Only readers with a strong knowledge of and interest in the Civil War will persist in reading this grim, stilted novel about the burning of Columbia, S.C.
When Union soldiers marched into Columbia in 1865, the city was a potential tinderbox of strong winds and loose bales of cotton. After drunken Yankee soldiers started fires both accidentally and intentionally, the wind kept them going. This fictionalized third-person narrative tells of Emma LeConte, a real young woman who left a diary. She watches from her family’s home as other houses burn up and the local hospital, full of injured Union and Confederate soldiers, is evacuated. The story shifts at times to Emma’s father, a chemist who flees with Confederate medicines and chemicals to keep them safe, only to find danger on the road. The third main character, Rev. Anthony T. Porter, who also left an account, is shown trying to keep his family safe. Unfortunately, neither characters nor relationships are developed; readers are simply told what characters feel, especially how much Emma despises Yankees. The focus is on events, but Anderson provides too little context to explain the level of hatred between Southerners and Union soldiers after so many years of war and loss.
The awkward combination of facts and fiction fails to adequately inform or engage readers, despite the dramatic topic. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-16)