Sunday, March 1, 2009
A unique and interesting look into a difficult time in America's history awaits readers in Two Brothers - One North, One South by David H. Jones.
During the American Civil War, poet Walt Whitman volunteered as a nurse in army hospitals. His concern for the poor boys torn apart by the War leads him to Armory Square Hospital in Washington D.C., where he finds young William Prentiss, a Rebel solider whose right leg has been amputated. He is not expected to survive and Whitman spends many hours at his bedside listening to William's stories. In another ward of the hospital, lay William's older brother, Clifton, a Union Brevet Colonel who had been shot through the lung not far from the position of his injured Rebel brother.
After William's death, Whitman and two other Prentiss brothers--John and Melville--join Clifton at his bedside where Whitman shares William's journey fighting for the Confederacy and Clifton speaks of his experiences as a Union soldier in the War Between the States.
There is a great deal to enjoy in Two Brothers. The author uses his extensive knowledge of the Civil War to create a realistic portrait of Maryland's importance--as it was so close to the Capital the Union could not let it become part of the Confederacy but there were many families with Southern ties and sympathies who supported secession. And this is where William and Clifton Prentiss find themselves within the pages of this book: William does not feel the Federal government should interfere with the Southern way of life, but Clifton believes the Union must be preserved at all cost.
Jones brings the reader from the present (1865) back and forth through different periods of the War to create a whole picture of how the loyalties were divided, how the battles were won and lost, and at what cost. The reader follows along as William and Clifton and their family and friends experience triumph and tragedy through one of the most tumultuous times in American history.
Other memorable persons include: Hetty and Jenny Cary, whose clandestine work in support of the Confederacy is both dangerous and admired; John Prentiss, William and Clifton's father who sides with the Union during the conflict and whose untimely death leaves behind much sadness; and Elijah Carter, one of the Prentisses' freed Negro servants who signs up with the 7th United States Colored Troops and becomes a leader of his regiment.
The main challenge I had with Two Brothers comes in the narration. There are stories that neither Whitman or Clifton would probably know first-hand, such as the death of Clifton's father, John--which was relayed in great detail. Since none of the Prentiss brothers was home at that time, how did anyone present at Clifton's bedside have that much detail to relay how the entire story unfolded? And since the conversations among Whitman and the Prentiss brothers are often interrupted by narratives that sometimes run multiple pages in length, the reader can often get confused over who is sharing which portion of the story. These interruptions also don't allow the reader to get to know William and Clifton as well as I would have liked. The reader gets knowledge of the War, its impact on Maryland, the battles that were fought, and the important people whose names now fill text books, but at the end of the story, I don't believe the reader will really know William and Clifton Prentiss very well.
Lastly, there is the matter of the characters often speaking of the events that unfolded in the four years of the War as if they were third party to the events instead of active participants, often relaying information that anyone who participated in the War or read newspapers of the time would already be aware of.
Overall, I found Two Brothers to be an enjoyable read. History buffs and military fiction fans will appreciate Jones's keen eye for detail, while historical fiction fans will be grateful for the authentic picture the author paints. Students of the Civil War will find much to like about Two Brothers - One North, One South. Jones has certainly done his research well.
Title: Two Brothers - One North, One South
Author: David H. Jones
Publisher: Staghorn Press