I’m always amazed at the new things about our American Civil War. Way back in my mind I knew that many women (more than 250 documented cases) cut their hair, bound their breasts, and joined the conflict, but I had never read any of their stories. Until now. Although McCabe’s I Shall be Near to You is fiction, she tells the basic story of those women who lived and died and fought alongside the men for four long years.
I Shall be Near to You is the story of Rosetta Edwards and Jeremiah Wakefield. The novel is divided into four sections: “Home,” “Camp,” “Battle,” and “Wound.” In “Home,” Jeremiah has decided to enlist in the Union Army. It’s not the politics nor the morality behind the conflict that spurs him to join. It’s the money he can earn to buy that little farm in Nebraska he and Rosetta have been dreamt about. Also, it’s the urging of him friends, Henry, Jimmy, and Sully. Rosetta insists that Jeremiah marry her before he goes off and leaves her a spinster. After their marriage and Jeremiah’s subsequent departure, Rosetta doesn’t feel at home on his family’s farm. Coming from a Bible-reading family, Rosetta decides that her place is by her husband’s side. She sends a letter to her family, cuts her hair, and takes off on foot in search of her husband’s unit, the 97th New York State Volunteers.
“Home” moves along at a good clip. But the story slows down when it gets to the “Camp” section. I’m not sure that McCabe consciously did this, but the story moves at the snail’s pace that camp life moved. Drudgery day in and day out. Drill. Drill. Drill. Rosetta easily finds the 97th. She takes the name Ross Stone and begins her life as a soldier. The story is more conflicted once Rosetta/Ross enters the picture.
The horrors of the actual battles and the horrific tales of carnage in and out of the hospitals move the “Battle” section into a faster read. The stakes are higher, which makes the reading more compelling. Ross/Rosetta is a good soldier, carrying her weight and firing her rifle when the need arises.
All in all, I Shall be Near to You is a good story. However, there is just something missing that I can’t put my finger on. The characters are well drawn, the setting details spot on, the imagery perfectly illustrated. I feel like I was with Rosetta/Ross on her journey. However I didn’t feel as if she was ever truly afraid. It could be argued that it didn’t matter if she was afraid or not; she was where the Lord intended her to be; near her husband.
I give this book four out of five stars.
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.