A novel that takes us there and back again, “there” being the Civil War and back again, a farm in Indiana.
Constance “Ash” Thompson and her husband, Bartholomew, are a young couple with a farm, though their roles are a bit inverted, for Ash is fearless and a crack shot while Bartholomew has bad vision and is much more timid. Ash feels strongly about supporting the Union cause, but one of them has to stay home and tend the crops and animals, so Ash enlists and passes for a male soldier. She narrates her adventures crisply and matter-of-factly as she goes through her slapdash basic training and soon finds herself at the Battle of Antietam. She becomes expert in carrying off her role as a man, spitting and cursing with the boys but also showing herself invaluable as a marksman (even when this only involves foraging for squirrels to make a stew). Eventually, Ash is betrayed by someone she thought she could trust, and she finds the battle is not the most difficult challenge she faces, for rumor has it that a “whore from Chattanooga” has been dressing up as a man and infiltrating Union lines. When she persuades an officer that she’s neither a whore nor a spy, she’s incarcerated in an asylum, for it’s concluded that lunacy is the only other possible cause for her cross-dressing. After suffering abundant humiliations at the hands of a female “keeper,” Ash cleverly (and ironically) escapes by switching clothes with a Union guard. By this time, she’s determined to get home to Bartholomew—and she does—only to find that some local thugs have taken over the farm. Of course, she vows vengeance, though this revenge is exacted in a way that leads to tragedy. While comparisons to Cold Mountain are inevitable, Ash’s journey has its own integrity.
Hunt keeps the pace brisk and inserts some new feminist twists into the genre of the Civil War odyssey.