Friday, June 19, 2009

Review: Two Brothers-One North, One South by David H. Jones

Here is a summary of Two Brothers-One North, One South from David H. Jones website:

Walt Whitman feared that the real war would never get in the books - the true stories that depicted the courage and humanity of soldiers who fought, bled, and died in the American Civil War.

Exceptionally researched and keenly accurate to actual events, along with the personages that forged them, David H. Jones's novel spans four years in the midst of America's costliest and most commemorated war.

The journey is navigated by the poet, Walt Whitman, whose documented compassion for the wounded and dying soldiers of the war takes him to Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., and finds him at the bedside of William Prentiss, a Rebel soldier, just after fighting has ended. As fate has it, William's brother, Clifton, a Union officer, is being treated in another ward of the same hospital, and Whitman becomes the sole link not just between the two, but with the rest of their family as well.

The reader is taken seamlessly from Medfield Academy in Baltimore, where the Prentiss family makes its home, to the many battlefields where North and South collide, and even through the drawing rooms of wartime Richmond, where Hetty, Jenny, and Constance Cary are the reigning belles.

Ultimately, Two Brothers -One North, One South is a story about patriotism.

My Review:

This was such an interesting novel that was packed full of historical information about the Civil War. It brought us from the high society in Baltimore, Maryland, to battlefields in Virginia, and finally an Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.. Walt Whitman is introduced very early in the book as he spends time with a young wounded soldier named William Prentiss. During their time together, Whitman learns of many significant events that have happened to William over the course of the last four years.

Shortly after William passes away in the hospital (since this happens very early on in the book I don't think I'm giving much away) Whitman is asked to meet with William's brothers and share the conversations that they had during his last days. As Whitman recounts his conversations, and William's brother Clifton shares his experiences, we are given a vivid picture of how the Civil War could affect a family that harbored different political views.

This book was quite the history lesson for me! During this time period, Maryland obviously joined the United States of America, but the Confederate States of America was still a force to be reckoned with. From what I understood in the novel, Abraham Lincoln was the President of the United States as Jefferson Davis was also the president of the Confederate States. For some reason I really had a problem grasping this concept.

John Prentiss is the father of William and Clifton, and is in support of the Union actions. Although he sees the differences in his sons, as William supports the Confederacy, and Clifton supports the Union, he longs for his sons to set their politics aside to remember that they are brothers. As the brothers are preparing to depart for battle they bump into each other on the street one day. The following excerpt explains their brief reunion from page 69:

The brothers stood staring at one another, the stark difference in their uniforms declaring that they had chosen opposite sides in the looming conflict. Their facial expressions were a mixture of shock and dismay. After a moment, Clifton pushed by William and resumed his fast pace.

It was very interesting to learn about the import roles that women had played during the Civil War. Hetty and Jenny Cary were good friends to the Prentiss family and unwavering in their support and loyalty to the Confederacy. Although these ladies were the cream of Baltimore society, it was not uncommon for them to put themselves in harms way by delivering weapons, supplies, or personal letters to the fields of battle.

I am finding that the more I recall about this novel the more I appreciate the writing and research that went into it. I was so surprised by the different battles that were described with such detail. I think my only disadvantage with this novel was that because I have not been familiar with the Civil War previously, a lot of these details went right over my head. I found myself having to read sections over again to be able to comprehend what was being told. Here is one example of a battle plan that was described on page 192:

The Confederate battle plan for the second day at Gettysburg called for attacks on both Federal flanks by the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee anticipated that Longstreet would make his attack on the Union left flank in the morning, but Longstreet dawdled while positioning his troops and the attack was not made until late afternoon. Unfortunately, for Ewell, who was to simultaneously attack the Union right flank, the Federal troops on Culp's Hill spent the morning and early afternoon hours reinforcing and improving their entrenchments, making any attempt to capture the hill later in the day a much costlier affair.

Obviously political differences was one of the major themes of this novel, but I found it interesting that even during the Civil War, people found ways to get ahead just by knowing someone. Unfortunately, that is still going on today, but I want to share one last excerpt that describes Clifton's frustrations regarding General Ben Butler, who apparently was known as a political General. The following excerpt is taken from page 232:

"More importantly, I have nothing but disdain for anyone who acquires or maintains his position through political power. Butler was the first major general of volunteers appointed by a grateful President Lincoln in May of 1861. That mistake had terrible consquences in terms of unnecessary casualties and opportunities lost. As a field officer, I deplore the high cost paid by the common soldier for the failures of political generals. Thank God I never had to serve directly under one."

I did enjoy this novel, but it did take me a bit longer to read just because everything was so unfamiliar to me. I do think that this is a good thing as I believe that we all should be continually learning. So I want to give a special Thank You to David H. Jones for giving us a story about a family ripped apart by war, but finding their way back to each other. I also want to thank Paula from Author Marketing Experts, Inc. for providing me with a copy of this book to review.


bermudaonion said...

It would probably take me a while to read, too, since I know very little about the Civil War.

Anonymous said...

This sounds really goo. I bet my husband would love it! Maybe I should pick it up for Father's Day?!

Jo-Jo said...

Kathy: It was quite the history lesson, but well worth it.

Stacy: I think that's a good idea--I have a friend whose son is a history teacher and I was thinking that he would enjoy it also.

Literate Housewife said...

I really understand what you were saying in your comments about the love/hate relationship with the book. The dialog kept me from enjoying it as much as I could.