Historical fiction by western veteran Wheeler (The Deliverance, 2003, etc.), based on the life of an Irish rebel who served as a Union general in the Civil War.
Exiled to Australia for inciting rebellion against British rule, Thomas Francis Meagher (1823–67) escapes to the teeming slums of 1852 New York. There, he quickly finds supporters, making his mark as a public speaker for the Irish cause. But while Meagher’s oratory brings him fame among his fellow exiles, it doesn’t bring him a living. Nor are his friends among the Tammany Democrats able to offer him any useful position, although he passes the bar and sets up law offices. His lack of income weighs more on him after he marries the daughter of a successful New York businessman. After nearly ten years of drifting, Meagher finds a purpose in the Civil War. He raises and commands an Irish brigade for the Union, thinking that seasoned veterans could then return to free Ireland from the British. But war changes him. He becomes a firm abolitionist, despite his countrymen’s fear that freed blacks will take the jobs now open only to the Irish. His troops see fierce action at Antietam and Fredericksburg, two of the bloodiest battles of the war, before Meagher is eased out of command, accused—perhaps unfairly—of drunkenness in the face of battle. Out of favor with the postwar government, he wangles an appointment as secretary to the governor of Montana. Arriving at his post, he finds himself effectively in charge, though the local powers, largely radical Republicans, oppose him at every turn. His death remains a mystery; Wheeler's suggestion that political enemies killed Meagher is certainly convincing.
The author clearly believes his subject has been shortchanged by history, but Meagher’s failure at almost everything that matters to him makes it difficult to see why the historical verdict should be overturned.