In a Civil War novel, some adolescent Tennessee volunteers construct a fort.
George Leonard, age 14 at the tale’s start, is the only son of a wealthy plantation owner. Although the Leonards oppose slavery and use hired labor, they still back the Confederate cause. George’s father becomes a colonel for Tennessee’s army, while George and some other boys too young to officially fight decide—on what seems like a sudden whim—to build Fort Red Hawk. George suggests forming a militia (“Together, as a group, we can build a fort and fight off any Yankee invasion. It will work, if we fight together as one trained army”). Later, George, a self-declared first lieutenant, shelters children from a town ransacked by Yankees and thereby acquires three sister figures. They number among the novel’s notable female characters, along with George’s mother, with whom he is close, and Martha Kingston, a maid (and potential love interest). George meets Martha at an inn (“Though she was yet young, she was quite pleasant to look upon. Her hair was a pretty, thick brown. Her skin was of one who had worked under the sun, a soft tan”). These women help counterbalance the overweening male presence common to Civil War narratives. The appealing story, reasonably well plotted, offers climactic scenes in which the militia prepares to engage Union troops, and arranges a prisoner exchange at a Yankee encampment. But the action remains clumsily narrated, as in “The last drops of blood dripped from wounds in most any place of the bodies.” Moreover, the level of psychological reflection comes off as shallow: “Among all George’s mixed emotions, there was one of guilt for having killed another human.” And the novel delivers frequently stilted speech (“Speaking of Father, I wonder if they will soon return”) and inept approximations of African-American dialect (“Yows’sa, Mar’sa George, i’bee redee in fav minuts”). It appears Eryvine (Down the Path of Life: Volume 3, 2015, etc.) seeks to attract a young audience—“I minimize the horror, disgust, and misery of the war to make this book suitable for readers of all ages,” he writes in an opening letter. But talking down to readers dulls the volume’s potential power.
While it lacks strong dialogue and graceful narration, this book still offers a fairly enjoyable tale about young Confederate supporters.