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Arts & Culture

Shaara’s ‘The Smoke At Dawn: A Novel Of The Civil War’ Dramatizes Chattanooga Battles


“There’s a lot that happened [in Chattanooga] that people are not aware of,” acclaimed Civil War author Jeff Shaara says of the battles that took place in 1863, when Union forces controlled the city and Confederates cut off supply lines.  Shaara’s new novel The Smoke At Dawn dramatizes what happened, including conflicts such as the Battle of Lookout Mountain and the Battle of Missionary Ridge.

Shaara’s books are fiction, but he painstakingly researches historical figures and visits the battlefields, in order to give readers an accurate portrayal.  “My job is not to just make up stories,” Shaara says.  Most of the characters in The Smoke At Dawn are real soldiers and generals, such as Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg.

Because these are real people, they don’t always come across as heroic.  Bragg, for example, was a paranoid, sometimes bumbling leader despised by his own subordinates.

What’s it like to have such an unsympathetic protagonist as Gen. Bragg?

It’s an interesting experience, getting inside Bragg's head and learning why he did what he did.

“There’s nothing worse than a boring character,” Shaara says.


Shaara also includes prominent Union point-of-view characters such as General Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.  Throughout the novel, Shaara shows the Civil War from both sides and explains what motivated leaders to make both good and bad decisions, which gives readers a complex, compelling story where it’s difficult to definitively label anyone as a hero or a villain.

This format—switching viewpoints across Confederate and Union lines, and re-creating the inner thoughts of major players in the war—is something Shaara learned from his father.  His father was author Michael Shaara, who wrote the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Killer Angels, which told the story of the battle of Gettysburg and became the basis for a major motion picture.


Jeff Shaara’s The Smoke At Dawn is the third in a four-book series of novels dramatizing the western theater of the Civil War.

“A lot of people don’t think of Tennessee as being [in the] west,” Shaara says.  However, in the 1860’s, Tennessee was thought of that way because it lay west of the Appalachians.

Before writing this series, Shaara wrote another series of novels about other Civil War conflicts (including a prequel to his father’s book) and wrote novels about the First World War, World War II and the Revolutionary War.  He also wrote one nonfiction title, Jeff Shaara's Civil War Battlefields, which includes ten sites that he believes every American should visit.

In this interview, he explains why he included Chickamauga among those sites.


Also in this conversation, Shaara also explains how he became a writer.  Although he’s a critically-acclaimed author of 13 novels, he never expected this to be his career.

Growing up, Jeff saw his father Michael struggle. “My father could never make a living” as a writer, Jeff says.  When Jeff grew up, he became a rare-coin dealer.

Then, when his father Michael passed away in 1988, Jeff decided to give writing a try.  In this interview, Jeff Shaara explains why he started writing, and how success unexpectedly came to him with the 1996 novel Gods and Generals.


He will give an author talk at the Chattanooga library on June 5th at 6 p.m.  The event is free, but anyone interested in attending should get tickets in advance.  Also, a limited number of VIP tickets are being sold for $50 each.

Credit Slade Down
Jeff Shaara will visit Chattanooga June 5th for an author talk.

From the Friends of the Library Web site:

Please join the Friends of the Chattanooga Library for a special author talk featuring New York Times bestselling author, Jeff Shaara. Shaara will be discussing his latest book, The Smoke at Dawn, during a free public talk on the 4th Floor of the Chattanooga Public Library, Thursday, June 5, from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm (EDT). Chattanoogans and local and civil war history buffs will not want to miss this incredible opportunity to hear the popular and prolific author talk about the book that is set right here in the Tennessee Valley. The Smoke at Dawn is a historical novel about the last great push of the Army of the Cumberland that sets the stage for a decisive confrontation at Chattanooga that could determine the outcome of the war. A limited number of VIP tickets will be sold in advance and include a private reception with Shaara, a copy of his new book which he will autograph, and reserved seats at the public talk. Request general admission tickets to the public talk here.