It’s tempting to class this historical novel about the Battle of Gettysburg as YA fiction because its heroine is 15, but, with all due respect to that genre, it’s much, much more.
Debut novelist Moody found an account written by Matilda “Tillie” Pierce—a teenager who lived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when the famous Civil War battle changed the good citizens’ lives forever—and ran with it. In this novel, Tillie comes from a good, God-fearing, staunchly abolitionist family, and she, her parents, her sister, Maggie, and a butcher’s apprentice named Sam live together; her two brothers, James and William, have gone off to war. First ragtag Confederates, bent on terror and pillage, come to town; then the Union cavalry rides to the rescue, followed by the infantry, who are met by a full complement of Confederates. Then comes the full panoply of the three awful days of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), the bloodiest clash of the war. When Gettysburg first seems threatened, Tillie goes with a neighbor and her daughters to Jacob Weikert’s farm outside town, which is thought to be safer. But then Yankees commandeer the place, turning it into a field hospital. Here Tillie distinguishes herself, as she’s pressed into service as a nurse, even assisting with amputations. However, Weikert’s farm has been effectively destroyed by Union soldiers, and he doesn’t take it kindly. There’s as much turmoil within Tillie as without; specifically, she wonders how the God she’s been taught to worship could allow this carnage. Moody knows the value of detail and pacing and knows how to set a scene and build drama, as when Weikert is challenged to give up a pump handle that he hid out of spite or when his daughter returns home to find her furniture out in the street as part of a barricade. Details such as military maneuvers, weapons, and medical treatments appear to be historically accurate, as do the language, attitudes, and mores of townspeople in 19th-century America. Although this novel will appeal to adults as well, it’s sure to grab teenagers’ imaginations and teach them not just facts, but greater truths.
A remarkable first effort, recommended without reservation.