Showing posts with label Civil War. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Civil War. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Edge #04 - Killer's Breed

The Edge series by George Gilman (Terry Harknett, 1936-2019) promises to be “The Most Violent Westerns in Print,” but the fourth installment, Killer’s Breed from 1974, is actually a flashback origin story documenting Edge’s adventures fighting in the American Civil War.

The paperback begins in the Post-Civil War era when Josiah “Edge” Hedges finds himself recuperating from a near-death experience where his life as a Union soldier is flashing before his eyes for the heart of the novel.

And with the turn of the page, the reader is back in June 1861 along the Ohio-West Virginia border with Union Cavalry Lieutenant Joe Hedges. He’s serving under Major General George McClellon and his troops are marching into the Battle of Phillipi in what is now West Virginia, the first land combat of the war. The author describes the fighting scenes with vivid portrayals of violence and gore, just like he does in the western novels of the series.

From battle to battle Edge rides with his unit, and the reader gets to watch him harden as person while making smart tactical decisions for himself and the men under his command. It’s difficult to understate the skull-crushing violence and spattered blood and brain tissue depicted in the pages of each battle. Consider yourself warned.

Overall, this was a very satisfying war novel that did a fine job depicting the chaos and brutality of battles on the ground. It wasn’t much of a western, but if a gory fictional chronicle of Civil War combat sounds appealing, you can’t do much better.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

North and South

In 1982, paperback author John Jakes (1932-2023) struck literary gold with his 800+ page Pre-Civil War epic, North and South. The bestseller furthered the author’s career as one of the most popular American authors of historical fiction while spawning two sequels and a hit 1985 miniseries adaptation.

The novel opens in 1686 with the story of how a young ironworker named Joseph Moffat finds himself fleeing Scotland for what is now Pennsylvania under the name Joseph Hazard to avoid a murder charge. Jakes’ storytelling sucks you right in with violence and adventure. We also meet a young aristocrat from France named Charles Main (formerly Charles de Main) who is an early settler in the American colony of Carolina making his money in the pelt and slave trade.

These dual prologues provide the reader with a brief explanation of how the Hazard family and Main family find themselves in the North and South respectively. The novel’s linear action really begins in 1842 when George Hazard on Pennsylvania and Orry Main of South Carolina find themselves in the same cadet class at West Point Academy. This is 19 years before the U.S. Civil War kicked off.

By this point, the Hazard family has a successful iron company, and the Main family own a rice plantation with over 150 slaves. Despite the cultural divide, the two lads become fast friends. George is full of humor and knows how to charm the ladies. Orry is more serious and reserved with his only focus being a success as a soldier. Upon graduation, they are deployed to the same infantry unit just as the Mexican-American war is heating up over the annexation of Texas.

Throughout the novel, the moral quandary of slavery is always humming in the background. The Northern characters find the practice repellant, and the Southern characters find a myriad of ways to rationalize enslaving blacks. This percolates up in heated debates throughout the novel that eventually divide the young nation and spark a civil war.

The author was also influenced by plantation novels like Mandingo/Falconhurst series in depicting the savagery of slavery and the stigma of mixed-race romances. In these scenes, there are some shocking images of torturous violence and others of forbidden love. The sex in North and South is all off-page.

The Civil War is not the centerpiece of this epic novel. The War Between the States is the focus of the 1984 sequel, Love and War. Instead, this first book in the trilogy focuses on the North vs. South Cold War — the culture war, if you will, — driven by disagreements regarding slavery. The two families and their respective journeys taking them up to this great divide during a fascinating time in America’s evolution as a nation are the vehicles for Jakes to examine this time in history.

I enjoyed North and South quite a bit, but the book is long. And it felt long. Unlike big books like Lonesome Dove and Pillars of the Earth where the pages fly by and you don’t want it to end, North and South felt like trying to devour a ten-season Netflix series. It’s a lot to carry but never hard to follow. Nevertheless, there are way too many storylines and characters. The fact that there are two more 800-page behemoths in the trilogy makes my head ache.

If you can gather up the energy for a historical epic novel, North and South is a fine choice. It’s a giant meal, but fully-digestible if you’re in the right headspace. I want to know what happens to these characters in the war and thereafter, so I’ll definitely read the sequels. But I need some 180-page pulpy paperbacks to cleanse my palette first. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Long Tattoo

During the 1960s, Jerrold Mundis used the pseudonym of Eric Corder to write five historical fiction novels about the American slave trade and its aftermath. While the books have chronological continuity with a few recurring characters, the author told me they can be read in any order as stand-alone novels. The Long Tattoo is his 1968 paperback about a black regiment fighting in the American Civil War. It’s available today under the Mundis name. 

Labe is a simple and good-hearted slave working as a blacksmith on the Crawford Plantation. One day, three men from the pro-slavery Confederate States of America visit the plantation asking Mr. Crawford to donate some blacks to help support the fight against the anti-slavery Yankees. Labe is volunteered for the job and the next daybreak, he’s off with the rebels. 

The conscripted men meet up with others of their ilk and are marched up to South Carolina under the crack of whips to construct a Confederate fort. Rumors start spreading among the men that if they defect to the Yankee’s side, they’ll be set free from the bonds of slavery. It’s also in South Carolina that Rafe first encounters Bryerson’s Butchers, an Alabama unit of straight-up killers and psychopaths with no patience for Yankees or blacks. 

Acts of cruelty and humiliation targeting slaves abound at the South Carolina fort. Meanwhile, word comes back from soldiers on the front line that the Union was not just freeing blacks but arming them and encouraging them to join the fight against the Confederates. As such, it’s no surprise when Labe slips away from his new masters and defects to the Federal side of the war. 

Labe falls into a Company comprised of escaped slaves under the command of a light-skinned educated black from Massachusetts. The training sequences that transform Labe from an undisciplined slave into a soldier and marksman were fantastic. The narrative lens widens to give the reader a look at the tactical decisions being made as Union troops roll through the South. 

It takes awhile to get there, but the combat scenes starring Labe’s unit are vivid and exciting. I would have liked more of them to emulate the brutality of an Edge western, but they were mostly satisfying - particularly as they lead to the reckoning between Labe’s guys and the terrifying Bryerson’s Butchers from earlier in the novel. 

Overall, The Long Tattoo was a good - but not amazing - combat paperback. The evolution of Labe from slave to soldier was well-told and the fictionalization of Civil War battles seemed realistic enough. The paperback was more historical fiction than pulp fiction, but worth reading if the plot concept appeals to you.

Buy a copy of this book HERE