McCabe’s debut novel echoes with the Civil War battlefield’s ear-shattering noise and gut-wrenching smells, but its heart is a shining story of enduring love.
In 1862, Jeremiah Wakefield, New York country boy, hears the Union’s call and the lure of an enlistment bonus that will finance a farm. Friends too are eager to join the 97th New York Volunteers. Rosetta Edwards will have none of it. Rosetta may be a tomboy and her father’s farmhand, but she’s shared kisses and promises with Jeremiah. If he’s intent on soldiering, they’ll marry first. They wed and enjoy a few weeks of housekeeping in a cabin. It’s there that Jeremiah stumbles over Rosetta’s rock-hard stubbornness, a quality that later inspires her to chop her hair, dress in men’s clothing and become "Ross Stone." Rosetta passes a "you’ll do" physical and lands in Jeremiah’s unit, telling her stunned husband, "I signed on for this and there ain’t a thing I have ever been made to feel proud of in my life but the doing of a job that needs doing." Sketching a hardscrabble portrait of subsistence farm life, McCabe portrays Rosetta brilliantly—think True Grit’s Mattie Ross—as she narrates her story with energy, self-perception, courage and unremitting love for Jeremiah. McCabe’s thorough research lends verisimilitude to army life, all cook fires, salt pork, hardtack, thin blankets and marches into terror. McCabe’s descriptions of battle’s chaos and mayhem—"I just want to walk into that water, any water, and wash myself clean, my clothes and all, letting the blood and everything swirl away"—is reminiscent of Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. Rosetta echoes the period perfectly, playing off against gender expectations in letters home and in conversations with the company commander’s wife, the first to suspect her disguise, and with Will, a gentle, religious boy confused about his sexuality.
Based on often overlooked history, McCabe offers an extraordinary novel, one creating a memorable character through which we relive our national cataclysm.