The Judas Field A Novel of the Civil War

Howard Bahr




Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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Longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award It's been twenty years since Cass Wakefield returned from the Civil War to his hometown in Mississippi, but he is still haunted by battlefield memories. One afternoon in 1885, he is presented with a chance to retrace his steps from the past and to face the truth behind the events that led to the deaths of so many friends and comrades.

The opportunity arrives in the form of Cass's childhood friend Alison, a dying woman who urges Cass to accompany her on a trip to Franklin, Tennessee, to recover the bodies of her father and brother. As they make their way north over the battlefields, they are joined by two of Cass's former brothers-in-arms, and his memories reemerge with overwhelming vividness. Before long the group has assembled on the haunted ground of Franklin, where past and present—the legacy of the war and the narrow hope of redemption—will draw each of them toward a painful confrontation.

Moving between harrowing scenes of battle and the novel's present-day quest, Howard Bahr re-creates the postwar South with devastating authority, proving himself once again to be the preeminent contemporary novelist of the Civil War.


Praise for The Judas Field

“Cass Wakefield thinks he’s finished with war after he returns to his home in the Reconstruction South. But when a friend asks him to accompany her to retrieve the bodies of her father and brother from a battlefield, memories flood back with unstoppable force. This power novel was compared to the work of Stephen Crane.”—Donna Marchetti, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"A well-realized vision of war's hell, ghosts and all. Cass Wakefield sees dead people. So do lots of folks in Lost Camp, Miss., whose sons went off to fight in the war for Texas independence and returned in body bags, a later generation following them to places such as Shiloh and Gettysburg. Cass, the protagonist of Bahr's (The Year of Jubilo, 2000) third Civil War tale, has survived the war only to find himself decidedly down on his luck two decades later, spending his days as a handgun salesman and his free time shooting rats in alleyways after the dubious glories of combat and the even more questionable virtues of being a 'night rider,' a proto-Klansman. Now 55, with 'all but four of his teeth,' he is called to duty again when a woman he once courted—almost—prevails upon him to travel to Franklin, Tenn., and 'find her long-dead kinfolk and bring them home.' With his comrade-in-arms and constant companion Lucian, Cass guides her to the killing ground, occasioning a series of hallucinatory journeys back into his own unhappy experiences in battle. If his phantasmic visitations are reminiscent of The Sixth Sense, Bahr's depictions of combat are worthy of Stephen Crane, as doomed rebels march toward distant metal-spitting treelines, 'each man telling himself that surely he would see tomorrow,' and return 'crying out in pain, in grief, lying in heaps and piles or wandering aimlessly through the yard like ghosts.' Though Alison Sansing's kin have lain a-moldering in the grave for all those years, the battle and the war are not yet over; Bahr's tale ends on a surprisingly violent note that points to why, a century and a half later, the Civil War is still held as a subject of living memory inmany parts of the South. Carefully written and nuanced, akin to Frederick Busch's Night Inspector as much as to Michael Shaara's Killer Angels."—Kirkus Reviews

"Bahr masterfully portrays ordinary men called to war whose belief in courage, honor, pride, and comrades sustains them but leaves them empty but for their terrible memories and grief. A beautifully written portrayal of the price that war exacts."—Michele Leber, Booklist

"It is 20 years after the Civil War, and Alison Sansing has little time left. Cancer leaves few options in 1884, at least none that interest Alison. What does interest her in this latest novel from Bahr (The Year of Jubilo) is traveling from her home in Cumberland, MS, to Franklin, TN, the site of the 1864 battle that took the lives of her father and brother. To accompany her, she enlists childhood friend Cass Wakefield, also a participant in the battle. No youngster caught up in the romance of war, Cass has never forgotten the confrontation and doesn't want to go back, even to help Alison. Most of what befalls a man in war occurs on the inside, and visions and nightmares are what veterans like Cass count among their souvenirs. This beautiful novel turns the tables on our view of war; the combatants we meet are witty and wry, and we can't help but be charmed by the descriptions of their dusty, dreary, less than honorable and unheroic routine. The final return to Franklin brings the memories to life and changes everyone involved. Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"A middle-aged salesman in 1885 Mississippi, Cass Wakefield is a Civil War veteran of the Army of Tennessee, which saw action far from the leadership of Robert E. Lee, and ended, badly, at the battle of Franklin in 1864. Cass agrees to accompany a neighbor, 54-year-old terminally ill widow Alison Sansing, to Tennessee to recover the bodies of her father and brother, killed at Franklin. As they travel north, Cass's memories return with painful vividness, culminating as he walks over the scene of his army's disastrous defeat. Bahr (The Black Flower) moves back and forth between the tattered post-Reconstruction South and the war. He describes the effect of weapons on flesh in gruesome detail and brings to life a long-gone era with its strange smells, foods, fashions and principles. Though his uneducated characters often seem a little too articulate, their insights are excellent. Author of other well-regarded novels on the same period, Bahr treats the war as a natural disaster not unlike a hurricane."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter One 
Cass Wakefield was born in a double-pen log cabin just at break of day, and before he was twenty minutes old, he was almost thrown out with the bedclothes. The midwife, Queenolia Divine, heard him squalling, however, and so it was that Cass, blue-faced and complaining, was untangled from the wad of bloody sheets and saved for further adventures.
The first light he saw fell on the northeast corner of Yalobusha County, Mississippi, in a cleared place among ancient oaks and hickories and sweetgums called Lost Camp. By the time Cass was born, the frontier had passed
Read the full excerpt


  • Howard Bahr

  • Howard Bahr teaches English at Motlow State Community College in Tullahoma, Tennessee. His first novel, The Black Flower, was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and received the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His second novel, The Year of Jubilo, was also a New York Times Notable Book. He lives in Fayetteville, Tennessee.




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