S.C. Gwynne, Author
Hymns of the Republic
Schribner, ISBN 978-1—5011-1622-3
Non-Fiction-civil war, Union, Confederacy, Abraham Lincoln. Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, Stonewall Jackson, Clara Barton, General Sherman, General Hood, Governor Joe Brown
April 2020 Review
Reviewer-Michelle Kaye Malsbury, BSBM, MM
S.C. Gwynne, author of Hymns of the Republic, wrote Empire of the Summer Moon which netted him a final slot for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Rebel Yell which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and near finalist for PEN Literary Award for best biography, and The Perfect Pass. (inside back cover, 2020) Besides being a New York Times Best-selling author he is also an award-winning journalist. His articles have been showcased in Time, Texas Monthly, New York Times, Dallas morning News, Los Angeles Times, California magazine, and Harper’s. He resides in Austin, Texas with his family.
S.C. Gwynne opens his page turning book with the following. “Washington, DC, had never, in its brief and undistinguished history, known a social season like this one. The winter of 1863-64 had been bitterly cold, but its frozen rains and swirling snows had dampened no spirits. Instead a feeling, almost palpable, of optimism hung in the air, a swelling sense that, after three years of brutal war and humiliating defeats at the hands of rebel armies, God was perhaps in his heaven, after all.” (2020, p.1)
The war did not end as it began. “The result of the first day of fighting was a rout of the federals around the Orange Turnpike in the morning and, ultimately, a tactical victory for Richard Ewell’s 2nd Corps. To the south, where terrain worked equally as well in Lee’s favor, the Union army fared only slightly better.” (2020, p.43)
How did Clara Barton figure into this picture? “On the morning of May 13, eight days after the start of the Battle of the Wilderness, an attractive, diminutive, dark-haired woman in a bonnet with a red bow, plain blouse, and plain dark skirt stepped off a shuttle barge and onto the temporary pier at Belle Plain.” (2020, p.74) She figured to be a force all her own. Why was she there? “Her destination was Fredericksburg, the great unfolding medical catastrophe she had heard rumors of in Washington.” (p.75) She was aghast at what she found and vowed to assist.
And what of Robert E. Lee? “Robert was painfully aware of these prominent black marks against the Lee name. His immaculate military record and his strict personal discipline were a reaction to all of that.” (2020, p.131) If you want to know more you are going to have to read this wonderful book.
On the strategic side of war I learned the following. “In the summer of 1862 Confederate scout John S. Mosby came up with a radical proposal for fighting the war. …Mosby proposed to take a unit of Confederate cavalry and operate entirely behind Union lines. He would provide the rebel army with intelligence of Union troop deployments. He would disrupt communications.” (2020, p.195) What was the result of such bold actions?
On the topic of slavery. “Black people, on the other hand, were abused by both sides, and most of the racial violence, as usual, went unreported.” (2020, p.239)
As I read this book I was appalled at the cruelty that human beings could inflict on another, at the barbary, and the injustice that lurked in the hearts of men. However, I kept reading. I was hooked. I wanted and needed to know how this story played out and ended. I believe you will too.