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Jacob's Ladder: A Story of Virginia During the War
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Jacob's Ladder: A Story of Virginia During the War

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  706 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
Duncan Gatewood and mulatto slave Maggie share a forbidden love, until she is sold south and Duncan is sent away to the Virginia Military Institute, but they are destined to meet again under the dark influence of the Civil War. Reprint.
Paperback, 528 pages
Published June 1st 1999 by Penguin Books (first published 1998)
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Jul 15, 2011 Chuck rated it it was amazing
This is a story of the years during which the Civil War was fought. It is not just a story of the war but also the stories of many non combatant Virginians who lived during the time. My attitude toward this work turned 180 degrees as I worked my way through it. My first thought was that it moved slowly, the author's style is slightly oblique and he wrote it in the vernacular of the time. It is not an easy read nor is it a feel good story but it is altogether worthwhile. If you decide to give it ...more
Laurie V
Nov 20, 2009 Laurie V rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
It’s hard for me to pin down all my thoughts about Jacob’s Ladder. It’s a sweeping narrative that follows several different characters’ experiences living through the Civil War. The book takes place mostly in Virginia and is told from the Confederate point of view. There’s an effort to give equal time to black and white characters which works nicely to compare and contrast what members of both races went through. However, there are so many different characters that I don’t feel completely satisf ...more
Jun 03, 2014 Bianca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a phenomenal book. It starts out slow to develop the many characters whose story you follow during the war. Though not gripping at first, after around 80 pages I didn't want to put the book down. The real stand out (for me) are the descriptions of the battles - I have read other civil war historic fiction - none stood in comparison to McCaig's incredible ability to detail the battles in such a way that makes you feel the urgency and fear of the battlefield occupants. It was rather unnerv ...more
This was a very interesting look at slavery during the war. An old woman is visited by a young government worker in the early twentieth century who has been tasked with interviewing former slaves in order to compile a version of "their experience". By listening to the old woman, you get an insight into various lives - a runaway field slave, a house slave, a slave forced into marriage and then sold, a confused plantation owner who misses the days when everything made sense to him, several confede ...more
Feb 10, 2013 Tonya rated it liked it
If you pick up Jacob's Ladder: A Story of Virginia During the War expecting a Gone with the Wind or even a North and South you'll be disappointed. The book blurb seems to promise a love story superimposed over the American Civil War, it's not really true.

The main characters are the family Gatewood and their extended family plus the plantation slaves, the book starts with Midge (also known as Maggie and Marguerite later) telling her story to a WPA girl pre-WWII era.
The novel focuses on not just t
Mar 07, 2008 Kelly rated it liked it
This story gave me an appreciation for the civil war. I was amazed and disturbed by how many men willingly became soldiers and how many died. I thought it was very sad that so many could be so brave and that their cause was not truly realized for another hundred years. As for the specific characters in this story, I liked a few but didn't feel attached to any of them or their plights. It would have been nice if the author didn't bounce around so much or have so many main characters. He didn't ge ...more
Sep 01, 2007 pianogal rated it liked it
Shelves: civilwar
I didn't like this book as much as I had hoped. The author spent a lot of time detailing various battles - in gory specifics - and I thought he could have done more to develop the characters. It felt like the book revolved around the war, and the people involved were just secondary. I hope his "Gone with the Wind" prequel is better.
Jan 26, 2013 Greg rated it really liked it
Shelves: civil-war-fict
Much more than I expected, and the author didn't let his research get in the way of the story, characters or his immersion of language and mannerisms of the time. Only strike against were the way too frequent "brushes with greatness" with historical figures, that cheapened the story. One or two would have been believable, but this mechanism got overused. Still, I liked it immensely, and am interested in his other work now.
Jan 12, 2014 Chuck rated it liked it
I liked this book but could not bring myself to love it. While it is a well written and historically accurate account of a Southern family in the Civil War, I never felt close to the characters. Only in the last third of the book did I find the story sufficiently compelling to make me want to read more than a few pages at a time. So many books have been written on this general theme that a new one has to be quite remarkable to stir my enthusiasm.
Vicki Davis
Nov 25, 2014 Vicki Davis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was the very best historical fiction about the Civil War in Virginia that I have ever read. McCaig really did his homework, and I felt that he did a marvelous job of presenting the war through the eyes of both white soldiers and families and African American soldiers and families. The details about the battle and places were historically accurate, and I was very sorry when I reached the last page.
Feb 11, 2014 Amy rated it it was amazing
This book brought the civil war to life in a way that other books have not. Through the multiple characters, it showed how the war impacted every part of society - from the slave to the wealthiest planter. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Lora Shouse
Nov 14, 2015 Lora Shouse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of the residents of Stratford Plantation and certain of their friends, neighbors, relatives, dependents and slaves in the Civil War era, from shortly before the war, through the war, and up to the immediate aftermath of the war. Much of the story is told by Marguerite Omohundru, formerly Midge, a house servant on the plantation, who, as the daughter of a light-skinned woman and a white man has by the 1930’s been passing as white for many years, to a young lady who begins the st ...more
Apr 21, 2015 Purabi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is a military novel describing in great detail military strategies used by the Confederates under General Lee and we get to witness the savagery in Virginia’s Wilderness Campaign in 1864. Donald McCaig has done a very good job of describing in detail horrors of the civil war that tore through America pitting men against men, men against their former slaves. The book has love, passion, cruelty, racism, violence. It’s an eye-opener to the facts of life lived in the era of huge plantations where ...more
Apr 09, 2008 Maudaevee rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book, the cover compared it to Gone With the Wind and Cold Mountain, both of which I liked very much. But the characters were very bland, stereotypical and unlikable, the dialog was flat, and the interactions of the characters left a lot for you to guess at, sometimes they were just down right confusing, characters that were supposedly driven by great passion one moment, didn't care at all the next. They did things that made no sense, or were not in their established ...more
Ashley W
I was so looking forward to this book. There is nothing worse than finally cracking open a book you want to read and having it annoy you with every page turned...

First of all, the synopsis made it seem like a magnificent love story between Duncan and Maggie. But it's not! We only see them interact once as children and while he does admire her, it comes down to purely physical attraction. Then in the next chapter, they're madly in love all of a sudden! We never see why they fall in love or if it
Bob Lafary
Aug 28, 2014 Bob Lafary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book at a local bookstore, not a big box store, in downtown Chicago just after it was published in 1998. I picked it up many, many times over the course of the years; but just never could complete it. Finally a few days ago I picked it up one more time--and I am glad I did. I finished it today and loved the last 20 or 30 pages most especially. I am a big fan of the Civil War period; and have read many, many books, fiction and non, concerning that period. This book, above all, stand ...more
Lisa Eisemann
Jul 15, 2008 Lisa Eisemann rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone with interest in history or civil war
The statement that it is remiscent of Cold Mountain and Gone With the Wind isn't far off. Much less dramatic than Mitchell's saga, however, and not as gritty as Cold Mountain (although I adored that book).

Thsi book is actually rooted in real events and real people that the author unearthed in his research. The historical facts are very bare, however, so it is definitely fictional.

Not appropriate for young teens - the battle violence is very real, very graphic, very disturbing in parts. It does g
Gail Richmond
Oct 20, 2015 Gail Richmond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 14, 2008 Joann rated it really liked it
While I'm not usually a big fan of reads about the Civil War, this book was different. The author is an excellent writer, tells a good yarn, and develops his characters as full-bodied people you'd want to know. Following the characters from Startford Plantation from the beginning to the end of the Civil War, the story opens with a young girl who is interviewing people who can tell their story from thier own perspective before history (first-hand) is lost to a generation who have passed. The youn ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Donna rated it it was amazing
Jacob's Ladder is a Civil War epic. It is also a love story between Duncan Gatewood and Maggie, a mulatto slave. She conceives Duncan's son, Jacob, and they are both sold south. Duncan is sent off to the Virginia Military Institute. Duncan then fights for Robert E. Lee.

A Gatewood slave named Jesse has an unrequited love for Maggie. Jesse escapes north and joins in Lincoln's army.

Maggie finds herself living a life as a wife of a blockade runner, who cares for her and her son.

Jacob's Ladder can b
May 25, 2009 Janice rated it it was ok
I wouldn't say I HATED this book...but it was painful. I just couldn't get into it at all. Gone With the Wind is my absolute favorite book, so when I saw this book compared to GWTW - I figured I had to read it. Well, I made it to page 56 and then just couldn't take it.

I found the speech too stilted, it didn't flow for me. The descriptions were tedious to read, but didn't give me what I needed to paint pictures in my imagination. I felt that the characters were shallow and one-dimensional....the
Mar 24, 2011 Caroline rated it liked it
Reviews I read of this compared it to Gone with the Wind and Cold Mountain, and whilst I wouldn't rate it as highly as either of those, I did thoroughly enjoy it. I would have liked the story to continue beyond the end of the war; I would have liked more of a bridge between the story during the war and Midge/Maggie/Margeurite in the 30s, but I can understand why the novel just pertained to the war years. I loved all the characters - Jesse and Midge, Duncan and Sallie, Uther and Opal - and genuin ...more
Jul 10, 2010 Jenny rated it really liked it
This book tells the story of the Civil War from the perspective of a variety of people from Virginia--slaves, slave-owners, escaped slaves, confederate soldiers, blockade runners, etc. The book gets off to a slow start, but then picks up as it progresses. I liked the way the author followed the various people (who were all "connected" in some way)--he would write about one character for a chapter or two, then switch to another character.

As someone who really enjoys historical fiction, I would h
Jun 06, 2008 Vance rated it really liked it
This is a great way to learn about the Civil War and the Virginians who struggled through it. This is a richly detailed epic novel as seen from the vantage point of a diverse group of Virginians -- including slave owners, sharecroppers, slaves, fugitive slaves, Confederate soldiers, the women who ran the farms while the men were at war, fugitive soldiers, blocade runners, black soldiers, prisoners, surgeons and nurses. I found the plot compelling, evne though I had a pretty good idea how things ...more
Aug 10, 2011 Joan rated it liked it
I thought this book was VERY interesting...and yet an extremely slow read! I can't say that I enjoyed it, because it was so historically accurate...and how can the Civil War be enjoyable? But I AM very glad to have read it! I do genealogy, and have an ancestor who was killed in one of the battles that was detailed in this book...that was pretty amazing!! I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves to read historical novels...if not, it's probably a bad idea to even attempt it!!!!
Lauri Saplad
Apr 19, 2015 Lauri Saplad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, americana
Although this story is undoubtedly well-written and researched, it is simply a slogging read! I fell asleep far too many times reading so many details about battle after battle. We really don't have to hear about the 'black and red jelly' that someone's head turns into. War is hell, and so is this book. I normally relish hearing about the Civil War era and genuinely loved this author's "Rhett Butler's People" but this one was almost painful and took me forever to complete because of all the tedi ...more
Zena Ryder
Mar 07, 2013 Zena Ryder rated it liked it
I liked this book in many ways. It was interesting to see how the war changed many people - their characters as well as their social situation. Some changes were less believable than others, though. The book is beautiful in parts, and poignant. But in other parts, it felt a bit long. Sometimes I found myself wondering what the point of a particular scene was and now I've finished the book, I still feel that some scenes were rather extraneous and could have been deleted. I think the book would ha ...more
Marian Kaye
Dec 14, 2010 Marian Kaye rated it really liked it
I loved reading the history of the black people and the Confederacies throughout the Civil War through McCaig's window. He and his wife are transplants to Virginia and I can see they love it. The Ladder must be the effort made by all the people (especially the slaves) attempting to reach certain heavenly heights to gain strength for the day, the season and the moment. We are all in the same boat in the long run.
Sep 18, 2009 Marlene rated it really liked it
This book follows the lives of a Virginia plantation family from before the Civil War to the surrender at Appomatox, both slaveholders and slaves. Some of the subject matter relating to women slaves was uncomfortable for me to read about, but you should be uncomfortable. I think I particularly liked it because I could picture the geography so vividly because of our visits with Jeff and Rachel while the lived in Richmond.
Mar 13, 2008 Jaime rated it did not like it
Actually, I didn’t quite finish this book. But I invested so much time in it, I’m counting it, dammit. I was disappointed in it — I was looking for much more story about the people, and much less descriptions of battles. I expected it to be a story about Duncan, Maggie, and Jacob. And since Maggie was essentially the narrator, I was disappointed that there were large stretches where you just didn’t read anything about her. What it comes down to is that I just lost interest in the story.
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Donald McCaig is the award-winning author of Jacob’s Ladder designated “the best civil war novel ever written” by The Virginia Quarterly. People magazine raved “Think Gone With the Wind, think Cold Mountain.” It won the Michael Sharra Award for Civil War Fiction and the Library of Virginia Award for Fiction.
More about Donald McCaig...

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