Can the creator of Forrest Gump find happiness in the story of John Bell Hood, the Confederate general called Wooden Head by his men? It seems so. Groom obviously relishes General Hood's dramatic (but doomed) last-ditch efforts to snatch victory from defeat for the Lost Cause.
Novelist Groom has aimed his first venture into the Civil War at the general reader, who will likely regard Shrouds of Glory as a page-turner. In truth, in the first third of this nonfiction account of the Confederacy's last offensive—a march into Tennessee toward Nashville in 1864—the pages turn rather slowly. This is the obligatory Historical Background, and Groom seems uncomfortable with it. There are mistakes with names and dates and numbers and even armaments—an attitude of slapdash "that's close enough."
But when Groom reaches the fighting at Spring Hill and Franklin and the climax at Nashville, he finds his element. Now he has a story to tell, and he puts his novelist's eye to searching out the telling detail and the colorful anecdote. The pages turn.
The title is from Sartre ("I buried death in the shroud of glory"), and the cost of battle is ever present. "Soon a big autumn moon rose up and loomed low over the Winstead Hills, bathing the Golgothan scene with an eerie silver glow," Groom writes of the terrible field at Franklin. "Now between the diminishing cracks of rifle shots, a horrible and uncanny sound rose off the smoky floor of the Harpeth valley—the pathetic pleadings and cries from thousands of mangled men." (Atlantic Monthly, $23)