This historical fiction shows the human side of a devastating war, with the Battle of Gettysburg as seen by the town’s residents.
In 1856, in the quiet town of Gettysburg, Pa., 15-year-old Wes Culp is in love with Ginnie Wade. Bullied by Jack Skelly for being short, Wes moves to Virginia when his boss moves his carriage business south. Wes and Ginnie remain faithful to each other, but then comes the Civil War. Still in Virginia, Wes joins the Confederate army under Gen. Stonewall Jackson. Ginnie, shocked at Wes’ decision, gets engaged to Jack, who’s in the Union Army. While being a soldier is a first thrilling to Wes, the war starts to take its toll. Battle by battle, Wes and Jack become hardened veterans, increasingly numb to the horrors around them. Finally, after years on the march, Wes and Jack return home as the two armies converge on Gettysburg. In this story based on real events and the lives of real people, the father and son authors tell an engaging story using clear, solid research. The focus is on individuals—their thoughts, their hopes, their families—and their portraits are realistically crafted. Amid the well-rendered details of domestic life, the dialogue is especially impressive, and the narrative, though mostly workmanlike, is frequently gripping. The authors’ afterword on the real people behind the characters makes the story all the more heartbreaking. There are a few narrative lapses, however. Despite some effective fighting scenes, the reader has little sense of what’s happening in the war as a whole, and the main action in Gettysburg happens off stage. While this may be accurate for the characters’ lives, it takes away both from the drama and the reader’s understanding of the events portrayed. Interestingly, there are no slave or freed-slave characters at all; again, this may be accurate, but their absence, particularly in the Virginia-set scenes, should be explained.
A compelling read about a pivotal event in American history, movingly rendered with solid characters.