A debut historical novel details the Civil War experiences of a Confederate soldier.
James Augustus McEachern was born in 1840 in Darlington, South Carolina, a small town that had been home to his family since his great-great-grandfather fled Scotland and settled there in the 1750s. He joined the Arlington, Virginia, militia in 1861, eager and proud to defend the Southern way of life that he felt was unjustly assailed by avaricious Northerners. James served as a member of the Hampton legion, part of the Texas Brigade. Wounded twice, he fought in many of the Civil War’s most pivotal battles, including those at Fort Sumter and Antietam, rising to the rank of second lieutenant. Author McEachern (Caledonia: A Song of Scotland, 2015) focuses on one 24-hour period, running from the early part of April 1, 1865, to April 2, during which more than 14,000 Union soldiers broke through the Confederate line of defense at Petersburg. This was the hinge moment in the war that sealed the fate of the Confederacy; a mere seven days later, James and his company surrendered at Appomattox. The engrossing narrative is told from James’ perspective, sometimes conveyed through correspondence to the woman who later became his wife, Victoria (“Vicee”). Three of those letters are authentic originals, and in one of them, he proposes to Vicee only days after the battle at Fort Sumter. James eventually returned to Vicee and helped her raise their only child, but he never fully recovered from the wounds he sustained in battle, dying at the age of 34. McEachern’s principal preoccupation seems to be historical fidelity, and his vivid, dramatized account stays closely hewn to fact. His research is impressive, and he writes with restrained elegance and poignancy, capturing poetically the brute horror of war: “Then, I heard thousands of feet running towards us. The dawn was just breaking, but we were still mired in mist. The grey, gloom of night still wrapped herself around us.” Furthermore, a moving love story, beautifully depicted, emerges out of the smoke and fire of the conflict.
An intense peek into the last gasp of the Civil War as well as a thoughtful rendering of the Southern perspective.