Battlefield by Peter Svenson
Farming a Civil War Battleground

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Synopsis

"This compelling memoir is by turns charming and chilling. As the artist-author restores a forty-acre farm field and builds a house in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, making the mistakes of a city slicker but somehow bumbling through to success, he also uncovers the story of the Battle of Cross Keys that was fought on his land 125 years earlier. Alternating chapters focus contrapuntally on the 1980s and 1860s, keeping the reader glued to these fascinating pages." -- James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

A finalist for the 1993 National Book Award, Battlefield recounts Peter Svenson's experiences building a farmhouse on a forty-acre site near Harrisonburg, Virginia, which 125 years before had been the site of a Civil War battle: the 1862 Battle of Cross Keys, in which Confederate forces stopped a Union advance and provided Stonewall Jackson with an important victory in his guerrilla campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. Svenson intertwines a detailed description of the battle based on field reports, dispatches, letters, and other firsthand accounts with lively anecdotes about attempting to farm his land using traditional methods while staving off mini-mall developers. He describes the learning process of fixing up an old property, trying to grow hay on long-neglected farmland, and digging a pond. He unearths spent cartridges and artillery shells, hears from neighbors who relate oft-told tales of the Confederacy's victory, pursues minute details of the battle in archives and at often contentious meetings of the local historical society, and meditates on how best to commemorate the men who fell in battle on his forty acres. Exploring the intimate connections between landscape and history, Battlefield offers an engaging, reverent, and highly personal view of the Civil War and its ongoing legacy.

 

About Peter Svenson

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Peter Svenson is a writer and painter who lives on Maryland's Eastern Shore. His most recent book, Green Shingles: At the Edge of Chesapeake Bay, is also available in paperback from Johns Hopkins.
 
Published November 13, 1992 by Faber & Faber. 289 pages
Genres: History, War, Biographies & Memoirs, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Battlefield

Publishers Weekly

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In 1987 Svenson, an artist, purchased 40 acres of Virginia land and discovered that he owned much of the Civil War battlefield of Cross Keys.

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Publishers Weekly

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Svenson recounts his restoration of a 40-acre farm in Virginia and reconstructs the history of a Civil War battle which transpired there in this National Book Award nominee.

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