- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007


By Robert B. Greenwalt, Blue/Gray Press LLC, $24.95, 239 pages, illustrated

Eighteen-year-old Joshua Andrew Jackson Campbell of Holly Springs in Marshall County, Miss., whose clear blue eyes were “full of youthful certainty,” cheered himself hoarse when his state seceded from the Union, but he didn’t know why.

His mother did not approve when he enlisted for 12 months in June 1861, and his father was just OK with it — but Josh figured it was a good way to see the world outside of Mississippi. Taller than most in his company in the 17th Mississippi Rangers, Josh was afforded “a good view of what lay ahead,” but he could not have seen the incidents and accidents in his path to the end of 1861, when this delightful novel ends.

The terror of the battles of Bull Run and Ball’s Bluff, the mental and physical strain of long marches, and the humor and camaraderie of a few camp incidents along the way changed him in the first seven months of the war from a naive teen filled with wonder, clutching an eagle talon for good luck, to a battle-tested veteran brimming with experience and a little wisdom, too.

His goal at the beginning of the war was simply not to disgrace himself by running away when the shooting started. By the end of 1861, he was looking at a well-deserved promotion to corporal and a furlough from camp.

Josh rode horses well and could have been in the cavalry, but instead he joined with his best friend and “pard,” Zeke Owens. The other characters in the company were mostly boys Josh and Zeke knew from town or church.

The old man of the regiment, at the advanced age of 26, was Cpl. “Dutchie” Himmelfarb. It was rumored that his motive in joining had nothing to do with secession, slavery or states’ rights. He simply wanted to escape the constant barrage of abuse fired at him by Great, his enormous wife.

Sgt. Ferrall was the experienced soldier who said only a few words, but Josh knew enough to listen carefully to those few nuggets.

David Crockett Williams could always be counted on to have interesting gossip about where the regiment was headed next. Sometimes his inside information was accurate, but right or wrong, Little Davey was quick to take offense if someone reported the gossip before him.

The studious Miller Cummins was able to explain to the others what that large balloon in the sky with a basket below it was, and it seemed that he might know something when he said the war was going to last a lot longer than just about everyone thought.

Josh and Zeke unfailingly showed they were good, fair and genuinely nice. At Ball’s Bluff, Josh wasted his shots at a Union soldier retreating from the battlefield because it wasn’t right to shoot at someone running away. When a fellow soldier in the regiment was sick, Josh and Zeke sneaked out of camp and into town, where they picked up some licorice root and two packets of Doctor Wendell’s Magic Elixir. The trip didn’t turn out to be entirely pure, with the boys making a quick stop in town at the Rainey Tavern for a drink or two.

They were nice, but not weak or easily intimidated. They didn’t run from battle, and they weren’t pushed around off the battlefield, either. Josh stood up to a couple of evil characters in his regiment on more than one occasion, thus placing himself on a certain collision course.

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard makes a cameo appearance to personally give Zeke, the winner of a camp shooting contest, an award: the opportunity to carry the colors. Zeke declines this “honor” because he thinks he would be a lot more effective to the cause if he carried a weapon. Many soldiers would have agreed readily to the honor, not having the fortitude to say no. Instead of carrying the flag, Zeke ended up with a new cap, with his benefactor’s name written inside of it.

A few other characters, real and fictional, cross paths with Josh and Zeke. Josh meets lovely May Turner, the sutler’s daughter, and their brief encounters foretell a blossoming relationship. May has a brother in a Virginia regiment and sisters named April and June.

The boys briefly meet Wilmer McLean on his departure from Manassas to Appomattox to move far away from the war. Their paths cross with the fictitious Elihu Hawthorne, a “radical Republican” congressman from Massachusetts, in the role of Alfred Ely, the real congressman from New York who, after watching the Battle of Bull Run as a spectator, was captured by Confederates. Josh prevents a fellow soldier from attacking the defenseless Hawthorne.

The book ends with Josh and Zeke on one side of the Potomac River and Hawthorne on the other. The two Confederates can’t see or hear each other, but they’re both thinking about how 1861 went and wondering what adventures 1862 will bring.

Paul N. Herbert of Fairfax County writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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