5.0 Out of 5 Stars By a Top Amazon Reviewer!
A must for Civil War buffs! January 22, 2013
This review is from: NOT ONE AMONG THEM WHOLE: A Novel of Gettysburg (Kindle Edition)
Gettysburg, 1863. Once a meadow of golden wheat, now a playing field of horror, where men were programmed to play a part, to play a position. If their part was to die, they did. If their part was to heal others, they did. North and South came together in an unholy skirmish in which men were drained and bled and left somewhere on that playing field shattered in body and in mind. It was dog eat dog to the men in blue and grey- kill or be killed. “The only real commodity was suffering and the only true coin was death.”
The surgeons working in unspeakable conditions, perhaps in an old church or in an abandoned shed had to resort to ingenuity, such as making a splint from the bone of a dead horse, or creating a tube into a soldier’s shattered windpipe by wrapping a wire tightly around the neck of a bottle, breaking the bottle and gently inserting the wire in place. Author McDaniels is a surgeon and he takes you there, takes you into the heat of battle and introduces you to the horrors that were Gettysburg.
The novel is built around vignettes. McDaniel’s fine Civil War novel is not the world of Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant or even Abraham Lincoln. McDaniel’s Gettysburg is a microcosm, a seething world of its own from which no player escapes. The reader follows the characters as they play their parts in the murky tapestry of civil war. There will be a price to pay, not only death but indignity, the exposure of the souls of those who survived. Gettysburg is a very level playing field.
Plying his trade of undertaker, Jupiter Jones, an elderly black man who had graduated from being a snake oil salesman to a salesman of another sort- making the dead look decent. Jupiter is perhaps the most interesting character in the book. Wearing an old green bowler atop his head and always accompanied by a small monkey named Archimedes, Jupiter would set about transforming the cadaver beneath his hands into something that almost -at least Jupiter thought so-resembled life. Pumping some sort of arsenic mixture into the body, Jupiter would affectionately pinch the corpse’s cheeks like one would pinch a child, tuck a wad of chewing tobacco inside if the dead soldier’s yellow-stained hands revealed tobacco use. Snake oil, a concoction garnered long ago from trees in Africa was applied to the open eyes, plumping them out. Jupiter waxed philosophical, talking to the doctors laboring beside him, talking to the bodies. “The dead talk to me” he remarks even though “nobody gets out of life alive.” Although the doctors work with the living, and Jupiter with the dead, somehow the macabre rituals are the same.
The surgeons, laboring under unspeakable conditions, using the altar of an old church as an operating table, can only push their weary bodies so far. Author- surgeon McDaniels does not spare the reader. Throughout the novel the horrendous wounds and their infinite variety and the procedures of the embattled surgeons are described in great detail. Perhaps the most interesting surgical operation concerns the trepanning of a young soldier who had been shot in the head. Surgeon Hardy had made the appalling discovery that the barely- alive boy was his own son but Hardy could not force himself to operate, so Doctor Boyd, although addicted to laudanum, performs the very tricky drilling into the boy’s skull. What makes the medical narrative so authoritative is, of course, due to the author’s expertise. But the information has to be honed to fit the appalling conditions, where instruments were never sterilized, where doctors could not wash their hands, where the floor of the operating theater was slimey with mud and gore. Doctor McDaniels will take you there.
On the battle field two soldiers fall together side by side, one a Yankee, the other a Rebel. The two former enemies are bonded together in misery and indeed they do bond in extremis, giving each other comfort by reciting the Beatitudes. The Yankee boy, Ezra Coffin, manages after great effort as each physical move is agony to get the Rebel’s gun, thinking that he can kill them both to put them out of their misery. But there is only one ball left in the gun’s chamber…
What goes around comes around, even in war, even in tragedy. Good springs from evil and author McDaniels will bring his novel to a satisfying close. Perhaps, when you finish the book you will find yourself thinking of Gettysburg not so much as a shrine but a place where humans suffered horribly and where the healed America rose- I will say it- like a phoenix from the ashes.