UNGENTLEMANLY ACTS by Louise Barnett

UNGENTLEMANLY ACTS

The Army's Notorious Incest Trial
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KIRKUS REVIEW

From Rutgers English professor Barnett (Touched By Fire, 1996), an artfully reconstructed chronicle of a notorious US Army

incest-accusation trial that sheds remarkable clarity upon the emerging military and moral climate of the post-Reconstruction

Southwest.

In 1879, Capt. Andrew Geddes of the Army’s Department of Texas filed a complaint against Lt. Louis Orleman, his

neighboring officer at remote Fort Stockton, alleging "criminal intercourse" between the officer and his daughter, Lillie. The Army

moved swiftly—by trying Geddes, ostensibly on Orleman’s countercharge of "attempted seduction" of Lillie, but evidently more

to punish Geddes’s violation of both Victorian morality and military frontier codes of silent manliness. Barnett recreates the trial,

its aftermath, and the harsh, complex social environment of Fort Stockton (which won notoriety for these events and for related

violence and corruption), emphasizing the dramatic ambiguities and human failings wrought in the crucible of the militarized

Texas frontier. For example, though the author finds Geddes’s account plausible and Orleman’s less so (as did the military’s

appellate review, overturning Geddes’s conviction), she explores how Geddes’s reputation as a seamy lothario provoked top

generals Ord and Sherman essentially to order an otherwise exemplary soldier’s destruction. And she sets the narrative in a

generous context of contemporaneous events, ranging from the 1869 H.B. Stowe—Lord Byron incest scandal to the depredations

of 1870s Texas—rife with sliding scales of hatred among Mexicans, African-American soldiers who’d been refused billets nearer

"civilization," white settlers, and the displaced, despised, and still-threatening Comanche and other tribes—reminiscent of Cormac

McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Such detail evokes the paranoia, clannishness, and artificial moralities that, focused by the trial,

would long remain in American military and civic life.

Barnett brings intellectual fervor to potentially dry material, particularly in her portrait of the long-suffering Lillie Orleman,

offering subtle interpretations of gender and racial volatility and finding startling metaphors within this singularly perverse

interlude in the dissipated post-Civil War military. (24 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-8090-7397-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000