, overcome trauma from the past, and deal with rifts in friendships caused by the war and its savagery. The plot also includes the beginnings of investigative processes and strategies such a finger prints and photography.
I am not a typical reader of historic war-time fiction, but I was drawn to “The Siege of Knoxville” because I recently visited Tennessee. I saw firsthand the Civil War battlefields, buildings with gaping holes caused by cannon fire, and the cannon balls themselves. I stood on wood floors with dark stains caused by the blood of soldiers who died there. It was thought provoking, and so is this book. “The Siege of Knoxville” is not a book to read casually. It is fiction, but the tone, the atmosphere, the destruction, and the horror of war is authentic.