Snell’s Civil War novel documents the savage treatment of prisoners of war.
George Corbett joins the 8th Virginia Cavalry in 1861 and reluctantly permits his 15-year-old son, Harley, to follow suit. In 1863, the two are separated in the fog of battle, and Harley is shot in the arm and taken prisoner by Union soldiers. He’s transported to Point Lookout, Maryland, and incarcerated in a prisoners-of-war camp, the conditions of which are ghastly. Prisoners routinely face physical abuse, starvation, and squalid filth. George, tortured by guilt over his son’s fate, becomes hopeful when he learns that Gen. Lee has hatched a covert plan to rescue the 20,000 POWs, a perilously risky venture made all the more dangerous when the Union soldiers discover it and prepare for the attack. The tide of war has turned against the South, and the Confederacy is in desperate need of soldiers. Harley is imprisoned with his Uncle Steve—nicknamed “Devil Steve” for his penchant for brutal violence. Steve undergoes macabre abuse by a former slave, Big Jake Brown, who became a Union soldier and guard at the camp. Jake was once ferociously beaten by Steve before he killed his owners and escaped, and he intends to exact retribution. Debut author Snell’s meticulous research is nothing short of remarkable. He studied official camp inspection reports, period memoirs, and even visited the historical sites in question in order to paint an authentic portrait of the prison’s barbarity. With the exception of Steve’s monstrously deformed character, the author paints a morally nuanced picture of both sides. George’s inner conflict is a good example of this authorial sensitivity. An educated Southerner, he can’t help but find slavery repugnant, but he still practices slavery and chooses to fight for the Confederacy. The novel reads like an uncorrected draft: the dialogue is written in historically appropriate dialect while the narration largely isn’t, though it lapses inexplicably into it occasionally. Also, while the table of contents provides pagination, the pages themselves are left unnumbered.
An impressive blend of history and fiction in need of additional editing.