Tim Rowland has presented a collection of tales, Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War. Sixteen chapters are filled with many elements of history mostly skipped in high school textbooks. No trigger warnings are necessary but there would probably be objections if young minds were exposed to the prevalence of venereal disease, tales of ridiculous situations that came about due to being under the influence of alcohol, and a detailed history of a prominent political figure, Maj. Gen Sickles, who lived with a family where he bedded the matriarch while he was waiting for an infant to grow up so he could marry her. OK, maybe the last one is not so shocking. And although Gen. Sickles did not shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it, Sickles did murder the son of Francis Scott Key. And got away with it.
Of course, the incidents were carefully chosen by Rowland. The amount of literature about this period is overwhelming. The author is careful to report that some of the stories are impossible to prove but that the stories were accepted at the time and there were consequences that came from a belief in their veracity. Think of the butterfly effect. Something might not be proven, but if I believe it and take actions based on my belief, and … While Rowland reports certain accounts as not completely based on sources, the author provides eighteen pages of a Selected Bibliography which contains, books, newspapers, magazines, and websites.
I like Civil War history. I read books and listen to audiobooks related to the conflict. This book will send me back to the library for further information on some of the surprising and sometimes shocking information I read. One example is the case of Sarah Emma Edmonds, a woman who enlisted in the Union Army as a man. She would later write a book Nurse and Spy in the Union Army (Kindle location 633). As a man Sarah (or maybe Emma) dressed as a male and served as an attendant in hospitals. One of the things that surprised me: Rowland reports that from 500-1000 women served in this form of false identity. One of the things that shocked me: When Sarah was working as a spy, she impersonated a woman as she tried to hang around confederate camps as a camp worker. What kind of woman would be permitted to linger in a Confederate camp? Perhaps a Black Woman. That is what happened. But Sarah Emma Edmonds was White. Chapter Four is primarily about the strange and twisty (not twisted) story of Sarah, but author Rowland goes on to relate anecdotes of other women who carried out similar deceptions.
Rowland uses humor and wit as he tells his stories. I found it hard to detect when he was trying to use wit because some of his descriptions are inherently funny. In other words, you can’t make this stuff up. In Chapter Sixteen we have the story of Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain. This last chapter of the collection had lots of surprises for me and I guess if there is any place in the collection where I might report a spoiler, this would be it. I won’t report a spoiler but I want to quote a description Rowland provides for Chamberlain. For me, it was almost laughing-out-loud humor. “With Chamberlain, appearances were always deceiving. He sported one of those classic Civil War moustaches that look as if a bat hit him in the face at high speed. His eyebrows hunkered down over a piercing gaze that could be disarming, yet slightly hard to take seriously due to the unfortunate outgrowth on his upper lip.” (Kindle location 2262). I think it was the bat that did it. I found this chapter to be one of the most moving. It was new information for me and has several surprises.
And there are many more surprising pieces of information. Think of the number of horses that were used in the Civil War. How much food does each horse eat per day? Maybe you are not interested in that but from a logistics perspective, this is interesting. It is not just putting people in a group, pointing them in the direction of gunfire, and saying, “Let’s Go!” According to this collection of stories, that is how some of the earlier actions seem to have been managed.
There are some problems with typos and missing words. I’ll give them a pass due to the fog of war (just had to say that). The errors are not excessive, but they do keep me from giving the novel five Amazon stars. Maybe 4.8. And I won’t round up. This was a page-turner for me, and I don’t like to slow down to fill in missing words. It slows down the terrific pace of this novel. This sells for USD 1.99 on Amazon or is free through Kindle Unlimited.