Friday, May 23, 2008

Two Brothers - One North, One South

The Civil War tore families apart like no other war in American history has ever done. It was not uncommon for brothers, or fathers and sons, to fight the war from opposing armies, a fact that serves as the central theme of the David H. Jones novel, Two Brothers – One North, One South.

Maryland, as a border state, saw its families suffer greatly from the divided loyalties of its citizens and Jones focuses on the Prentiss family, an actual Baltimore family of the time, to tell his story. William Prentiss, the family’s youngest son, fought with the Confederacy’s 2nd Maryland Battalion but his older brother, Clifford, remained loyal to the Union and was an officer in the 6th Maryland Volunteers. The brothers experienced numerous battles and much personal danger but survived to the end of the war when both were severely wounded in one of the war’s last battles, the breaking of the siege at Petersburg.

Sadly, the brothers who had not seen each other in four years only met again because of those battlefield wounds suffered only a few yards from each other. They were carried off the field together, treated by the same doctors, and transferred to the same Washington D.C. hospital. In this fictionalized version of their story, Walt Whitman, who spent countless hours in Washington D.C. hospitals visiting and nursing wounded soldiers from both armies, became well-acquainted with William before he died while the two discussed William’s war experiences. And when the other two Prentiss brothers arrived to visit Clifton, Whitman was able to describe their brother’s war experiences in detail as the four discussed those years.

Much of Two Brothers is told in dialogue between the Prentiss brothers and Whitman but the dialogue does not consistently ring true. In order to inform his readers of historical facts, Jones at times has the brothers exchange war details that would have been all too obvious to those who lived those events. The reader might also begin to wonder how it was possible that Walt Whitman could recall one young soldier’s history in such great detail considering the hundreds and hundreds of soldiers he came to know during the war.

Two Brothers will serve as a good Civil War history primer for those not already familiar with the war and how it ultimately played out but, as a novel, it would have been stronger had it focused more on the tragedy of brother-against-brother and less on battle details. It does not quite reach the emotional level needed to turn the Prentiss brothers into the real human beings that they were in the 1860s. That said, the novel is an interesting one and it will be welcomed into the personal libraries of many a Civil War buff.

Rated at: 3.0


  1. Do you keep track of how many books you read in a year? I ask because I've note you've posted about 3 books this week already!

  2. I do keep track...see the list in the left sidebar,in fact. What happens is that I read 6-8 books at a time and every once in a while I'll finish three or four of them in the same week.

  3. Oops, it seems I'm not very observant. You've already read 60 books in 2008!! That's amazing. I'm totally jealous.