Those who aren’t scholars or Civil War experts may have a tough time separating truth from fiction when reading “Seen the Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg.”
John Hough Jr.’s new, engaging book, however, isn’t a cold look at the brutality of war or a faceless summation of statistics and strategy from the field. It’s the story of two abolitionist brothers from Martha’s Vineyard who grow into men when they volunteer for the Union Army. Their service culminates in their participation in the war’s bloodiest battle.
Hough clearly spent time researching details of soldiers’ lives during the period. Readers feel like they’re on the march with Luke and Thomas Chandler and the rest of the members of 20th Massachusetts Company, whose journey takes them from Virginia, through Maryland and finally to Pennsylvania, where the tale ends with a surprise or two.
While Hough provides lively scenes depicting the chaos of warfare and the difficulties faced by the enlisted men and officers, he’s equally adept at developing vivid, likable characters, a nicely paced plot, and social and political commentary of sorts.
Among the book’s most fascinating relationships are those that the motherless boys (Luke is 18 and Thomas is 16 when they enlist) have at their comfortable home with their father, a kind doctor, and housekeeper Rose, a free black woman who isn’t simply a servant but a cherished family member.
Yet, while the Chandlers are fighting for the Union, their enlightened attitude about people of color doesn’t extend to their compatriots. Hough interestingly makes the point that not all Northerners were staunch abolitionists fighting to end slavery.
The friendships the fellows strike up with members of their company — Elisha, a poor farm boy they knew when they were young children, and McNamara, a cranky guy who ultimately reveals more than his tough exterior — give the story heart and soul.
There’s even a little romance, too.
But if there’s a downside to “Seen the Glory,” it’s that its wide breadth doesn’t cover a story or two from the Rebels’ perspective to make for a full-blown, view-from-all-sides Civil War saga.
Still, Hough’s command of the period and knack for weaving a compelling yarn are impressive. The book also would make a great movie.
“Seen the Glory” shows the human side of a pivotal era in America that, for many, has been relegated to dry history books.
Seen the Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg
- By John Hough Jr.
- Simon & Schuster
- 420 pages