The Civil War is usually characterized as the Northern states fighting the Southern states. Michael Kenneth Smith’s HOME AGAIN looks at the effect of the war on two young men from the border state of Tennessee. Like neighboring Kentucky, the state itself was divided in its loyalty and regiments were sent to both sides, neighbor fighting neighbor, occasionally brother fighting brother. The story focuses on two young men: Zach Harkin of Knoxville and Luke Pettigrew of Crossville, a short distance away. Zach joins the Union Army’s United States Sharpshooter Service and Luke joins the Confederacy first as a medical corpsman and eventually as a cavalryman.
The backstory for both young men is provided in detail but they begin their service in a war that has already been raging for over a year. The chapters alternate between Zach and Luke, following them as they take rudimentary training and are thrust into battle at Shiloh, in their home state. This alternation between characters also highlights the differences in the two armies and the reasons why each side believes they must fight. Both men distinguish themselves at Shiloh but the war grinds on and it begins to have an effect on both. The author takes a different approach to the story in that it is more than a simple conflict between blue coats and rebels. There is a detailed view of field hospitals, sniper stands and prison camps, areas that are usually glossed over in Civil War Fiction. The plot only covers a segment of the war, from Shiloh in April of 1862 to Gettysburg in July of 1863. The effect is a concise picture of the war in both the western and eastern theaters as experienced by soldiers fighting on both sides. The history is accurate though sometimes condensed, as with JEB Stuarts failure at Gettysburg, though a well-written Epilogue does correct some of this. The real story, however, is about Zach and Luke and their reaction to the privations and brutality of the war as it affects themselves and their homes.
HOME AGAIN is a well-crafted telling of a story told many times before. There are brave deeds as well as homesickness, generals who lead and those who are arrogant but each battle is seen from the perspective of the victor and the vanquished. What makes this story unique is the structure of the book, along with the author’s well defined characters, giving an honest look at war and the not quite grown men who must fight it.