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  • Writer's pictureMax Sinsheimer

SOLD! A Fire in the Wilderness (by John Reeves)

Agenting is weird; you spend months pounding the proverbial pavement with nothing to show for it, and then close on two books on the same day! In addition to yesterday's deal announcement for Marion Nestle's memoir, I am happy to report that John Reeves will publish A Fire in the Wilderness with Pegasus next summer.

A Fire in the Wilderness is a riveting account of the bloody first showdown between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee at the Battle of the Wilderness, which sealed the fate of the Confederacy and changed the course of American history. Casualties were 17,666 for the Union and 11,125 for the Confederacy (17% of Lee's entire force) over two days in May 1864. The alarming casualties do not even begin to convey the horror of this battle, which was one of the most gruesome in American history. The impenetrable forest and gunfire smoke made it impossible to view the enemy. Officers couldn’t even see their own men during the fighting. One veteran described it as “a battle of invisibles with invisibles.” The incessant gunfire caused the woods to catch fire, resulting in hundreds of men burning to death. When the fighting finally subsided during the late evening of the second day, the usually stoical Grant threw himself down on his cot and cried.

The wounded escaping the burning woods, by Alfred Waud

Like Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels, A Fire in the Wilderness places the personal experiences of officers and raw recruits within the context of the larger historical forces at work. The narrative follows four Union men who fought to save the Republic in the Wilderness: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Major General Gouverneur Warren, Brigadier General James Wadsworth, and Private William Reeves. A Fire in the Wilderness isn’t just a dramatic and well-told military history, though. It’s also about politics and medical practice and how we commemorate fallen soldiers.

I was nervous to take on my first Civil War history, simply because it's a crowded shelf. But John is such a compelling writer, and this pivotal battle seemed so unfairly overlooked compared to, say, Bull Run or Shiloh, that I jumped in anyway. Perhaps John's accessible style was honed over his fifteen years teaching European and American history at various colleges in Chicago, the Bronx, and London. This is his second book; his first, The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018 and received positive reviews in The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and the Times Literary Supplement, and endorsed by James McPherson.

Here is the Publishers Marketplace deal memo:

Pegasus has a fantastic history list with a strength in Civil War history, so it is particularly gratifying to know that John's book will be in experienced hands. And it will be in your hands sooner than later, if you want it to be; Pegasus is going to hustle like heck to get it out next summer.

Congratulations to John and to his editor at Pegasus Books, Claiborne Hancock!


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