Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Civil General by David Stinebeck & Scannell Gill--Book Review

A Civil General by David Stinebeck and Scannell Gill brings General George Henry Thomas to life for lovers of Civil War history.

Colonel William Swain is the narrator of this moving story of Thomas's wartime contributions as he served on the side of the Union, a decision that cost him dearly and found him disowned by his family in Virginia. From the Battle of Chickamauga to the Battle of Nashville, "Slow Trot Thomas" leads his men to decisive victories over Confederate troops, not often receiving the recognition he deserves. Forgoing self-promotion, Thomas is loved by his men, the Army of the Cumberland, and as his body travels by ferry and train from San Francisco to Troy, New York for burial, the love of the people leads the way with bowed heads, flowered arches along the train tracks, and swinging lanterns...for "George Henry Thomas had been their light in the dark."

Fans of military history and wartime strategy will certainly enjoy A Civil General. The research Stinebeck and Gill performed for this novel is obvious in the depiction of various battles. Anyone vaguely familiar with Civil War history will recognize many of the names filling these pages: Grant, Lee, Sherman, Sheridan, Rosencrans, Hallach, and Hooker, to name a few. The authors have put forth a great deal of effort to showcase the many contributions that Thomas made to the Union victory.

The challenge I had with this novel is that it is missing some basic elements of fiction. The narrator in essence tells the entire story to the reader, even at times addressing the reader, so that she is distanced from the happenings in the book and unable to be drawn in and experience them for herself. The tenses move back and forth between past and present, sometimes even in the same paragraph, so that it is difficult to stay focused on the fact that Swain is telling this story years later.

This reader felt it came much closer to narrative non-fiction than an actual novel, but the fictional characters and encounters definitely place it in the field of fiction. There is a speech given by Thomas to his men on Page 114 that was so moving I felt a lump form in my throat. This is how I wanted to experience the entire book, but the narrator kept me at bay and I was only able to fully exist within its pages for brief moments.

Even with this challenge, as a lover of Civil War history, I enjoyed this book to its powerful end. The illustrations added a great deal of depth to this piece of work and the cover art is stunning.

There is much to be gained by reading A Civil General by David Stinebeck and Scannell Gill.

Title: A Civil General
Authors: David Stinebeck and Scannell Gill
Publisher: Sunstone Press
ISBN: 978-0-86534-663-5
U.S. Price: $20.95

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