The Long Roll is a long novel in search of a plot.
The story opens with the passage in 1860 of the Botetourt Resolutions declaring Virginia’s willingness to secede from the Union if that becomes necessary.
When war starts the following year, some of Botetourt County’s finest men serve under the command of Stonewall Jackson. Mary Johnson marches her readers with the Jackson troops three years and nearly 800 pages from first Manassas to the Wilderness campaign in 1864.
Keeping track of who’s who among dozens of characters is tricky, and flipping back through page-long paragraphs is not a good option.
An eccentric, Bible-thumping, lemon-sucking disciplinarian without a trace of personal magnetism, Jackson is not an ideal protagonist for a novel. The romantic subplot in which the lovers meet fewer than a half-dozen times in the novel is equally exciting. Before the story is half over, the invented elements collapse under the weight of history.
If Johnson had stuck to history, the book might not have been better, but it would have been more honest. As it stands, The Long Roll is a novel only the most loyal of Civil War buffs can really enjoy.
Action at Aquila is a Civil War novel that breaks the mold.
On his first leave four years into the war, Colonel Nathaniel Franklin is appalled by the “hang the rebels” sentiment of his pre-war Pennsylvania neighbors. Having to execute Sheridan’s scorched earth policy in the Shenandoah Valley had drained his desire for revenge.
Back at camp in the Southern Shenandoah, Franklin befriends a confederate family whose home he had torched at Sheridan’s orders.
When the rebels attack Aquila, Franklin’s careful planning lets his men repel the vastly larger force with a minimum of bloodshed. Then Franklin, a cavalry man, blunders. Unwilling to let artillery decide the battle, he attacks. It’s a bloodbath.
Hervey Allen enlists reader’s sympathy for Franklin from the start. He’s smart, brave, kind, but a soldier. In battle he does what he is trained to do, almost at the cost of his own life.
The plot appears predictable, but at the last minute Allen twists it to keep readers guessing. He tops off the story with a romance, and oddball characters that made me laugh out loud, and musings on how the Civil War changed America.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better evening’s entertainment than Action at Aquila.
Action at Aquila
By Hervey Allen
Farrar & Rinehart, 1938
1938bestseller # 10
My Grade: B+