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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

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  924 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Duncan Gatewood, seventeen and heir to Gatewood Plantation, falls in love with Maggie, a mulatto slave, who conceives a son, Jacob. Maggie and Jacob are sold south, and Duncan is packed off to the Virginia Military Institute—he will eventually fight for Robert E. Lee. Another Gatewood slave, Jesse—whose love for Maggie is unrequited—escapes to find her. Jesse finds his fre ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published December 7th 2009 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1998)
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Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Sad, probably realistic, great tie in of characters at the end. Curious book, people made many choices that are different than I would have- much more thought being placed on where decisions left you, class, honor.
Hearing Maggie’s story was often a challenge due to the number of characters to follow but once I was halfway through I figured out who mattered to the storyline and who didn’t.
Definitely a lot of war detail- Maggie’s outcome was great, if a bit lonely and sad.
Family and friends tor
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
A good historical fiction describing the Civil War Era and the circumstances between slavery and white landowners. A beautiful love story between Duncan who is heir to the Gatewood Plantation and Maggie a mulatto slave. The Civil War is told through the eyes of both Southern and Northern fighters and what a senseless war it was.
Mar 07, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Mar 13, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
D. Krauss
Feb 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
I stopped reading Civil War epics in the late 80s or so. After you’ve finished North and South, you’ve pretty much completed the genre, especially after watching the TV miniseries with that smokin’ hot Kirstie Allie as Virgilia Hazard. And that’s pretty much because the genre follows more or less the same line: dissolute Southern family and/or dissolute Northern family are torn apart by the Civil War, the eldest sons of both families trying to stay friends and not kill each other in the various ...more
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, historical, usa
This multiple prize* winning novel had me glued to its 520 pages for several days, squinting over its fine print (how I wished for a Kindle edition!), but it has been well worth the effort as this is one of my favourite books of the year (2018) thus far. The blurb on the back cover of the book doesn't do it any favours as there are plot spoilers. Whilst billed as a love story, please note that fortunately this novel is not a Romance.

Most of the story takes place during the American Civil War. It
Ginger Stephens
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a most interesting book. It is thought-provoking, but I don't think it is a great book. My experience was a little eerie since I listened to this on audio while driving thru the Virginia countryside where many of the battles take place. The descriptions of the battles are graphic, as are the scenes that take place in the hospital.

I think the book fell short with Marguerite's story. She is very sympathetic, but I don't understand why she would have felt the need to tell her story as part
Ralph Maughan
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well Done

Beautiful prose, exacting research. One can ask no more of any writer. I would follow McCraig from Fort Sumpter to the Appotomax even if he added 100,000 more words.
The most compelling feature of his writing is his ability to put our hearts and minds into the characters, even those we find morally repugnant. The only truly wicked major character is Alexander Kirkpatrick. He is the nexus of the worst in both the South and the North, the Judas Iscariot for both since he believes in nothi
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story follows the lives of a western Virginia plantation plantation, community and slaves during the civil war. I found that its varied views of different aspects from those who stayed home, those who fought, those who supported, those who suffered, and those who profited to be very interesting. To cover so much material, the book is on the long side but worth sticking with it.
John Benson
Sep 16, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a historical novel about a Virginia family during the Civil War. In its 70 chapters, it chronicles the lives of the Gatewood family and their escaped slaves chronologically through the War. I had a hard sense making sense of all the characters in the beginning, but it eventually gives a full picture the War from the Confederate side.
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a very interesting book but hard to get into in the beginning. Trying to figure out who everybody is and how they are related is confusing, once you figure it out it is a very enjoyable read.
Denise Sande
Jun 07, 2020 rated it liked it
I love historical fiction; during the '90's and early 2000's my "go to" era was the Civil War. Jacob's Ladder was enjoyable for this social studies major who did her senior paper on Sherman's March. ...more
Colleen Grier
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Civil war novel that was so so descriptive with multiple storylines of plantations,slaves, soldiers in battles,abolitionists, war widows trying to survive and all the politics in this sad time of our history....tough to read in many parts, compelling, sad and horrific and yet it ends in hope.
Jul 16, 2017 rated it did not like it
Not interesting enough to keep my interest.
Nancy Budds
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read. Couldn't put it down. Story based on life in Virginia during Civil War and the battle for freedom. ...more
Kaye Pryor
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lora Shouse
Nov 14, 2015 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 rated it liked it
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
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
Bob Lafary
Aug 28, 2014 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
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Donald McCaig was 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.

Donald McCaig wrote about rural American life, sheepdogs, and the Civil War. He also wro

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