I made a big historical mistake in chapter 19 and it is embarrassing. Having studied and taught the Civil War, I cannot believe I completely forgot Brandy Station. I had Brit state that the cavalry battle at Gettysburg on the third day of the battle was the biggest of the war. That is not correct.

On June 9, 1863, General Pleasanton sent 12,000 horsemen to attack General Stuart’s 9,500 men in and around Brandy Station, Virginia. The battle was the first time the Union put together all their scattered cavalry units, and they were able to stand toe-to-toe with the celebrated JEB Stuart. It was a draw, but it had a powerful impact on the Battle of Gettysburg three weeks later.

Stuart’s men spent much of the time in between fighting delaying battles so that his men and horses were nearly worn out on July 3 when they were most needed. Stuart has often been criticized for wandering all over Pennsylvania instead of sending reports to Lee regarding the Union positions. In fact, Stuart followed Lee’s orders. As to sending reports, the unexpected movements of the Union army cut Stuart off from reaching Lee. He searched for a way around them and missed the first two days of the decisive battle.

As to the Mine Creek, Kansas, battle being the second biggest, General Pleasanton only had 2,500 horsemen, but General Price had 7,000, for a total of 9,500. As stated by Brit in chapter 19, the Union troops had repeating rifles by 1864, which made the main difference.

At Gettysburg, Stuart had only 3,500 men left and Pleasanton had just 3,300. That makes it the third largest in total numbers, but arguably the most important for its impact on the war. Yet, a strong case can be made for Brandy Station as the most important because of the moral boost it gave the Union and because of the losses they inflicted on Stuart’s troopers, loses they were hard pressed to replace.

The Skeleton Road

Skeleton Road

Val McDermid is one of the best mystery writers working today. Her 29th novel is available this year: Splinter the Silence, which I have not read. But I have read The Skeleton Road, published in 2014.

While the mystery is set in current time, the roots of the murder grew in the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, specifically the Serbian attempts at ethnic cleansing. I may remember more about that war, or series of wars, than most Americans because I had to try to make sense of the news in my high school classes, and one of my exchange students one of those years was from Serbia. During the NATO bombings, he kept us posted on what the bombs were hitting, having talked with his parents each night. One night, the US hit buildings only one block from their house as they huddled in their basement.

But I digress. McDermid’s story-telling skills breathe life into those old news accounts, just as she brings life to the twenty-year-old corpse and what he did to cause someone to kill him.

If you enjoy a beautifully written mystery set partially in historical events, this book is for you. Since this is the first McDermid book I have read, I can not say if any others use the historical approach. If you like a good mystery, then you will probably like The Skeleton Road.

Mike Lawrence