WINDMILL POINT by Jim Stempel
ISBN-10: 194275650X, 438 pages, $21.50
Penmore Press, 920 N Javalina Pl,Tucson, AZ, 85748
As one who has “seen the elephant” I am very aware that to write a realistic story of war, an author has to have a palette that contains the ingredients of mud and dirt, strategy and tactics, the role and mind of the privates and generals, the “feel” of “incoming, and the ever present specter of death. Thence, the writer must do an intricate weaving of each of the foregoing elements into a narrative that speaks to the “hurry up and wait” and the absolute soul-rendering terror of the assault into the face of fire.
Jim Stempel’s Windmill Point, is a masterful exhibition of all the elements of war crafted into a story that is truly spell-binding. His ability to move from the actions and thoughts of Sgt Wyman White, U.S. Sharpshooters, to the mind-bending disbelief and return to the bottle of Ulysses Grant, following the absolutely devastating assault against Confederate lines at Cold Harbor, is superb.
Stempel imbues the human element in each of the characters in Windmill Point. Be it Wade Hampton, George Armstrong Custer—whose actions at Trevilian Station eerily foreshadow another June day of battle some 12 years hence , Robert E. Lee, or all of the division and regimental commanders, Stempel paints in print the full dimension of men in battle.
And, most worthy of note, he crafts his narrative in such a manner that all of the Federal and Confederate maneuver elements stand out clearly— an area in which many writers of war get lost oft times in the confusing spectrum of action—without being obscured in the ebb and flow of maneuver.
Stempel's forte is vivid, bring to life description such as this:
“Directly ahead the red nips, puckers, and flashes of Confederate guns were blazing away so relentlessly that they occasioned a sort of pulsating, crimson, glow, not unlike a vibrant sunset all across the western horizon. Indeed, from where Wyman stood it appeared that the Federal Infantry was not advancing against a mortal foe at all so much as marching directly toward the glowing gates of hell…”
Of greatest importance is Stempel’s ability to clearly, and in an engaging manner, weave through and explain the action at Cold Harbor. His crisp, clear description of the brilliant move by Grant to disengage—unbeknownst to Lee’s army—literally in the face of the enemy keeps the reader pinned to the pages. Here, Stempel lays out the strategic factors that could bring the war to an early end, or, slip into a long drawn out siege at Petersburg.
During my read of Windmill Point, I could not help but reflect back on Jim Webb’s, Fields of Fire, Rick Atkinson’s, Liberation Trilogy, Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn; and, Thomason’s, Fix Bayonets!. Windmill Point belongs on the same bookshelf.
About the Reviewer: James Holden-Rhodes has lectured and taught at the National Drug Intelligence Center, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Western European Union (Paris), University of New Mexico, New Mexico Highlands University, New Mexico State University, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He created and served as the Director, Intelligence Studies Program, NMSU. He was selected as the 2009 Outstanding Intelligence Studies Teacher by the International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE). He is the author of the award winning book, Sharing the Secrets--Open Source Intelligence and the War on Drugs. He is also the author of Smart and Faithful Force: Henry Clay Cochrane and the United States Marine Corps, 1861-1905.