Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sisters of Shiloh

It may have been uncommon, but it was certainly not unheard of for women to disguise themselves as men during the Civil War years so that they might join the fight on one side or the other.  Sisters of Shiloh, co-authored by sisters Kathy and Becky Hepinstall, tells the story of two fictional Virginia women who do exactly that.

Growing up in Winchester, Josephine and Libby were everything to each other.  Josephine, a year older than Libby, was the plain one, a shy little girl who was never quite at ease in the company of strangers.  Libby, on the other hand, was a pretty child so at ease in the world that her older sister easily faded into the background.  It was inevitable that someone would come between the sisters - and that someone came along in the person of Arden, the little boy who invaded the sisters' orchard hideaway when Josephine was thirteen and Libby twelve.

When, despite the pleas of Libby for him not to do it, the newly wed Arden sneaks away to join the Confederate army, Libby finding it impossible to wait at home alone, decides to catch up with him.  Josephine, ever her sister's protector, joins her, but by the time they find Arden at Antietam it is too late to save him from his fate.  Libby, though, is not ready to quit the fight; she wants vengeance and vows to kill with her own hands one Yankee soldier for every one of the twenty-one years Arden lived before dying to a Yankee bullet. 

Kathy and Becky Hepinstall
As members of Jackson's famous Stonewall Brigade, she will get her chance to do exactly that - but only if she and Josephine can make their fellow soldiers believe that they are men - and if Libby does not first slip into madness.  More and more often as the war grinds on, Arden comes to Libby in the dark of night, and what he hints about her sister is not pretty.  He urges Libby to keep killing Yankees but seems equally concerned about making her understand what really happened between him and Josephine on the day he died at Antietam. 

Sisters of Shiloh tells the story of two remarkable women who refuse to accept the roles and places assigned to them by the mores of their time.  Instead, they do what their hearts tell them is right: they take full control of their own lives and experience the defining events of their generation.  Libby and Josephine may be fictional characters, but it is important to remember that there were scores of real women who did the same thing during America's Civil War.  How they pulled it off is hard to imagine, but novels like Sisters of Shiloh offer a glimpse into their world and into their heads. 

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