Writing historical fiction without making the narrative sound like a textbook is hard enough, but merging the lives of so many characters from vastly different backgrounds and situations into one cohesive, engaging story seems nearly impossible!
Jocelyn Green has done the impossible! As a lover of good fiction and historian of the Civil War, I can’t recommend this enough! The author has done her research admirably and I found myself nodded in agreement to all the snippets of historical accuracy she threw into the story. These characters came alive, flying off the page, and I felt as if I were reading the memoirs of these people who braved the trials and struggles of being a woman in the mid-19th century.
The main character, Charlotte Waverly, is courted by Phineas Hastings, an entrepreneur from a self-made family. Charlotte, however, has had trouble finding a permanent suitor due to the fact that she can’t have children. She’s also fiercely independent and despite the insistence of her beau and family (mother and married sister), she makes a big decision for a woman of her time. At the onset of the Civil War, this girl from New York wants to do her part and fights to earn a place as a nurse or doctor’s assistant in the Army of the Potomac. Her childhood friend, Caleb Lansing and a regimental surgeon, has learned of Charlotte’s bold move and wholly supports her – unlike her fiance, Phineas. The author puts Charlotte through many of the same trials that any woman would have faced when looking to enter the military medical field. But with help from historical figures on the U.S Sanitary Commission and Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell herself, Charlotte finds her place and purpose in the war.
Secondary to Charlotte is Ruby O’Flannery, an Irish immigrant and working-class woman in New York. Though her place in the grand scheme of the plot is unclear at first and almost feels like a distraction to Charlotte’s story, the author merges the two narratives together in a way that put me on the edge of my seat. Ruby’s husband has gone to war with the other men, enlisting in a nearly all-Irish regiment from New York and leaving her to fend for herself at home. Due to delays in pay, Ruby has to take up sewing to make ends meet. It’s not enough and she struggles to feed herself. The subject of prostitution in the 19th century is one of the seedier topics in historical studies, but it can’t be ignored. The author does an excellent job of creating this moral dilemma within Ruby as she debates between starving and selling her body. While it seemed that the appearance of this profession was overused, it’s probably not inaccurate to the times and situation. My heart broke for Ruby at every turn.
The flow of the story is excellent, the dialogue engaging, which made it all the easier to follow. Every character’s motivation, grief, and joy was believable to the fullest extent. This was the first of Green’s work that I’ve “digested” and it certainly won’t be the last!
From a historical standpoint, I applaud this book. Not just for the realistic elements of the plot, but the extent of the research Green implemented into making this story come alive. Everything from the function and organization of the U.S Sanitary Commission to the army movements (the story ends just at the onset of the Seven Days Battle in 1862) to the dilemma of the “shoddy” uniforms that were given to soldiers at the start of the war. At the end, the author confesses that she based the characters within the novel (Charlotte in particular) off of Georgeanna Woolsey, a wealthy 28 year old woman from New York who also risked life and reputation to serve as a nurse with the sanitary commission. Her inspiration came from a visit to the Adams County Historical Society archives in Gettysburg. Caleb’s character is based off of Doctor Frank Bacon. His connection with the story, I’ll let you discover for yourself. For those who want to learn more about Georgeanna, the author recommends the books “The Woolsey Sisters of New York” by Anne L. Austin and “My Heart Toward Home: Letters of a Family during the Civil War” by Georgeanna Woolsey herself. Both of these are on my wish list and I look forward to diving into the similarities between these two ladies.
“Wedded to War” is also part of a series written by Jocelyn Green titled “Heroines Behind the Lines”. Other books within this series include “Widow of Gettysburg”, “Yankee in Atlanta” and “Spy in Richmond”. Being the first of this series, “Wedded to War” is an excellent way to get introduced to Green’s style. I look forward to reading more from her. “Wedded to War” is also available in print, ebook, and audio formats. Find it HERE on Amazon and HERE on Goodreads to see what others thought of the book.