A memoir from 1988 or so about Peter Svenson, a visual artist, who buys a farms in the Shenadoah Valley that just so happens to be one of the sites of a series of battles around the city of Harrisonburg, VA (in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley and home to James Madison University). The Battle of Cross Keys saw JC Fremont for the North meeting up with Jackson, Ewell, and Trimble of the South and being turned back, despite superiors numbers (a battle result that sums up much of the 1861 and 1862.
The book itself splits its time between Svenson building his new house (he’s an experienced homebuilder), setting up the farming, explaining the history of farming in the region, and then his burgeoning and accidentally turn as someone becoming an expert in a very specific minor battle of the Civil War, and some more general expertise in the war as well.
The writing here is memoir and history blended, but there’s also a careful and quite beautiful pastoral quality to the writing. For example, there’s a very charming description of a pair of kittens he adopts and begins bringing to the worksite with him who spend their time in a portable chair that bakes in the sun all day and who jump in and out of the cab of his truck each morning and afternoon and ride with him like “proper passengers”. So the book speaks as well to the passage of time in the US, the role of farms and farming, the history and life baked into the landscape, and the discomforting role history does and doesn’t play in our lives here.