VIENNA, Va., May 29, 2013 — Every once in awhile a new Civil War book of fiction comes along that seems to resonate with today’s reading public while retaining the color and depth of the past about which it is written.
Such is the case with “Gabriel’s Trumpet,” by Duane Gordon, the pen name for author Steven Chicoine who has written several non-fiction books as well.
Though apparently directed at the middle school/high school age reader, there is absolutely nothing in this well-written book not to please the average adult casual reader with a Civil War interest. It is centered around two young Union recruits, for whom the war thus far consists of marching from Chicago into the South, eating non-palatable meals and with little activity to get their blood properly boiling.
Timothy O’Connor and Patrick Hanrahan vacillate from blaming each other as to whose idea “this war stuff” was, to looking forward to a good bloody fight with the Rebels.
One is more feisty than the other, but their friendship is undeniable as they annoy a corporal and capture a semi-wild pig to roast, calling it “a Tennessee slow bear” to get around the rules against foraging in the enemy’s territory.
Slavery has only been a vague concept to the two until the time comes that they actually meet real slaves. They are struck by the normalcy of the black men and are sympathetic to their plight as well as their treatment.
New feelings arise in the souls of each one, until they realize that being friendly to an individual slave brings wrath down upon them from the putative owners.
Their activities vary from complete boredom to the excitement of hearing cavalry troops coming, as they alternately look for a battle to fight to being grateful that one has not found them.
Hanrahan carries a gold watch, which he took from someone he had killed prior to the war, and considers it his talisman. At times it almost gets him killed, but he clings to it.
An interesting exchange with other Union troops occurs when the latter state they are not fighting to protect or free the slaves, but just because they want to save the Union. The story is unique for its genre because it proceeds along its way without having an apparent agenda, refreshing to say the least.
An interesting but little used subject matter is the infusion of old time gospel or slave songs, accurate in all respects, as spare time around the cabins frequently was spent in singing black hymns. Some of these have been heard for years, but some are old-time ones rarely seen or heard today in literature and are a welcome addition. Songs like “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” plus “God’s Gonna Trouble de Water” are priceless and should never be forgotten.
The author brings to his subject matter a fresh approach that is beneficial to the youth of today who manage to graduate from high school with no more than a 15 minute talk about the Civil War, War Between the States, or whatever name you wish to use. While this is obviously written from a slightly Union perspective, there is little in it to upset the most rabid Rebel.
Gordon grew up in Chicago, went to college in California, and then worked in Texas for a while before taking up his current residence in Minnesota. He remarks that he has been a Civil War buff since early childhood and in work on this book he talked with descendants of soldiers on both sides, as well as descendants of slaves.
High schoolers are at an age that they are fairly knowledgeable about the subject of slavery but are woefully un-knowledgeable about the Civil War as a whole, and this story of two Yankee boys not that far from their own age should arouse a deeper interest in what the young lads of that era went through and how they did or did not accept the situations in which they found themselves. A good read for all.
A couple of caveats: It does contain several incidences of factual mistreatment of slaves, and the N-word is used in several places, again contextual accuracy and nothing that should shock the average student.
“Gabriel’s Trumpet” by Duane Gordon, published 2011 by Indigo Tree Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9833935-3-5
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