Civil War fiction is a booming industry during the Sesquicentennial of the conflict. The first which people tend to think about is The Killer Angels but there are many which can hold their own against the rest of the works being released. John C. Bush has given us a work which is both interesting and saddening. He combines the war itself with the world after the Civil War along with a different twist to the art than any other. Instead of having someone from the North fighting for the South as is usual in Civil War fiction, there is someone from the South fighting for the North. Bush also brings into the fold the idea of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder upon the return of the protagonist. Known now as “Soldier’s Heart,” the experience of the fighting men is something which Bush excels at in his work.
John C. Bush is a native of Montgomery, Alabama and was born in northwest Florida. The ancestral line of his family can trace its roots back to Virginia in 1670. He now lives in the Tennessee Valley in Northern Alabama. This is where most of the story of Patriots and Rebels takes place.
When I first heard about this work, I immediately thought of the American Revolution but upon further inspection, discovered the work was about the Civil War. Patriots and Rebels allows for something different to be seen in the eyes of Civil War fiction. The work opens up in a very fast paced mode which creates some confusion but is soon fixed in the narrative. The story is about the return of a father to Alabama from the war where he had fought for the North. Not only is this story about the fight in the War of the Rebellion, the history of the family is told through the tales of the father and it is plainly clear as to why he chose to fight for the North. What I found more interesting throughout all of the text and narrative was the implementation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the mind of the Civil War soldier. When the father is telling his tales of the war and what he had gone through, it is often interrupted by the bouts of the disease. Unlike some of the other Civil War fiction being published now, the book is fast paced even though it is told all through stories and flashbacks. The reader gains a clear idea of what soldiers had to go through upon their return home.
Patriots and Rebels is recommended for the fan of Civil War fiction and even more so for those interested in the life of the soldier in the time of Reconstruction. One of the things which makes this work shine is the difference between the general stereotypes of Civil War literature. His narrative is flowing and his attention to detail is great up to the point where there is a clear picture as to what is happening in his novel. In conclusion, Patriots and Rebels is a work of Civil War fiction which is recommended for those interested in the realm of literature. Not to be missed.
AUGUST NEWSLETTER OF THE TENNESSEE VALLEY CIVIL WAR ROUNDTABLE, by Kathi Paul:
Patriots and Rebels by John C. Bush
Reviewed by Kathi Paul,
The author, John C. Bush, has created a fictional drama around the real-life ancestors of his wife, Sara. He used military records, the National Archives, other historical tomes, and family stories to pin down the location and dateswhere the ancestor, Tom Benton Files, served in the army. Then he used his imagination to create some of the man’s adventures in his journeys across the U.S. throughout the war and afterwards.
Here’s the plot: Tom Files is born and raised in north Alabama, but when the war between the states breaks out, he is determined to be a patriot – a defender of the United States of America, which his ancestors fought and died to establish and protect – and not a southern rebel. The Files family owns no slaves, and neither do his neighbors. But Tom’s reluctance to join the rebel army was the cause of some unpleasant midnight calls to frighten him into joining the southern forces.
After the family was subjected to a violent visit from the Home Guard one dark night, Tom leaves his wife and two little girls in charge of the farm while he rides off on his hard-working mule to join the First Alabama Cavalry, United States Volunteers. The story is told by the older daughter, Mary Frances, affectionately known as Fannie, who is a “teenager” at the beginning of the story in January of 1863.
Fannie and Mattie, her mother, manage to carry on at the farm . . . suffering the losses common to most of the residents of a war-torn area. Their food and livestock are eventually confiscated by soldiers from both sides. They are harassed by some of the rebel families. But they survive with the aid of some helpful neighbors. Another daughter is born. The war ends. But Tom does not return until two years after the war was over!
Tom had some explaining to do – and that is the meat of the story, Patriots and Rebels. While Fannie tells us in her simple, if ungrammatical, prose how life begins to get back to normal with her daddy back from the war, Tom spins out the epic of his journeys around the fireside after the babies are put to bed.
The story that John C. Bush develops around his protagonist is lucid and poignant. Tom Files is an anomaly – a southerner who fights for the Union – and is therefore trusted by neither Johnny Reb nor Billy Yank. In fact, during his journeys he falls victim to both sides. He explains to his family that he was afraid to return home after the war because of stories he heard about returning Union veterans in the south being tortured – sometimes killed – in front of their families. He says he didn’t even dare to write to them for fear the Home Guard would find out and wreak havoc on the little family left behind.
Tom tells how, when his stint with the cavalry ended, he decided to travel with some army friends up to their home in the Midwest, where he felt he would be safe. He encounters some runaway slaves when he stays at the home of a Quaker family, so the issue of slavery is discussed. He finds the seeming disinterest of the northerners in his family background disconcerting. He gets a job at a prosperous farm to earn money for the journey back to Alabama; and then is warned by some local “Copperheads” to leave the area, as they didn’t like the idea of a southerner turned Union soldier.
When Mr. Files starts home to north Alabama, the war is still on. On the way back, he is imprisoned alternately by both the Confederates and the Yankees, both of whom fear he is a spy! The beatings he receives from angry rebel prisoners leave him with permanent injuries.
The ponderings of young Fannie help the reader consider the plight of the character who stands up for what he feels is right – against the popular tide. The story gives the reader a feel for home life in the war-ravaged Tennessee Valley, as Fannie describes their work in the garden, their visits to town for church. And Tom himself describes the amazing journey across the lines and his return to hearth and home.
At times, the framing of this “story within a story” is clumsy and therefore distracting. And the narrator’s name is variously written as Mary Francis or Mary Frances. Sometimes the author’s educated vocabulary creeps into the farmer Tom’s mouth (vacillate, for instance). Nevertheless, the simple, no-nonsense yarn of Tom Files comes through.
John C. Bush tells a great story. His author’s notes at the end of the book relate how he blended the facts and events he researched with fictional and historic people and events. I myself know very little about the lives and service of my civil war ancestors; how I would love to have someone flesh out a story like this around them! It’s not a dull recital of the exploits of a military unit – it’s the story as it might have happened to the real people in the real Tennessee Valley, just as they might have told it. It’s a good read.