J. Edward Gore’s epistolary novel illuminates the experiences of John Gore a young Union solder from Kentucky, and a relative of the author. From Johnny’s enlistment in 1861, the story—told through letters between Johnny, his younger brother Jimmy, and his girl Annie—brings to life Johnny’s experiences during the Civil War: tender, tedious, and brutal.
In THE GREEN SOLDIER, J. Edward Gore sensitively reimagines the experiences of his relative, John Gore, a Union soldier from Kentucky during the American Civil War through letters between nineteen-year-old John, Annie Elzey, and his younger brother Jimmy. Gore may have written this book for his family, but his choice to share the work widely is an act of grace and generosity. As the 1925 letter that opens the story states, “For better or worse, this is your heritage.” Yes, that is so, more broadly than it might seem.
While the story is about John Gore, the view of the war from Kentucky provides an uncommon perspective. Kentucky was a divided state. There were slaves, but fewer than in the Deep South. Kentucky did not secede, but for a time, had a shadow secessionist government. How the small Kentucky farmers understood slavery, related to the war, and experienced brutality at the hands of soldiers from both armies, is told in a straightforward way that avoids moral simplicity.
Kentucky aside, the real story here is Johnny’s. He’s the heart of the book, well drawn, and utterly believable. From his hopes of military advancement, to embarrassment about his stutter, to concern for his younger brother, to the poetry he writes his girl, we are with him, 100 percent. In Gore’s capable hands, Johnny easily become someone we care about; when he is begins to understand war’s real impact, we are right there with him.
Throughout this work, the reproduction of actual military roll call cards, Gore’s ear for colloquialisms, and his knack for details add resonance. Describing an unfriendly sergeant, Johnny says, “I don’t think a dog would go to him if he had bacon in his pocket.” Later, during an army funeral service, Johnny writes, “they put a cloth over the drums to make the beat softer.” These touches add an earthiness and an undeniability that makes the story funnier, sweeter, and more powerful.
THE GREEN SOLDIER is a moving story of one soldier’s experiences in the Civil War. Though much has been written about that war, this compassionate portrayal of life on the muddy ground is a welcome addition. And as a thoughtful presentation of the experience of war in general, it has a place beside The Red Badge of Courage and Mark Twain’s War Prayer.
J. Edward Gore’s THE GREEN SOLDIER, a richly told and moving story of Johnny Gore is an excellent addition to historical fiction about the Civil War and to the wider body of literature about the experience of war itself.
~Ellen Graham for IndieReader