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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 25, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

SIWASSEE: A Novel of the Civil War, by Charles F. Price (Academy Chicago Publishers: $20, 197 pp.). In between the great battles of the Civil War were guerrilla campaigns waged with a ferocity worthy of Bosnia. Charles F. Price writes about one of these in a novel whose main characters happen to be his ancestors. In 1863, "bushwhackers" claiming to be Union irregulars ravage the Siwassee River valley in southwestern North Carolina. Left defenseless in their path are elderly farmers like Judge Madison Curtis, women and a few wounded soldiers home on leave. Curtis' sons, Howell and Jack, and Oliver Price, a Georgian who will move to Siwassee after the war, are off with Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg's army in Tennessee, winning the Battle of Chickamauga and losing at Chattanooga.

"Events such as those in this book certainly happened . . . and could even have happened to my ancestors, though I cannot prove that they did," Price says. No matter. "Siwassee" is clearly the fruit of considerable research. Price can be forgiven for making his kin uniformly noble (the most interesting character by far is Bridgeman, the vicious--and wholly fictional--guerrilla leader who both hates and admires Judge Curtis). But this too-short, oddly proportioned novel comes alive on the page only in spurts. It has vivid descriptions of battle and mountain scenery but also lapses in tone and too much information that's still dusty from the archives where Price found it.

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