Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

Perhaps you're aware of the fact that during the Civil War, brother fought against brother. You probably also knew that boys falsified their age in order to go off and fight. But did you know that women also fought in the Civil War, disguising themselves as men in order to fight alongside fathers, brothers, husbands? Well, they did. And we know this because of the letters they sent home to loved ones. In Erin Lindsay McCabe's debut novel, I Shall Be Near to You, she has imagined what drove one woman to fight for the Union Army.

Rosetta Edwards has never felt terribly compelled to act the way a girl is expected to act. She's always preferred farm work with her father to parlor work with her mother. She'd rather be out of doors in nature than trapped inside with mending, and she's always trying to fill the gap her father feels as a result of having no sons. Although she may not meet the usual standards of young women in her small New York community, being mocked and shunned by the conventional girls, including her younger sister, for her less feminine pursuits, she is not willing to be forced into the constraints of her sex.

When the love of her life, Jeremiah, decides, with a group of friends, to join up with the Union Army, she is furious. He promises that he is simply joining to earn the $150 enlistment bonus so that when he gets back from the war, he and Rosetta will have the money to head west and buy their own farm. Insisting that Jeremiah marry her before he heads out, Rosetta comes up hard against the chafing expectations for women once more when Jeremiah leaves. As unwilling to knuckle under to convention as a wife and daughter-in-law as she had been as a daughter, Rosetta makes the drastic decision to cut off her abundant hair and disguise herself as a young man in order to follow Jeremiah and join up with the army herself.

Going by the name Ross Stone, Rosetta does find Jeremiah and the boys from her home town. But they are not pleased to see her, only grudgingly willing to keep her secret and allow her to stay with them through training. Both Rosetta and Jeremiah struggle with her decision, what that means for them as a couple, and how far either of them are willing to carry her charade. And when they start to see fighting, they are forced to confront their own mortality and the fact that no future is ever guaranteed.

McCabe has used the real life experiences of women brave enough to go to war to great effect in creating Rosetta, a woman who knows her heart and happiness depend on her being close to Jeremiah, not waiting at home for news of him and pretending to be the dutiful daughter-in-law. Her stubbornness, determination, and her doubts as well are very realistically drawn. Jeremiah's dismay at his new wife's arrival in the camp is also well done. And the way they have to come to terms with both of their needs and wants, both shared and in opposition to the others', during this horrific and monumental time intensifies their feelings. While they do love each other, they also hurt each other, have disagreements, and treat each other carelessly at times, which makes their relationship very realistic. McCabe doesn't minimize the appalling horrors of the war and she doesn't spare her characters either, forcing them to see the waste and destruction, the devastating loss of life, and the unnecessary and brutal suffering that war creates. There are a few small bits that seem anachronistic but in general this is a well researched and well written historical look at the women of the Civil War.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.


  1. I'm glad to see this is good. I read a YA book a couple years ago that focused on a girl who fights in the Civil War as a boy. Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi. I love her books.

    Great review!

  2. Great review! I had never really thought about women going off to the war, but it makes sense. Sounds like this was a really interesting read!


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