Keith N. Corman’s SCOURGED SOULS takes a look at the Civil War through the Union and Confederate soldiers who engaged in battle at Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia during Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s 1864 campaign to take Atlanta and local populace of the region that got caught in the middle. Corman’s novella notes the bravery of the Union soldiers who fought to keep the country together, but his primary focus is what the war did to those who experienced it and who suffered as a result of it.
Corman begins SCOURGED SOULS with different plot lines involving his characters. He illustrates the innocence of three young boys, Will, Sam and Isaiah, and their escapades in the Georgia wilderness as they hunt for squirrels and watch railroad trains go by. The village they live in is a depiction of southern Americana as sweet as a glass of peach iced tea, where the locals gather at Mr. Braunhoff’s rustic general store to talk and mingle and where the Lacy Hotel serves home-style meals to guests on their way between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Meanwhile, in Illinois, Nell Wilkerson leads a life of blissful domesticity, where her mother holds Bible studies and her father, a respected lawyer, discusses local politics with his friends. As a result of the war, her father and her fiancé, Robert, enlist in the Union Army . . . as does Auggie, a son of German immigrant farmers in neighboring Indiana. Auggie is a dutiful farmhand to his parents but wants to enlist in the Union Army to fight to preserve his country.
As the narrative progresses, Corman skillfully builds up the tension of SCOURGED SOULS. Will, Sam, Isaiah, and their elders get more anxious as the Union begins to advance toward Atlanta; tensions run especially high as the Confederate troops alter the landscape by digging trenches to prepare for a Union assault. Mr. Wilkerson, Robert and Auggie drill with precision and get caught up in the fervor of preparing for battle. As the Union soldiers send letters home promising to return and as rain and wind begin to pelt the Kennesaw foothills, the apprehension grows and soldiers and civilians await what’s in store for them.
Then Corman effectively assaults the reader as effectively and as brutally as the opposing armies assault each other. He uses direct, cold language to describe graphic scenes of death and destruction that leave many of the characters in his story dead or shell-shocked, the survivors of the fighting having been forever changed by the horrors they’ve seen and the families of the casualties unable to express the magnitude of their sorrow or their loss. Corman’s narrative presents characters that are the walking wounded – unscarred physically but irredeemably shattered within. The once-charming village lies in ruins, the smell of smoke and gunpowder across the charred remains of the woods is so potently illustrated that the reader can sense it. He also succeeds in making the reader feel the same devastating sense of loss that the characters do. The one criticism is that short shrift is given to the cause of the Civil War: slavery. As it turns out, Obadiah, a black freedman making his own living as a blacksmith–and Isaiah’s father–is the most interesting character. As a black man living free in the South while watching slaves being brought into his village and being put to work to build the Confederate defenses, Obadiah is a vital link to the evil of slavery that is otherwise downplayed in the story.
SCOURGED SOULS depicts the horrors of war vividly, and Keith N. Corman effectively uses language to paint pictures of sorrow that demonstrate the sense of loss for the civilians as well as for the soldiers.
~Steven Maginnis for IndieReader