While I was reading this, I kept thinking about communication, and history, and the way we approach historical events, removed by a hundred years.
It's easy to look back on a battle and say, That was the Battle of Gettysburg. It was fought in early July 1863 with 50,000 casualties. You had Meade on one side and Lee on the other. You can go back and draw up the battle plans in your head and watch how it was supposed to go and how it really went.
It's another thing to be there. Particularly from the perspective of an outsider with little experience of war. Historians can debate the internal and external causes of the Civil War all they want, but when you are living through things, you aren't thinking "my emotions are a direct result of the institution of slavery or too many taxes or a push for the reduction of state's rights" or whatever, you're thinking "these people are burning my farm, or taking it over, and there are chopped-off body parts under my kitchen window."
Maybe only later, if at all, you learn that people are going to call that fight the Battle of Gettysburg, and you realize that that large gathering of people have come to see the President speak, and that doesn't happen every day; you can't turn on CNN and see Lincoln talking. You do not know that people are going to write about this battle for a long time. States away, people don't know the battle happened for a (relatively) long time. All they have are set-up pictures by Mathew Brady and some words from their president and some dead children. Analysis is far off in the future.
This book does a good job of demonstrating that immediacy and uncertainty. We see the war from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy who has rarely left his family's farm. He's a bit of a flat character, speaking little, and with a ponderous nature that seems beyond his years, but he is easy to sympathize with. You can put yourself in his shoes.
Along the way, Robey meets several characters, over and over again. Some others have criticized the book for this, calling it too coincidental, but it makes sense to me. The characters he meets are following the war in the same way he is. You could not avoid knowing the basic movements of each army if you are close enough; you can hear them, smell the campfires and food burning, and see the merchants set up to sell wares around the camp. There are always profiteers to be found in war and most of the people Robey meets are such. And don't forget the population was much smaller in 1860 than in 2010.
Overall, my love of history enhanced the way I love this book. And I really do love this book. I can see the criticisms to be made, but this is one I plan to buy, and reread many times.